As mentioned last issue, C-Lab now has a licence to continue to develop the Falcon technology, but what of the TT? For those of you who have never seen one (probably 98% of everyone reading this), suffice to say that we're talking about a powerhouse that never realised its potential. It sported a 32MHz 68030 processor, and had some useful video modes, including 16-colour support in its 'medium' resolution. I've seen Cubase Score running on a 19-inch monitor, and believe me, the screen redraws were lightning-fast.
So, what happened to the TT? To start with it was heavily overpriced, initially retailing at over £2,000. You also needed a dedicated monitor, and, often, special versions of software. Not many units sold in the UK, and most of those were to serious desktop publishing people.
GE-Soft has been working on the Eagle for some time. To say it's an interesting machine is an understatement: it's modular to make upgrading easy, and currently boasts the same 32MHz 68030 as the TT. However, the processor is on a separate board, so it can be changed in minutes for a 68040, 68060 or PowerPC version -- and each of these is planned, starting with the 68040 as a free upgrade in the Summer.
Purely in terms of spec, the Eagle is impressive. The entire system runs at 32MHz, unlike the TT, which, despite the 32MHz processor, had the rest of its system clocked at only 16MHz, causing substantial data bottlenecks. As a result, the Eagle's performance is about two to three times that of a standard TT. The Eagle offers a host of useful ports, including ACSI and SCSI for both types of Atari-based hard disk, two modem and two serial sockets, plus LAN, parallel and MIDI connectors (In and Out). There's also a cartridge slot and two keyboard sockets for a TT or PC-compatible version. Nice touch.
As you might expect from a modern computer, the whole lot is housed in a neat tower case. A 320Mb SCSI hard disk comes as standard, as does a high-density floppy drive. The tower case is big enough to take another three internal drives, which can include CD-ROM, magneto-optical and SyQuest varieties.
Without a doubt, the biggest plus of the Eagle is its 8-channel bus system -- the 'Eagle channels' as GE-Soft refers to them. The motherboard has eight slots, each of which can take an Eagle expansion board. To give you an example, the video capability is dependent on the graphics card you use -- and this can be anything from a very cheap PC ET4000 through to state-of-the-art Nova and Matrix cards. This degree of expansion has never really been offered on an Atari computer.
Such a system offers a variety of bonuses. You want a DSP board to run Cubase Audio? You got it. Well, perhaps, anyway -- the expansion boards are proprietary, so there has to be demand before supply -- market forces dictate, as Dave Nicholson at Steinberg always tells me.
Memory is also situated on an expansion board: 4Mb comes as standard, upgradeable to 14Mb of ST and 256Mb of TT memory.
In terms of raw processor performance, the 68030-based Eagle gives about a 30% improvement over a TT. But that's only part of the story. If you happen to have a Falcon, try this little test. Set it to ST high-res-compatible video mode, and double-click on a folder. See how fast it opens. Now set it to 256 colours: the contents of the same folder appear more slowly on screen. Finally, select true colour: you can probably time it with a stopwatch! There are various reasons for this, but let's just say that the Falcon's video isn't up to much.
On the other hand, the Eagle's video performance depends solely on the graphics card, and the standard model includes the SuperNova Mach 32, an absolutely fabulous piece of hardware. With 2Mb of video RAM on-board, this can display any colour mode from mono through to 24-bit colour with barely a change to the on-screen performance. In terms of pixels, you can have 1280 x 1024 resolution with 256 colour (8-bit), 1024 x 768 with 16-bit colour, or 800 x 600 in full 24-bit colour. Super stuff.
In general, most Atari programs run on the Eagle without trouble. This, of course, includes Cubase and Logic, though not the audio versions of these, as these require a DSP. Most of the current applications entering the market are programmed in Germany to a high standard, and work faultlessly on the Eagle.
There are two kinds of programs the Eagle will not run, however. The first are those requiring DMA sound, which includes most games, and this can, perhaps, be viewed as a failing. Second are any applications that interact directly with the video hardware, such as the MagiC replacement operating system. The Eagle lacks ST video modes, and while this is currently under investigation by GE-Soft, it is fair to say that an Eagle version of MagiC 3 should appear at some point.
Future developments depend on how well the machine sells. At an asking price of £1,999, inclusive of the SuperNova card and a 15-inch multisync monitor, it's unlikely to be at the top of many shopping lists, but the professionals out there might like to consider the possible scenario of Cubase Audio or Logic Audio running on a 68060-based Eagle with a dedicated DSP card. Such a processor would result in about four times the current performance -- and I'd certainly like to see how this would compare with similar software running on a Mac.
The main point is that companies are still out there developing serious hardware for Atari users. Perhaps those in our industry who continuously preach that the Atari is dead should have a careful look at what's on offer. These companies are putting a lot of money into Atari hardware -- surely we owe it to them to keep an open mind over the future of the Atari as a platform...
GE-Soft's Eagle is distributed in the UK by Gasteiner Technologies (0181 345 6000). The RRP is £1,699 including the SuperNova card or £1,999 with the inclusion of a 15-inch multisync monitor.