Raspberry Pi 3 hits the ground running!

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)

Exactly four years to the day since the birth of the diminutive single-board computer – and, not coincidentally, the rebirth of the British home computer –  the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B has come out roaring with its best ever spec announced officially today!

And, what better way to reward the faithful and celebrate the Pi’s birthday than to keep the same price as the last model – just $35 USD (street price typically £30 in real money)?

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, which is a UK registered charity, unleashed the original 256MB Raspberry Pi Model B on a largely unsuspecting world, which immediately reeled back in shock at the thought of a new British home computer. They then took the world by storm.

The Pi was intended primarily to become a teaching tool as much as anything else, at a time when computing education in British schools was in the doldrums and there was a massive shortage of entrants to degree level computing course at universities as a result. The ARM processor-based Pi, then, arrived at just the right time, although it soon became obvious that, while it was having some success in the more imaginative sectors of education, and indeed continues to strongly encourage the teaching of coding and the learning of languages such as Python and Scratch by students and hobbyists alike, it was of much greater interest to computer hobbyists and makers across the UK and world-wide, and sales began to run out of control, with supplies rapidly drying up until production, first in China and later in Wales, ramped up to cope with the unexpected demand.

It’s a record-breaker!

Since then, they’ve shipped over eight million units, including three million  Raspberry Pi 2’s, which amazingly makes the Raspberry Pi the UK’s all-time best-selling computer, beating the popular 1980’s Amstrad PCW (8 millions units sold) and the legendary Sinclair ZX Spectrum (around 5 million sold) soundly into second and third places – though to be fair, three decades and modern technology has made the Pi far less expensive to produce – cheap as chips, to coin a phrase – and far more powerful .

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has, they say, grown from a handful of volunteers to over sixty full-time employees, including their new friends from Code Club – another exciting initiative to encourage young people into programming (or coding, as it’s fashionably referred to today!).

Pi in the sky
Tim Peake with a specially-cased Astro Pi (pic European Space Agency)
Tim Peake with a specially-cased Astro Pi (pic European Space Agency)

Astonishingly, two Raspberry Pi’s have even gone into orbit on the International Space Station with the first official British ESA astronaut, Major Tim Peake, and are even now being used to run school students’ submitted programs and train teachers  around the globe through the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Picademy programme.

Retro lineage

Harking back to the ARM processor’s origins with legendary British computer manufacturers Acorn – who also produced another very famous Model B home and education computer, and created the ARM for the Archimedes range – the Raspberry Pi has also become the retro computing emulation station of choice for many of today’s hobbyists, and has boosted the revival of interest in Acorn’s classic RiscOS operating system, which seems entirely appropriate.

Power boost
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)

In celebration of the Foundation’s fourth birthday, and that of the Pi, they naturally thought it would be fun to release something new – and who are we to argue, we are huge fans of the Raspberry Pi, which is the last, best hope for British home computing in the 21st century!

Accordingly, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is now on sale and features the following eye-popping specs:

  • A 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU (~10x the performance of Raspberry Pi 1)
  • Integrated 802.11n wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Complete compatibility with Raspberry Pi 1 and 2
  • New Broadcom-supplied system-on-a-chip (SoC), BCM2837. This retains the same basic architecture as its predecessors BCM2835 and BCM2836, so all those projects and tutorials which rely on the precise details of the Raspberry Pi hardware will continue to work.
  • The 900MHz 32-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU complex has been replaced by a custom-hardened 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53. Combining a 33% increase in clock speed with various architectural enhancements, this provides a 50-60% increase in performance in 32-bit mode versus Raspberry Pi 2, or roughly a factor of ten over the original Raspberry Pi.

According the Raspberry Pi Foundation website:

“James Adams spent the second half of 2015 designing a series of prototypes, incorporating BCM2837 alongside the BCM43438 wireless “combo” chip. He was able to fit the wireless functionality into very nearly the same form-factor as the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ and Raspberry Pi 2 Model B; the only change is to the position of the LEDs, which have moved to the other side of the SD card socket to make room for the antenna. Roger Thornton ran the extensive (and expensive) wireless conformance campaign, allowing us to launch in almost all countries simultaneously. Phil Elwell developed the wireless LAN and Bluetooth software.

“All of the connectors are in the same place and have the same functionality, and the board can still be run from a 5V micro-USB power adapter. This time round, we’re recommending a 2.5A adapter if you want to connect power-hungry USB devices to the Raspberry Pi.”

Raspberry Pi 3 is available to buy today from the Foundation’s  partners element14 and RS Components, and numerous other resellers, so you’d better get stuck in and order one before they evaporate as usual!

Owners will need a recent NOOBS or Raspbian Linux image from the Foundation’s downloads page, they say.  At launch, they are using the same 32-bit Raspbian userland that they use on other Raspberry Pi devices; over the next few months, they plan to investigate whether there is value in moving to 64-bit mode.

Other OS’s than Raspbian, such as the Acorn legacy system RisOS Pi, may possibly need time to catch up, depending on how compatible they are with the new Pi 3. If in doubt about RiscOS, contact ROOL.

For more general info on the new Pi 3 Model B, a FAQ about the new model, and the whole range, see the official Raspberry Pi website: https://www.raspberrypi.org/

Many happy returns!

Needless to say, Retro Computing News would like to wish both the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Raspberry Pi itself

A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

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Codemasters Birmingham move to Custard Factory

The Codemasters team (pic Codemasters)
The Codemasters team (pic Codemasters)

An award-winning West Midlands game developer, today best known for the Formula One series, but with a rich retro gaming heritage stretching right back to the heady days of the British home computer revolution, has revealed plans to move its Birmingham studio to the Custard Factory.

Code Masters logo 1986-1991
Code Masters logo 1986-1991

Famous Warwickshire-headquartered Codemasters, founded in 1986 as Code Masters by Richard Darling and David Darling (who worked previously for Mastertronic), currently has an operation at Tricorn House on Hagley Road in the city, where it employs a 120-strong team.

Codemasters is one of the oldest surviving British game studios, and in 2005 was named the top independent games developer by Develop magazine.

It has now taken a lease on a 9,000 sq ft unit at the creative quarter in Digbeth and will begin work on a three-month renovation programme to modernise the 100-year-old building

Nick Craig, Codemasters’ studio manager in Birmingham, said:

“We’re looking forward to becoming part of the vibrant community that the Custard Factory has created.

“This will move the studio to an area of the city much more suited to our unique business and company personality. From our new home we will continue to create some of the most successful racing games in the world and expand our successful portfolio of products onto mobile later this year.”

Lucan Gray, owner of the Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios, added:

“Each time a business joins our working community the whole gets stronger, giving more employment opportunities and expanding the talent pool.

“Codemasters is a particularly exciting company, combining cutting edge art, design, programming and much more to achieve international commercial success.”

The Custard Factory quarterof Birmingham is currently home to more than 500 creative and digital businesses.

Some history of Codemasters:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codemasters

For more information on Codemasters today: http://www.codemasters.com/

And on the Custard Factory: http://www.custardfactory.co.uk/

REVIVAL retro event set fair for summer!

Last year's REVIVAL Winter Warmer team, organisers and volunteers
Last year’s REVIVAL Winter Warmer team, organisers and volunteers

This year’s latest show for UK retro gaming and computing fans has been quietly (so far!) announced on the Facebook page of the organisers, Revival Retro Events.

And REVIVAL Solstice 2016 is all set to take place over the weekend of 30-31 July at a completely new venue for the show, the Banks’s Stadium (previously known as Bescot Stadium) – the home of Walsall Football Club in the West Midlands!

After the event’s successful, albeit somewhat smaller, comeback event Winter Warmer 2015, last November, and previous big event successes, REVIVAL once again returns to large scale this summer with the aptly titled REVIVAL Solstice 2016.

New show plan
Arcade days all over again at REVIVAL 2014!
Arcade days all over again at REVIVAL 2014!

This new event marks the start of a new show plan for future REVIVAL events organised by the RRE team, headed up by Craig Turner, and brings back all the attractions of their previous fun-packed summer exhibitions.

This year’s event features already include:

  • Over 100 playable retro consoles and computers
  • Over 50 classic video arcade machines and pinball machines
  • On-stage competitions and prizes
  • A larger selection of traders offering various retro collectables
  • The return of the guest talks panels and new gamer’s theatre
  • Reasonably priced, fully licensed bar and gamer’s snack bar serving hot and cold food
  • New large summer venue for up to 1000 visitors per day
  • Easy transport access from M6 J9 and J10 and the Bescot Stadium railway station between Birmingham and Walsall.
  • Choice of nearby hotels with direct rail and bus links to the venue
The hunt is on for that retro holy grail at REVIVAL 2014...
The hunt is on for that retro holy grail at REVIVAL 2014…
Event page

The organisers have already set up an event page is now up via their  Facebook page and e-tickets are now on sale directly from their ticket merchant here: https://www.tickettailor.com/ch…/view-event/…/47596/chk/069b

Tickets are priced at £12 per day/£20 for a weekend for adults, and concessional tickets at £6 per day/£10 for a weekend for children (12 or under), disabled users and their assistants.

And there’s more

Head honcho of REVIVAL, Craig Turner of Turnarcades, said:

“Thanks to the popularity and support shown by the attendees and contributors of our warm-up event, the team are once again in a position to bring back all the popular features of our previous full scale events as we always wanted to.

“This means that more contributors will be involved to bring you more playable systems, more games, more arcades, more pinball, more unique show experiences, new guests, more competitions, more traders, more stuff to buy and more prizes!

“This new event is intended to be complemented by a new size Winter event called ‘Equinox’, so be sure you join us this Summer and enjoy that excellent REVIVAL atmosphere to make sure it can happen!”

If anyone is interested in making any pledges, getting involved (the event is mostly volunteer-supported), or are interesting in sponsoring or having a trade spot at the event, you are invited to message the organisers through Facebook, or e-mail Craig Turner direct at turnarcades@hotmail.co.uk or via enquiries@revivalretroevents.com

More info

Full event information will soon be posted on the official website at www.revivalretroevents.co.uk and key information will also be posted on the organisers’ Facebook page.

For more about the venue, check out their website.

Needless to say, our editor Stuart Williams will be covering both days for Retro Computing News, and we hope to be promoting the site there.

 

Fergus McGovern, co-founder of Probe Software, has passed away

Fergus McGovern with some of Hotgen's products
Fergus McGovern with some of Hotgen’s products

Reports are coming in from various sources that Fergus McGovern, co-founder of Probe Software founded in 1984 with Vakis Paraskeva, has died.

Probing into Probe

Probe Software, later renamed Probe Entertainment, was one of the UK’s top games software houses, being acquired by Acclaim Entertainment Inc. on October 10, 1995.

Fergus McGovern in Probe days (pic Amstrad Computer User)
Fergus McGovern in Probe days (pic Amstrad Computer User)

Probe developed games on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64/128, Amiga, Sega Master System, Game Boy, Game Gear, Mega Drive/Genesis, NES, Super NES, Saturn, PlayStation, N64 and PC before moving to Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube, Xbox, PS2 and PC as well, after becoming  Acclaim Studios (see below).

Probe Software closing logo

An article in Amstrad Computer User magazine (issue 45, August 1988) tells much of the early story of Probe and Fergus McGovern, and is reproduced below – click to enlarge for reading.

 

ACU Aug 1988 p24 (click to enlarge)
ACU Aug 1988 p24 (click to enlarge)

 

ACU Aug 1988 p25 (click to enlarge)
ACU Aug 1988 p25 (click to enlarge)
 Acclaim Studios

In 1999, Probe Entertainment became Acclaim Studios London and a year later, changed to Acclaim Studios Cheltenham. Their USA based parent company, Acclaim, declared bankruptcy in 2004.

It was responsible for developing Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II for theSega Mega Drive and Extreme-G and Extreme-G 2 for Nintendo 64. They were also well known for successful licensed games such as Die Hard Trilogy and Alien Trilogy.

HotGen

HotGen Ltd logo

After Acclaim, Mr. McGovern went on to found HotGen Ltd (formerly HotGen Sudios Ltd), the London-based veteran videogame and interactive toy developers, and creators of To-Fu Fury, which today announced his passing away on Twitter:

HotGen Ltd on Twitter earlier this evening
HotGen Ltd on Twitter earlier this evening
Condolences

Retro Computing News would like to offer our sincere condolences to Mr. McGovern’s family, friends and colleagues on this sad occasion.

Messages of sympathy have been coming in to his Facebook page this evening.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ gets keyboard facility

The Vega Plus edge-on (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
The Vega Plus edge-on (pic Retro Computers Ltd)

More detailed anticipated specifications for the new Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ games console were revealed today, and top of the list for many potential buyers was the revelation that a real, and not just virtual, keyboard facility will now be provided in the production model, which will no doubt have Speccy-loving adventure gamers and programmers alike rolling about in a state of ecstasy.

The 48k and 128k Spectrum-compatible Vega+ will also offer access to programming mode (BASIC), and extended “ULAplus” colour palette support, in addition to the classic ZX Spectrum colour palette. All this offers a tantalising glimpse of a potentially much-anticipated ‘return of the Speccy’ scenario, albeit in a radically different form-factor and with different circuitry to the classic rubber-buttoned favourite of 1980’s bedroom coders and playground warriors…

Wired or wireless?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that such a keyboard will be built-in, but that an external connection will be made available for an accessory keyboard, something which many in the retro community bemoaned the lack of in the original Vega. It is not yet confirmed whether the keyboard connection will be wired or wireless, although the concept design by original Sinclair designer Rick Dickinson does show a USB port marked Ext on the rear edge of the Vega+ (see picture above), and it is known that the circuitry for USB was included on the original Vega main board.

The company behind the British-made Vega range of Spectrum-compatible consoles, Retro Computers Limited, have published the specification on their Indiegogo page and on Facebook, and we reproduce this in full below.

Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Speedy success

These latest specs follow the news that, after fully crowd-funding the project in just 3 days (the initial target being £100,000), Retro Computers Limited then went on to break the quarter of a million pounds barrier on Monday this week, and funds raised currently stand at £272,338 with more than 2,500 backers.

Console-mio

The Vega+ console, like its predecessor the Vega, is a hand-held games machine compatible with the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum range and includes 1,000 Spectrum games built-in. The latest form factor includes a rechargeable battery and an LCD screen but retains the option to output composite video and stereo sound to TV or monitor.

Its launch was revealed in our news item of 15 February 2016, and was followed by our in-depth review of the original Vega console, which was launched last year after Luton-based start-up Retro Computers Limited joined forces with Sir Clive Sinclair in 2014 to license back the rights to the Sinclair computer name and other intellectual property from current rights holders Sky In-Home Service Limited.

For more about the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+, check out the latest specs below, then go to the Indiegogo page.

Latest Vega+ anticipated specifications

The specifications published today are as follows:

Controls

  • Classic gaming D-Pad, offering up, down, left right and diagonals.
  • Four primary action buttons and three secondary buttons.
  • System menu and control-set toggle button.
  • Volume up/down / Brightness up/down.

Screen

  • Sharp LCD 4:3 aspect ratio with approximately 0.2565 mm dot pitch. Accurately reproduces the ZX Spectrum 256×192 resolution with minimal screen border.
  • LCD Screen brightness adjustable. Suitable for all light levels, and to extend battery life.
  • Extended “ULAplus” colour palette support, in addition to the classic ZX Spectrum colour palette.

Battery

  • Specification yet to be finalised, due to the variations of physical size and capacity available, however battery life is expected to be in excess of 6 hrs of continuous use.
  • Charging is achieved through a micro-USB socket.

Storage

  • SDSC and SDHC micro SD cards are supported.
  • Additional games may be loaded from micro SD card – popular snapshot and tape file formats supported.
  • SD card also allows preferences and game-saves to be stored for later resumption.
  • Firmware upgradeable through SD card.

Operational features

  • Unobtrusive pop-up control panel during game play through which to access all Vega features.
  • Novel and easy-to-use virtual keyboard.
  • Save and resume game (stored on SD card).
  • Games may be tagged as favourites and recalled through a favourites menu.
  • Player controls completely reconfigurable.
  • Game pokes can be stored on SD card.
  • Switchable Kempston and Cursor joystick emulation.
  • Default Machine selection (48K and 128K models).
  • Access to programming mode (BASIC).

Peripherals

  • 3.5mm stereo headphone socket for private listening.
  • Supports connection of external keyboard (specification to follow).
  • Headphone socket doubles as an A/V connection, allowing stereo audio and composite video connection to a TV. Supports PAL and NTSC formats.

Computing oral history project seeks help

Viva logo

One of the top computer museums in the UK is appealing for people to help them with a very special project – ‘Viva Computer!’ – and is inviting anyone interested to pop along on a special project day.

Subtitled ‘A People’s History of Computing’, the project, which is lottery funded and organised by the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, England, aims to record people who have interesting memories on video as an oral history record for future generations.

The organisers want to know:

  • Have computers changed your life?
  • Do you have a story to tell?
  • Would you like to be part of something very special and record your memories for future generations?

If any of this applies to you, they’d love to see you this Sunday 28 February between 11am – 4pm at The Centre for Computing History, Rene Court, Coldhams Road, Cambridge, CB1 3EW

To register your interest / book a slot for this free event please email:
viva@computinghistory.org.uk

Volunteer to make history

The museum is also seeking more volunteers to help with this project! They need your skills and enthusiasm to help them create an exciting and inspirational new Cambridge archive. Volunteering roles include – filming, editing, research, educational delivery, event management, design, photography, transcription, cataloguing, archiving and more…

To get involved, visit the Centre for Computing History’s website or email: admin@computinghistory.org.uk

Lottery logo

RCN REVIEW: The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega

The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box
The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box

The ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega’ is a crowd-funded ZX Spectrum computer compatible direct-to-television games console in a game pad, produced by Retro Computers Limited, a Luton-based start-up in which Sir Clive Sinclair’s company, Sinclair Research Ltd, is a shareholder.

Bearing in mind the convoluted history of the Sinclair brand, the ZX Spectrum and its associated intellectual property, which was sold to Amstrad in 1986 for just £5 million, it is a wonder that the new company was able to licence rights for development and marketing of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega from Sky In-Home Service Ltd, who inherited the intellectual property rights to the Spectrum computers from Amstrad. Anyway, it’s great to see the once-proud Sinclair brand back on the market (especially bearing in mind Sir Clive’s close involvement), as the Vega has been since 2015.

The Vega is manufactured for Retro Computers Limited by SMS Electronics Limited of Beeston, Nottinghamshire, at the instruction of Vega Team: Paul Andrews, David Levy, Sir Clive Sinclair & Chris Smith. Good to see this kind of electronics being made in the UK again, especially after the mammoth success of the also British-made Raspberry Pi computer (manufactured in Wales).

Development
Comparative size of Vega and ZX Spectrum 48k
Comparative size of Vega and ZX Spectrum 48k

The Vega was developed by Chris Smith, a former ZX Spectrum games developer who, the company say, is the world’s leading expert on Sinclair Spectrum technology. He is the author of the definitive technical book ‘The ZX Spectrum ULA: How to design a microcomputer’. Programming assistance was provided by Dylan Smith, and game licensing was organised by Managing Director Paul Andrews, David Levy and Gerard Sweeney. The games supplied with the Vega were configured and tested for the console by Joe Larkins. And music and fonts were contributed by Matthew Westcott and Andrew Owen.

The Vega received a huge amount of interest during its Indiegogo campaign, and the large amount of feedback received by Retro Computers during the campaign, which achieved all of its goals and was more than fully funded at £149,521 (50% above target), influenced the final design to some extent.

Form follows function
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega (pic Retro Computers Limited)
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega (pic Retro Computers Limited)

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega is, of course, not a Spectrum 48k ‘clone’ in the usual sense, despite being able to run a vast number of Spectrum games; it has a very different circuit design to the original, being based on a more advanced modern microcontroller rather than a large selection of discrete chips linked together by a dedicated rom and ULA.

But its shape and design cues to hark back to the original 48k ZX Spectrum, the good old ‘Speccy’, which has a nostalgia value for gamers ‘of a certain age’ and promises old-skool fun for them and their lucky children in what has proven to be a very marketable novelty product. To add to the nostalgia, the Vega comes boxed and sleeved in a fashion that is deliberately reminiscent of the style of the original Sinclair Spectrum retail boxes, though a lot smaller and using card instead of foam polystyrene packing.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega boxed with instructions
Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega boxed with instructions

Once out of the box, the Vega does in fact look like a somewhat plasticky miniature Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k of the early 1980’s which has had most of the keyboard removed and replaced with a directional red joypad – the ‘D-pad’ as the makers call it, four small representations of original Spectrum keyboard keys, and five buttons. It’s about one-third the size of the original computer.

Just under the front edge of the unit there’s a small green power LED which tells you when the unit is turned on and a microSD card slot. A bundle of cables snakes out of the back, and, reminiscent of the classic Speccy, there’s a small rainbow flash printed on the front right-hand corner, and a raised ‘sinclair’ logo with ZX Spectrum Vega in smaller text below the logo.

The Sinciar ZX Spectrum Vega showing the connecting cables
The Sinciar ZX Spectrum Vega showing the connecting cables

Replicating many of the functions of the original Spectrum using a micro-controller and software enables the manufacturers of the Vega to reduce costs while still running all of the games, 14,000 or more of them, which were developed during the years when some 5 million of the original Sinclair Spectrum were being sold. And there’s more than enough games to keep the kids (of all ages!) busy built-in – a thousand altogether!

The Vega also has sufficient on-board memory to allow the user to download many additional games, which Retro Computers have said that they will be making available from time to time free of charge. You can of course add more (copyright permitting!) by downloading files from the usual websites and popping them onto a micro SD card, which is then inserted into the base of the Vega – though you will then have to organised the key mapping yourself.

The Vega was additionally designed with the capacity for expansion via a hardware interface on its circuit board (in practice this has not been implemented on the Vega, but there are indications it may be on the recently-announced Vega+ console) and the makers also added the ability for the software to be upgraded in future. Continue reading RCN REVIEW: The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega

Amiga engineer Dave Needle passes away

Dave Needle (left) and R.J. Mical with the Atari Lynx c.1989 (pic courtesy R.J. Mical)
Dave Needle (left) and R.J. Mical with the Atari Lynx c.1989 (pic courtesy R.J. Mical)

One of the engineers most closely associated with the creation of the Amiga computer, launched in July 1985, has passed away.

Along with Jay Miner, Dave Needle was instrumental in the completion of the Lorraine project (eventually known as the Amiga 1000).

He was one of the main engineers of the custom chips of the Amiga computer while working at Amiga Corporation, which later became part of Commodore International.

The Amiga 1000 (pic Wikipedia)
The Amiga 1000 (pic Wikipedia)

Later, Mr Needle co-invented the Atari Lynx and the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer after being reunited with fellow Amiga Corporation engineer R. J. Mical at Epyx.

Dave Needle passed away peacefully on the evening of Friday 19 February, 2016.

Retro Computing News would like to offer our sincere condolences to Mr Needle’s family, friends and colleagues on this sad occasion. He will not be forgotten.