The Amibox Project
How the AmiBox project started…
A few months ago, a friend caught my attention with his web-based operating system, developed to look like the Amiga workbench, and continued to glean my attention with posts to online groups of Amiga fanatics. In-fact, this friend runs one of these groups.
I had thought that the world had long since forgotten the Amiga, but there is still quite an active community of fans, keeping the platform alive. This gave me an uncomfortable feeling… nostalgia.
My own Amiga 1200 is still currently packed in the bottom of a box, in a very busy attic, over 6000 miles away. It would cost a lot to have it shipped to me, if I dared ask my family members to brave that attic and recover it. Such a request would frankly be unreasonable for a simple case of nostalgia. So I pondered for a while, and then went looking to see if I could buy an Amiga locally. I was actually dismayed to discover that an Amiga-500 complete system in working condition would set me back around $500, and an Amiga 1200 around $1200! For a 26-33 year old computer, I’m not paying that kind of money either.
So, I then considered emulation. Now, I can already emulate an Amiga on my PC, I’ve been doing so very occasionally since about the Pentium era, but I tend to just keep my Amiga backed up on my NAS these days, and before that on my backup disks. It’s not quite the same as having an Amiga just set-up and ready to run on your physical desktop, it somehow doesn’t feel the same. I’m also quite precious about my PC, and tend not to keep applications installed that I don’t use frequently.
I backup and reinstall Windows on my PC almost monthly (I know, that’s something of a neurosis I think, friends have commented!). So the Amiga emulator rarely gets installed on my PC. It would be nice to have a computer dedicated to it. Something small that will sit on my desk or in my game room.
Others in the Amiga fan community have used Raspberry Pi-3 as emulators. Unfortunately, I read the forums on doing this, and it seemed like just about everyone was having problemst. There may well be success stories out there, but there just seemed to be too many difficulties involved. Raspberry Pi-3 would at least be affordable, at around $30 for the device it’s self, and then some for the additional items needed to attach controllers and such, but by my research, it just seemed like too much of an unknown process. (And yes, for those reading between the lines, my chosen option is not without difficulties either, but I’ll come to that).
Another option is to go with an FPGA based system, frankly, this is probably the best option in terms of hardware compatibility and performance, but with capable FPGA’s starting at around $150, and the addition of other hardware components, it too is getting to be a pricey option. I may revisit this idea some day for the entertainment of working with FPGA’s, but if I owned an FPGA, there are several things I’d like to do with it besides running an Amiga emulator, and I’m going for a dedicated Amiga here.
It was then that I remembered that I’d once modified an original Microsoft Xbox to run Linux! Yes, back in the early 2000’s the XBox console had been hacked by some clever reverse engineers, to run Linux instead of the cut down Windows OS that it runs for gaming. I remembered the XBox specs, 733Mhz Pentium with 64MB Ram, and figured that should be plenty to emulate a system with a 14Mhz processor and 2MB of RAM. It’s probably sufficient to emulate RAM expansions and an overclocked CPU too. I also know that there’s an original XBox sitting on the shelf at the pawn shop around the corner from where I live, and it’s very affordable ($15 console only) So began my journey to turn an original XBox into an Amiga 1200!