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A brand new Linux DRM display driver – for a 1992 computer

680x0: the CPU architecture that just will not die

Feature A patch to add a new display driver for Linux is being reviewed. What's unusual is that it's for a machine released 30 years ago.

In the words of developer Geert Uytterhoeven:

This RFC patch series adds a DRM driver for the good old Atari ST/TT/Falcon hardware.

Uytterhoeven is the maintainer of Linux/m68k, the Motorola port of the Linux kernel, and one of the interesting things about the new driver is that he developed it entirely on emulated hardware, using an interesting virtual machine called ARAnyM by Czech developer Petr Stehlík.


Ten... highlights from 40 years of Atari

From the archives

Even more unexpected is that this isn't the only 680x0 VM for Linux kernel developers. QEMU 6.0 also has a new target, known as m68k, implemented by Laurent Vivier. This is for a nonexistent Virtual M68k Machine. The new QEMU machine type uses some technology from the Goldfish emulator used in Android development:

The most powerful m68k machine emulated by QEMU is a Quadra 800, but this machine is very limited: only 1 GiB of memory and only some specific interfaces, with no DMA.

The Virtual M68k Machine is based on Goldfish interfaces defined by Google for Android simulator. It uses Goldfish-rtc (timer and RTC), Goldfish-pic (PIC) and Goldfish-tty (for early tty).

The machine is created with 128 virtio-mmio buses, and they can be used to add serial console, GPU, disk, NIC, HID, hwrng, 9PFS…

This description is taken from Vivier's patch, which adds support for the machine to the Linux kernel.

The TT and Falcon were the final two models in the Atari ST family, collectively affectionately known as the "Jackintosh" after Jack Tramiel, the late founder of Commodore. The TT 030 ($2995 in 1990) was Atari's stab at the professional three-box desktop workstation market, with a 32MHz 68030, on-board SCSI, one VME-bus expansion slot and the option of Atari System V Unix. Following the TT's lack of commercial success, Atari did a cost-reduced single-box version, the Falcon 030. Launched in 1992 at $999, the Falcon lost the VME slot but added an IDE controller and a Motorola 56000 digital signal processor as standard, making it popular with musicians, as Sound On Sound described.

The Falcon was not a big hit and was discontinued in 1993 along with the TT, but it generated enough interest that Atari worked on a 68040-based successor. C-Lab, the original authors of what is now Apple's Logic, bought the line, relaunched it as the Falcon Mk I, then did two successor models, the Falcon Mk II, and finally the rackmount Falcon Mk X. AtariMania has a scan of a C-Lab ad for the Mk II, and at least one Redditor owns one.

In the 21st century, there has been at least one new Falcon-compatible machine, the FireBee, and the FPGA-based MISTer is still on sale.

There are also not one but two Falcon-compatible operating systems that are FOSS. The older one is the multitasking AFROS, built to run on ARAnyM. The other is EmuTOS is a modern recreation of the single-tasking OS that Atari shipped in the machines' ROMs. Built in part from the Digital Research source code that Caldera made GPL, way back in the 1990s, version 1.2.1 appeared in August, and it can even be burned into a ROM chip and run on the original hardware.

EmuTOS can also run on the Amiga, and in that world, Amiga enthusiasts are keeping the 68000 fire very much alive, too. The Vampire accelerators emulate an enhanced Amiga CPU on an FPGA, offering substantial performance gains. A cheaper alternative is the PiStorm, which simply emulates the Amiga's processor on a Raspberry Pi, plugged into the original CPU socket.

Michal Schulz, one of the developers of the AROS FOSS Amiga-compatible OS, is working on a bare-metal 680x0 emulator for the Raspberry Pi, Emu68. When it's finished this should enable AmigaOS and the 68000 version of AROS to boot and run on a Raspberri Pi, without Linux underneath: a £50 Amiga. We would love to see the EmuTOS developers port their ST-compatible OS to this combination, too.

It's even possible to combine the two, and run Emu68 on a PiStorm inside a real Amiga, delivering both an 800 MIPS Amiga and lightning-fast boot-up as well.

Youtube Video

Multiple compatible successor machines, modern FOSS OSes and VMs to run on top of later OSes, and current Linux support… Not bad for an architecture released in 1979 and nominally replaced by PowerPC in early 1990s. ®

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