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ECLIPSE REVIEW

What is it ?
-----------------



Eclipse is a PCI-adaptor for Falcons, it is mainly aimed for graphicscard for
now, drivers for ethernet, scsi etc are not available as far as I know but
ethernetdrivers are in progress I've been told.

About a month ago I decided to buy one to see what it actually was capable
of and here is my own experience.


Installation
------------

The initial price was 200ukp and that included the actual device, a couple
of ribboncables that connects to the expansionslot on the falcon motherboard, a
PCI-adaptor, a floppydisk with drivers and tools for configuration, a RAGEII
2D/3D videocard and a small, 10 page manual. Since release the price has gone
down to 150ukp which was what I paid.

*NOTE* According to Cortex Design there are no more RAGEII cards available.

The installation itself is pretty straightforward, plug it in and solder a
wire to a 12V point on the PSU. Since I have an old NOVAcard which requires
the same voltage I knew that positive pin on capacitor 110 (c110 on the
motherboard, right next to the FPU) does the same thing so I simply wrapped
the wire around it rather than soldering it. This is a bit dodgy but it works.


Thats it! I switched the computer on and started copying all files from the
floppy. Having heard on IRC that the drivers Cortex provided was faulty I
didnt expect too much but hey, it worked! My falcon booted up in 640x480 with
256 colours, I was amazed, things like these usually never work the first
time! I changed resolution to 1024x768 with 16bit colourdepth and rebooted. It
worked again! I then tried a few things and quickly realized that
compatibility was not as good as I had hoped.

After a bit of tweaking and upgrading to newer drivers (and quite a few emails
to other eclipse users) I now have a working setup using 800x600, 16bit.


Benchmarks
----------

So how fast is this piece of hardware anyway? Well, at first I thought it was
pretty crap, slow scrolling, moving windows in realtime was dead slow until
I realized that I hadnt configured the card properly, there are various small
things you can switch on to make it faster and this can sometimes be very
confusing, a lot of options and flags to test. You have to be a bit careful
when configuring though because some options might speed things up but make
everything less compatible! Overall I prefer good compatibility over speed.


I've included some benchmarks here:


Standard falcon030.

GEM Bench v4.01              Ofir Gal - 14 Jan 95

===================================================

Falcon 030 TOS 4.04
AES v3.40
GEMDOS v0.48
MiNT not present
Blitter Enabled
NVDI not present
Video Mode: 800*592*65536
LineF FPU installed
Run and Malloc from STRAM


Ref: F030 + FPU, 640*480*256
============================================

GEM Dialog Box:             2.755    243%
VDI Text:                   0.460   1619%
VDI Text Effects:           1.115   1313%
VDI Small Text:             0.455   1362%
VDI Graphics:               1.585   1053%
GEM Window:                 1.020    367%
Integer Division:           3.100    100%
Float Math:                 0.335    123%
RAM Access:                 2.170    148%
ROM Access:                 2.280     98%
Blitting:                   0.580   1500%
VDI Scroll:                 0.715   2097%
Justified Text:             0.930   1021%
VDI Enquire:                1.140    179%
New Dialogs:                4.310    198%


============================================

Graphics:                            995%
CPU:                                 117%
Average:                             761%




I know numbers dont tell you much but the feeling is about the same as a
standard falcon with NVDI installed running 640x480 in 16 colours, but
you get a much higher resolution and more colours obviously.


Compatibility
-------------

The main question when you buy this sort of hardware is obviously
compatibility, will my old software run and take advantage of the extended
videomodes and colourdepth that the Eclipse provides?

For my Afterburner040 I have a NOVAcard which is basically the same as an
Eclipse (NOVA is an ISAadaptor, while Eclipse uses PCI) and I had only good
to say about that, was the Eclipse as compatible as the NOVA ?

The answer turned out to be "not quite". I use MiNT and NAES2.0 and among
the applications I use is Thing, Aniplayer, Qed, CAB, FalcAMP, ImageCopy4,
Smurf and Vision.


First thing I noticed was that Thing refused to display my 256 colour icons
correct in 16bit or higher, this is not really a problem but indeed a bit
annoying. My old Aniplayer didnt work at all and the most recent
version (2.18) still doesnt always start, it usually crashes with a bus error,
according to Eclipse support pages (eclipse.atari.org) you should enable
direct mode but I cant get it to work properly. I had no problems at all with
this on my NOVA. Qed and FalcAMP both run without problems and so does CAB
and archivers like LZH and STZIP. ImageCopy4 simply refuse to start, it doesnt
give any error messages or anything so first I thought I had forgotten to
enable the x-flag in MiNT but after a quick look on Joshua's Eclipsesite I had
to accept that ImageCopy4 doesnt work at all on Eclipse, this is a bit strange
since I had no problems whatsoever on NOVA. Both Vision and Smurf run but when
you try to access any of the more advanced features they crash, usually
locking the computer completely as a result.


Overall compatibility is worse than I expected and it doesnt come close to the
NOVA, if this is because the drivers are still very much in betastage or if
the Eclipse is generally less compatible I do not know...



Power without the price?
------------------------

150ukp is a great deal of money, is it really worth it? Depends what you are
looking for, if you are into games/demos (like me) and hardly never use any
gembased applications then you wont need an Eclipse (you probably never even
considered getting one anyway). However if you use MagiC/MiNT along with some
more serious software this might be what you've been looking for.

However, compatibility IS a big problem here so you might want to think twice
before ordering one. I dont regret buying an Eclipse but that is mainly
because I want to support what's left of hardware manufactures. And when
the new CT60 becomes available if has got its own PCI/AGP interfaces,
hence making an Eclipse pretty useless (especially since the CT60 hasnt got
portthru).

Since the drivers are constantly being updated I see no reason why these
problems cannot be solved so it might turn out to be well worth buying!
Especially if we can get some sort of 3D library (after all, RAGEII has got
3D capabilities), we might be able to see some demos and games utilising
the full potential of the card!

I was a bit disapointed to discover that my old NOVA was actually more
compatible and better in many cases than the Eclipse but like I said above,
these things will hopefully be sorted soon.


Overall its a bit expensive for something that clearly still is in betastage
but if you are in need of extra high resolution/colours when dealing with
GEMapplications and if you can live with the glitches its worth the money.



Fredrik Egeberg (deez@algonet.se)





Useful links:



eclipse.atari.org       : Eclipse support pages

fmax.atari.org          : fmax pages

www.cortex-design.co.uk : Cortex website




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