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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved



Hombre- The last Commodore custom chipset

In 1992 Commodore canceled development of the AAA chipset and began to design a new graphics chipset that would once again bring the Amiga back into the limelight. It was to be known as 'The Hombre' and would be developed in conjunction with Hewlett Packard over an estimated 18 month period. Unbeknownst to Dave Haynie and the rest of the team designing the Hombre it was to be the last great development that Commodore would ever undertake and work continued on it (albeit slowly) even after the fall of Commodore on April 29, 1994.

The choice of the Hombre is a confusing one to an audience so used to the idea of the Amiga moving towards PowerPC. Rather than a clean break with a new CPU, Commodore chose to produce Hombre as a chipset with a PA-RISC core. At the time Apple were secretly developing their PowerMAC range based upon the 601 processor. However, as Dave Haynie once explained to an audience on Usenet, the PA-RISC was chosen for Hombre due to the exact needs of that project. It fitted the bill in a way that the first PowerPC processors could not, providing speed along with a core that matched the idealism of the Amiga operating system; , the core is small enough to sit on a chip occupied by other functional units (blitter, copper, system control) and the instruction set is extendible for future upgrades. Whilst there were no 680x0 emulation modes built-in to the chip the instructions' architecture was similar making an AmigaOS port slightly easier.

The Hombre chipset was based around two chips- the first was a controller chip similar in principle to Agnus, Alice, and Andrea. This chip featured an advance DMA engine and blitter as well as the PA-RISC processor. The other was a display chip like Denise, Lisa, and Monica found on "Classic Amigas". The chipset also supported future official or third party upgrades through extension for an external PA-50 processor. These chips and some other circuitry would be part of a PCI card. This is confusing as, according to Dave Haynie, Hombre was to form the basis of a CD32-type game console. The reason behind this was the lack of any emulation- as with the rest of the console market compatibility is not an issue with software being made redundant every few years.

Operating System

One of the controversies surrounding Commodore during 1993 and 1994 was the decision NOT to run the Amiga OS. Dave Haynie has stated that the only software that existed for the chip were a library of routines, as well as a 3D package that would most likely be licensed. Whilst an AmigaOS port was favoured by those in the design team it was not under consideration by management. This decision may have been based on the fact that, at the time Commodore was losing money fast, so a machine had to be finished soon to stay alive. The question is, would this have been an Amiga if it was sold. The current definition of the Amiga is based around the OS and compatible chipset design. But as mentioned, Hombre was a clean break supporting none of the existing modes. It supported 16 and 24-bit true colour modes.

Unfinished Business

Whilst the design of both of the chip had not been finished, the display chip was the most advanced, despite being the larger of the two and only worked on by one man, Tim MacDonald, who designed the AAA Monica chip. Dave Haynie gave an impression of how far work had progressed during the 2 years since 1992,

"We were on Rev 2 of most chips by the time the project was shut down. Much of Andrea had been characterized; we ran high resolution displays, copper and blitter, 24-bit modes, etc. On the other hand, only five of the 16 bitplane pointers worked, Monica's colour lookup table was all wrong, and a bug in Andrea prevented the testing of any read registers in the other chips. There was more work to do."

During the first quarter of 1998 an argument raged on Usenet proposing that Hombre could be upgraded slightly to replace the AGA chipset to provide a short-term solution while research into new hardware went ahead. This would have been too much trouble for Amiga Inc. even if they currently employed the original design and engineering team. Firstly the HP RISC would have to be licensed again for the Amiga. Secondly, the Mary processor had not even been tested, every screen display they tried to generate came out in the wrong colours. The only part of the processor that would look modern today, Mary, was completely untestable. Despite the economics of such a decision, many still believe that it is a viable alternative to current hardware.

In 2000, Hombre became the official name for the BoXeR all-in-one chipset.




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