Lew Eggebrecht, Vice President of Engineering at
Interviewed by Mike Nelson for Amiga User International
at the January 1993 Devcon in Orlando, Florida
At the recent Developers Conference in Orlando I managed to grab
Commodore's Vice President of Engineering, Lew Eggebrecht, to chat
for a while about his background and his feelings on the Amiga. Lew
is one of the most important people making decisions ab out the
direction of the Amiga technology, and even in his relatively short
term of office has made waves in the most positive sense. The AA
machines, the A1200 and A4000, have come to fruition and Lew has
announced a whole string of exciting developments for both these
current platforms and the truly awesome Amigas ahead. Lew took over
from Bill Sydnes at a time when AA development was relatively
advanced, too advanced it seems to change any of the bizarre
decisions such as those notorious IDE hard drives.
Lew has been involved in computing for over 24 years, going
straight from college to work in the manufacturing/engineering
division of a little company called IBM designing custom control
processors, including their first RISC chip. He then went to Atlant
a, Georgia to work closely with the Vice President of the division
on the "lower end" System 3, System 34, System 38 Series 1
"These are all low end machines - all of my career has been
spent in smaller systems rather than mainframes. We started a small
test group to investigate very low cost products such as the IBM
DisplayWriter and the first IBM machine with a BASIC interpret er.
The outcome of all this was, of course, the IBM PC for which I was
the design and project team leader. We did some further work on the
architecture, some of which was implemented and some of which was
not. I then went on to work on 3270 terminals for mainframes before
leaving IBM to work for Franklin Computers who developed Apple
compatible products. The big problem here was that they were unable
to licence the software from Apple so they went out of
Lew moved out of hardware design into a software consultancy
that specialised in telecommunications programming, doing projects
for the likes of AT&T, British Telecom etc.
"We did a lot of packet switching stuff for X25 systems, and we
developed the industry's first ISDN package on a PC so we could
support the new digital communications systems that are beginning
to appear in Europe and the US. I left them to start my own c
ommunications company which I still own, although my Commodore
commitments mean my family run it now."
How did you get involved with Commodore?
"Two years ago I started consulting with Commodore to help them
develop their next generation PC compatible product line, so my
initial work was not on Amiga at all. We're still one of the major
suppliers in Europe of PCs but it's not as profitable as Ami ga
though! Then, about a year ago, I began to work on the next
generation of the Amiga's chipset."
I asked Lew what made him jump from the familiar environment
of PCs to the radically different Amiga:
"Well, I'd worked on Apple, RISC, IBM and all that's left is
Amiga - I knew nothing about it and it's a real challenge. The
architecture is really interesting and has great promise. It's
poorly viewed in a lot of corporate applications and we're trying
to change that and generate a lot of interest in Amiga. This is one
of the reasons why I'm going out and speaking to people, being more
open with future strategies and directions to prove to people we
are a viable vendor and we do know what we are doing. Th at's been
a little lacking previously.
Obviously marketing is not my area but I try to promote the
Amiga from an engineering point of view: the idea that the Amiga is
a viable platform and we are doing interesting new things, and also
that it's something new developers ought to consider."
This does go very much against the grain of Commodore's
usual way of doing business. How much of this is your own personal
"I think a lot of high level executives are uncomfortable with
the technology or understanding and explaining it to others. I'm
able to do that as I'm an engineer - I design things and do day to
day engineering work so it's much easier for me. It's not th at
Commodore didn't want to be open, it was just difficult with the
management they have had in the past.
We're trying to demonstrate credibility and an ability to
produce new products. We have goals. I think the fact we have
released two new systems and other products inside a year
demonstrates that Engineering is not asleep and can product high
quality stuf f at a high rate. That's the story I'm trying to
I pointed out to Lew that the Amiga group, both hardware and
software, is a fraction of the size of the Windows crew and they
are streets ahead in what they are producing.
"Very much so. In many ways the Amiga is just like those early
days of the IBM PC when we were a small group of 12 people. It
shouldn't surprise people that small groups do well - even in the
early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates and one other guy did all t he
I've always wondered why IBM went for the Intel 8088
processor rather than the 68000 of the Amiga. Can you enlighten
"At that time there was the choice and one of the things that
attracted us to the chip was the pricing we were able to get. Also
we felt it was much easier to get software runnning on the Intel
architecture rather than on the Motorola - at that time there were
no native compilers so everything had to be done on an IBM
mainframe and there was no development environment for the 68000.
Also Intel offered a package that would translate 8080 or Z80 code
so that gave us the opportunity to move some applications over
quickly. This meant that there was a body of software that worked
at announcement and we couldn't do that with a 68000. It really had
nothing to do with the technical attributes of the chips it was
more a business decision. Most programmers would pr efer the linear
addressing of the 68000 which you now have with the Intels."
What sort of state was the Amiga in when you took
"Well just over a year ago, AA was sort of languishing. The
design was done but there was a lot of bugs. We were too
conservative in trying to put it into a product and flush things
out so we decided we wanted a AA product by Christmas '92 and we
achieved that. We put together a little task force, did a final run
of the chips and got everything right and the products came out.
The engineers were happy to have a project to work on so that lack
of direction really was overcome. We put more focus on doing th
ings quicker and better. We have some very free thinking engineers
in both hardware and software - very very creative, and if you
don't give them specific goals they'll just continue to develop and
develop. The process of converting a design to a product is
something Commodore has always had difficulty with.
We're stopping all that. For instance we used to do 4 or 5
revisions of a chip but now it's 1 or 2 at the most. We like to get
it right first time and we now have a lot of powerful in-house
tools and simulations of chips to help us do that. We're also usi
ng a lot more industry-standard chips rather than unique things -
if you leave engineers alone they'll re-invent the wheel every time
and we can't afford to do that."
Tell me about AAA - it's been worked on since 1989?
"Yes, we worked on it from an architectural point of view for a
long time but it's only been serious for about a year. It was
obvious that AAA was not going to meet our cost targets for the mid
to low end systems. We wanted to continue that development an d we
also had to have an enhancement quickly so, AA was the solution to
that problem. It would have been nice to have AAA at the same time
as AA but we just couldn't get there."
What about this new AA+?
"AA+ will be a more profitable version of AA with all the things
we wished we'd got in but didn't have time. We have a list of all
the problems we currently have at the low end. The serial port, we
can't read high density floppies, there isn't enough band width to
do 72 Hz screens plus there are no chunky pixel modes for
rendering. We listed all those and said "OK let's go out and fix
them as quickly as we can", so AA+ is an extension, not radically
new architecture. We're doing the best that we can, takin g
advantage of advances in technology, significantly reducing the
cost and that's the goal."
Where does that leave people who have bought A1200s
"It's going to be 1994 before you see any product. I don't
believe there'll be any easy way to upgrade because of the
packaging of the chips - they are surface mounted. The memory
timing and interfaces are dramatically different as we're using a
method ca lled split cycling to do two cycles at once. To get the
video out faster we're bursting out four 32-bit words in one memory
cycle so you can't upgrade a 1200. It's the same all over though -
you can upgrade a 286 to a 386 if you change the motherboard -th
at's progress. We'd love to ensure that no one was ever made
obsolete but that's just not practical - you spend so much time
being backwards compatible that it gets in the way of progress
although compatibility is a major design target.
There is a limited amount of software available for the Amiga
and you don't want to make that smaller. We want to ensure that if
the developer does something legal, it will work on the next
generation of the hardware. You may not be able to take advantage s
of new features, but you aren't obsolete. Unfortunately software is
sometimes written to be timing critical or uses a feature that we
didn't know existed and got designed out, so that leads to
problems. We spend a lot of time and money on compatibility
Games programmers tend to be quite cavalier in their work,
working to a shelf life of their product of only 6-9 weeks. What
can be done to help them?
"We do a lot of testing, but programmers don't use operating
system calls correctly, write directly to the hardware and have
timing-sensitive code - changing the speed of the processor will
make many games break. AAA has a lot of compatibility built in bu t
we aren't 100% successful. We give out Beta systems early so if we
can accommodate people we do. There's some pretty wacky programming
going on out there!"
Where do you see the Amiga in a few years time?
"Clearly we will continue with the living-room type of box. We
learned a lot of things from CDTV - where our best price point is,
how important the quality of the software is and the fact that
running Amiga software is important. Most of our sales come fr om
applications where it is sold as a computer not a CDTV. We
understand that we need Full Motion Video capability on the system
and we are working towards all those goals. Getting AA out was
important and now we have time to look at upgrading CDTV and al so
looking at other price points. We can't do everything at once so we
have to do what gives us the best return on our investments.
Consistent high quality products are the most important right now
but we will look at expanding the product line both above and below
the current machines. Commodore makes a lot of its revenue from low
end products so we pay particular attention to that area."
What about the long term?
"We want to see a complete family of products from the consumer
level up to professional workstations. We have limited resources so
we need to focus on certain areas. We hope that Amigas will become
a standard in multi-media so it is important that in the future we
run Windows NT and UNIX. I suspect that in five years time the
Amiga will be RISC based. We aim to be the leaders in graphics, at
least from a cost/performance standpoint although you never know,
some of the things we are doing will allow us to bring the Silicon
Graphics capabilities down to the desktop, and that's our
It's rather ironic that you created the PC and along with
Microsoft MS-DOS and Windows, all the bias against the Amiga. How
can you overcome this so the Amiga is accepted as a viable machine
for professional use?
"We can get to the point where the processor is not so important
and the user can pick whether he wants to use AmigaDOS or NT, or PC
graphics versus Amiga graphics at will. Once you get a person used
to using an Amiga he loves it. That's always been the p roblem.
Attracting developers to write software is another goal and that's
hard because of the financial side of things. We do sell
Bridgeboards - a 486 board is available today for the A4000,
although we won't be doing one ourselves we'll be encouraging our
third party developers to market them. We forsee very low cost
solutions in the A1200 right the way up to Pentium products for the
A4000, but again with the resources I have I'd rather encourage
third parties to do these things. It's sort of off the s helf
technology which we don't get much out of, so we may do joint
ventures with people. In fact, one of the first things I did when I
started at Commodore was move people from the PC division to Amiga,
and we procure most of our DOS machines from Taiwane se vendors
like other people (including IBM). I'd much rather use those
engineers on Amiga projects than on PCs."
How many people do actually work on Amiga?
"Our total workforce on Amiga including CATS is about 175 people
- as many as there have ever been."
What has impressed you most about third party products for
"Well from a technical point the NewTek stuff is very exciting.
All the video stuff is impressive and feeds on the strengths of the
Amiga. We are seeing the Amiga finding its way into very large
vertical markets like information kiosks, video presentation s that
are OS-independent. You really don't have to be PC-compatible for
that. Performance, price and a good development environment is what
counts and this is quite a large market."
Many people see the Amiga in much the same position with
regard to video as the Mac was with DTP. Do you go along with
"Very much so. We have continued to preserve the NTSC/PAL
capability as it is key to the system's popularity. There is no
doubt about why the Amiga is unique and that is its interfacing
What do developers need to do to break into these "vertical
markets" and convince people the Amiga is the machine to
"In vertical applications, the system is hidden from the user -
he does not make that decision for it made by the developers and
when that is the case, we win because he understands the technology
and its capabilities. It's much easier for the Amiga to go into
this situation as there isn't someone in the board room saying "Why
isn't this thing Apple or PC compatible?". He doesn't even realise
there's a computer involved. You are selling an idea or concept
rather than hardware - it works very effectively."
Are Amiga developers prepared for this?
"We know of a number of Amiga developers who are going after
vertical opportunities. I think we're setting an example with our
system software in terms of stability and compatibility, then
performance. The new releases are much more stable. It's also much
easier to migrate. That quality costs and while you can have
brilliant people doing brilliant things, there's two sides to the
product - the fun side and the hard work of making it stable."
Will Amiga software go up in price to be on a par with PC
"Not necessarily. One of Microsoft's pricing strategies is to
use upgrades where once you buy into a product say for $600 and
register it, to get to the next generation is only $100, and this
has forced the overall pricing down. Access is the new Windows
database introduced at $99. There is a strategy in the PC world to
advertise at one price and sell at another! I think the Amiga will
move in that direction."
What about the games market? It seems that the US games
companies are moving away from the Amiga.
"The 1200 has changed things to a certain extent. We've had a
number of companies enquiring about the Amiga but it is a problem
we recognise. We have provided a low cost, high performance
platform which should attract those companies back. Most our sales
are in the games area, particularly in the UK. In fact, the UK has
always been a bright spot for Commodore. Kelly Sumner has done a
great job and the response to the 1200 has been amazing. We are
building them under contract in Scotland and shipping them directly
to the UK office - we can't make them fast enough."
Most of the games writers want to have 8 channels of sound.
Is this going to happen at the low end?
"The current capability is four channels of 8-bit samples at 27
KHz and we forsee that most systems in the future will have CD
capability. Most of the sound and music will come from this so it
was not as important to put that technology in. Our long term
strategy is to put the DSP in every system, obviously. That will be
sound in and sound out and you can do pretty much whatever you
Does that mean that a AA+ machine will have a DSP?
"We can't make that decision right now - it's something we'll
have to look at but in that time frame, even in the low end, every
machine is likely to have a DSP. It's a cost thing - although the
AT&T chip itself is only $20 to $30 or so. AT&T has a
number of lower cost options, as well, that are designed more
specifically to go on the motherboard. The problem with the present
DSP design is that it has one serial channel and everything you
attach to it has to be run through at that channel rate. I think th
ey're looking at having four independent channels running at
different clock rates, and with that kind of enhancement, DSP makes
a lot of sense."
What about RISC processors and the Amiga?
"We are going down that avenue because that's the way the world
is going. Even the Pentium is basically a RISC processor with a 386
core built into it. Eventually compilers will support superscalar
design, executing two instructions with one clock cycle. Motorola
architecture was actually much closer to a RISC architecture
originally, given what we see from Motorola, the 68060 is
realistically another year away and they are placing more emphasis
on their PowerPC line, and rightly so. Therefore we have to
understand what is going on out there and how to design a RISC
system. RISC buys you the ability to port other operating systems
like NT and UNIX and hence access to productivity software and a
more professional environment. We can make Amiga video techno logy
work with a RISC processor. It will be an Amiga though - you may be
able to switch between an 040 and RISC processor, or emulate 68000
code. It's an extension of the Bridgeboard concept with two
machines running at once."
Do you see Motorola stopping at the 68060?
"I don't know, but it's hard to see them justifying three
processor projects, incuding the 88110, PowerPC. The 68000's will
still continue to sell - in fact we are thinking of integrating the
processor with the Amiga chips for the next generation machine.
This gives a significant cost advantage and it could be faster,
depending on the memory attached."
What's it like at Commodore?
"We're having fun at the moment - the engineers are enjoying
things and we have a lot of internal discussions about what the
Amiga should be."
Where is the main competition now?
"We do get squeezed with clone PCs at the top and Sega
underneath, and also boxes like 3D0, although I'm not as concerned
about this because of its price point. We are in that gap and below
us there is no one with a stable operating system. We always have
the option of cutting down but it's difficult for them to move up.
PC clones are a valid concern as they're improving in capability
although they're light years behind in understanding multi-media.
There is a large enough gap and we're going to charge ou t
What about the gap between the A1200 and A4000?
"We've addressed that with the A4000/030 which uses the 68EC030
chip and is much cheaper. There's no MMU but AmigaDOS doesn't need
it. I can't tell you the price as I don't set them. The 040 is very
expensive (hundreds of dollars), like the 486DX2 chip it 's a large
proportion of the total cost. There's a lot of confusion about
clock speeds and rating megahertz. It all depends on the memory
outside the chip as well as the internal speed and system clock, so
look at the benchmarks if you want to compare spe eds."
Why does the 1200 only have a 14 MHz processor?
"It's to do with the AA chips' architecture and chip memory. You
don't get much more access to the computer's RAM by increasing the
clockspeed as the chips have priority. In FAST RAM this is
different, but the A1200 has 2 Mb of chip RAM. Adding a higher p
erformance processor doesn't buy you a lot on the base machine - it
just goes faster to wait more! Accelerator boards with their own
RAM can go at any speed. Of course there is the old cost question -
higher rate means more cost and we're talking dollars not
Has the A2000 gone out of production?
"Almost. Pretty much the only avenue for this is the Toaster but
Newtek is going to convert to the A4000, and they're really excited
about the 030 version. Some vertical applications need the
expansion slots but I don't know what it's life will be. Our in
tent is naturally for everyone to move onto the 4000. The 4000T is
close, probably in the summer sometime and yes, it's going to be
more expensive because of the larger cabinet, power supply and more
slots. Adding SCSI to the motherboard isn't so pricey, though."
How about that IDE drive in the A4000?
"Yeah, that. We always intended the AA chipset to span a family
of machines and SCSI is not such a good idea at the low end. IDE is
significantly cheaper than SCSI and the low end machines don't have
the performance requirements. Unfortunately we introduc ed the high
end first and really you do need the SCSI. Eventually we'll get it
on the board."
Any message for the UK?
"Just keep buying those 1200s. We're really pleased with the
response and the UK will continue to be a bright spot for us."
I hope from this interview to have shown what the current
thinking inside Commodore Engineering is all about and personally,
I am encouraged that Lew is able to announce the exciting
developments currently under way at West Chester. This really is in
star k contrast with the wall of silence that breeds rumours and
untruths that usually surrounds the Amiga, although doubtless these
will continue from some sections of the community. There is no need
to propagate such useless information when there is so much factual
stuff out there.
The Amiga is a machine that is going from strength to
strength and Commodore has a great asset in Lew Eggebrecht, however
he spells his name, and even the Padre himself, Jay Miner, seems to
approve of the new approach. Let us hope the marketing people can
live up to the great expectations of the engineers. Clearly the
Amiga platform is going to diversify even further into the
professional and consumer markets, and both Commodore and its
developers must prepare for the awesome things to come.
Imagine if Lew is prepared to talk about all the AAA and
AA+, RISC and such like, what is he keeping up his sleeve?
A second report that was circulated on