OberonStation, not so good

Victor Yurkovsky aka ENSO developed an FPGA based board, called OberonStation, in cooperation with Paul Reed, which is supposed to run Project Oberon. It does work but in a very mediocre and unreliable way. And Victor gives no warranty or  aftersales service nor  a real refund.

oberon station damaged

See the damaged connector in the left top.

My advice: do not buy it and work with the excellent and free emulators!

I left 6502.org, the site devoted to the 6502, because  the owner (Mike Naberezny) allowed a commercial advertisement, completely 6502 off-topic, for the OberonStation.
The questionable product, OberonStation is adversited, but not to be critically discussed on their forum, and after finding out about my experiences as documented in this blog, Mike asked me to ‘Remove my discussions’. So I left!

Here the OberonStation story, an ugly tale.

Victor Yurkovsky a.k.a. Enso, developed an FPGA based board, called OberonStation, in cooperation with Paul Reed, which is supposed to run Project Oberon.
It does work
but in a very mediocre and unreliable way. And Victor gives no warranty or  aftersales service nor  a real refund for this poorly designed and badly manufactured product.

oberon station damaged

This iss the product I received: see the damaged connector in the left top.

My advice: do not buy it and work with the excellent and free emulators! 

After the initial enthousiasm and the too fast decision (I can have a Wirth system to play with!) to buy it, not checking out Enso/Victor, and now just disappointment.

The OberonStation is advertised on the website devoted to 6502:  http://www.6502.org. Why the people behind 6502.org allow commercial advertisements, not  related at all and disallow negative comments(this blog leaked via others on the forum there ?). I do not know, so after some problems (mail about ‘Take your discussions off the site’ etc) in June 2016 with Mike, the owner of 6502.org, I do not want to be involved with this website. And of course Enso is still a popular forum contributor there ..

This is what I experienced and think is wrong with this board, and the process the board is made and shipped with:

  1. Price. A complete board cost is $169. Add to this $26 transport costs (I live in Europe) and $25 taxes (due to not so smart paperwork by Enso) this adds up to $220.
    The FPGA used XC3S700AN FPGA costs in quantity less than $50. I did get a small refund after my complaints about the damages and missing parts, never an offer for full refund or warranty repair.
  2. Sales process. The Paypal payment went wrong due to the sloppy salespage implementation of Enso.
  3. Shipping. Bad packaging led to a damaged connector on the board. Enso described it to ‘customs stepping on the board’, an excuse he uses often.
  4. Incomplete shipping. The network adapter was not on stock when my board shipped as told in emails, I agreed to shipping later. Later on  Enso blamed ‘customs’ again for loosing the adapter and I never received the adapter, a $5 value.
  5. Quality of soldering.  After initial working the micro USB connector for the power connection started to make bad contact and now does not work not at all, it is getting loose.
    I had to solder in pins to the empty power pads to supply power. No way Enso accepted my warranty request, blamed ‘custom’s again.My board is not the only board having problems with reliability of the connectors.  Carlos Trigoso reported that on his board the PS/2 connectors came loose and was getting the now standard ‘customs stepped on it’ reply and did not get any warranty repair either.
    Read this story about ‘home soldering’ by Enso: http://www.fpgarelated.com/showarticle/499.php
    Quote: I’ve been assembling and reflowing BGA circuit boards at home for a few years now.  BGAs and 0.5mm-pitch QFPs are well within the realm of a determined amateur
  6. Quality of the VGA signal. A combination of the Enso implementation and the choice of VGA 1024×768 at 70 Hz by Project Oberon, on none of my standard VGA to my high end Iiyama monitors an acceptable sharp image appears, all a bit fuzzy.
  7. Extreme sensitivity to PS2 device variations. It took me several keyboards and mouses to get a working system. Which is worse than the original FPGA system Wirth developed Project Oberon, he is known (seen photos of it) to use USB to PS/2 adapters. Working USB to PS/2 adapters I have tested on other computers like the Apple 1 replicas do not work at all. So now I have one (cheap) optical mouse ordered from China, arrived after some weeks  and an old Microsoft keyboard.
  8. Sincere lack of documentation. No circuit diagram, no information on the connectors layout. Unknown how to connect the network adapter, it can be inserted in two ways.  (I read reports of user snhirsch trying it obviously the wrong way , his systems hangs and he dares now not to insert the other way. The reply by Enso is ‘It plugs into the (only matching) 8-pin female header, hanging off the edge of OberonStation.’  which is not helping since it is still unclear how to orientate the insertion.
  9. No community. Instead of  enthousiastic users on the support forum, is only filled with the complaints by me and others as summed above. As you would expect it is heavily moderated by Enso and of course complaining users like me are banned. The sales/info page does not display properly on an Android tablet or phone, and spam on the board is a real issue, whatever …
  10. Quote from the OberonStation forum, I am not the only one with a quality issue and the ‘stepped upon’ reply:
    Carlos Trigoso
    Total disappointment. First note that I made sure the mouse, the keyboard (both PS/2 and tested with normal PS/2 machines) were working correctly. Also note that I tested 4 different power sources which had a stable output as specified never less than 5 V. Third note the video output worked without noticeable problem. Nevertheles neither the mouse nor the keyboard were able detected and obviously these did not work. The more I looked into this the more I noticed that both PS/2 sockets were shaky and probably the contact was bad but I confess that I am not interested in starting a dicussion about the quality of the setup. Oberon is and will be a fantastic invention. Sadly the OberonStation board I received did not work. I will stay with my other versions of Oberon on Linux, etc, all of which work perfectly well. As I say, total disappointment as the assembly could have been so much better for the price charged. Never mind.
    Administrator (Victor)
    I contacted OP. Occasionally the boards get damaged (stepped on?) during shipping. OP says he is going back to Linux and wants nothing to do with OberonStation, so I am closing this case.
  11. Another quote from the OberonStation forum, another dead board.
    snhirsch
    What is small PCB for? My Oberonstation came with a small PCB containing a 16Mhz. crystal, another component covered in epoxy and a 4-pin header. I see no mention of the board on the web site. What is it? If it’s designed to plug into port 2, in which direction should it be oriented?
    Administrator
    Yes, that is the network board. It plugs into the (only matching) 8-pin female header, hanging off the edge of OberonStation.
    It is provided to match the requirements of the ETH ‘reference platform’, and is used to network with other OberonStations. Perhaps in the future someone will make a Raspberry Pi network host…
    snhirsch
    When I install the network board “hanging off the edge..” (which I interpret to mean projecting outwards from the perimeter) the Oberonstation won’t boot. I get a mottled grey and white screen. Am I understanding this correctly? I hesitate to turn it around for fear I’ll damage something.
    Suggestion: Unless all 8 pins are required please consider plugging one of the holes in the header and clipping the corresponding pin to make it unambiguous?
  12. Victor is quite an unpleasant  person to deal with, as I have experienced in out email and forum encounters. To illustrate this, some quotes from the Oberon mailing list:
    XXX, are you a moron or just pretending?
    No one can _make_ a $9.00 computer. You can sell a computer for $9.00, at a loss, if you are funded by a VC, for instance.
    It is fashionable for startups to lose money in order to gain market share, and then sell the business to some other moron. However, it’s only worth it if the market is more than 300 people.

    Just go be a visionary somewhere else.
    Finally, you can always just not buy it.
    Please don’t buy it.
    Some sales are not worth it because the customer will bitch and complain about everything imaginable and waste everyone’s time with their useless opinions, before asking to return the item.

    This explains a lot about why I as customer was treated the way I am: complain about a defective system and not being serviced.

One thought on “OberonStation, not so good

  1. Thanks!
    I looked at this board and was tempted exactly as you were but put off by the price. You have brilliantly confirmed my decision. Porting Oberon to the Raspberry Pi is bound to be a more interesting project anyway.
    Keep up the good work.

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