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BMOW Business Update – Good, Bad, and Scary

It’s been a while since I last shared any business updates for BMOW. The past few years have been an exciting trip, as my personal technology blog has grown into a side hustle and then into a bona fide business. Initially BMOW was something I did in my spare time away from my real job (video game development), then it was something I did while I was between jobs, and now for the past few years it has been my real job. The experience has been great, but now the global chip shortage has scrambled everything, and the future outlook is growing scary.

The Good

First the good news. The gradual transformation from blog to store began in 2014, when a few blog readers started asking to buy the Macintosh floppy disk emulator that I’d been writing about. I sold about $18000 of hardware that first year, doing all the assembly and fulfillment by hand. It didn’t leave a huge profit after subtracting all the cost of parts, tools, and other business expenses, but it was a thrill to be making something that people wanted.

In the time since then, sales have grown consistently every year. I’ve moved the assembly work to dedicated manufacturing partners, added many new products to the BMOW line-up, and even hired a part-time employee to help with order fulfillment and customer support. In 2021 I sold several thousand Floppy Emus, plus lots of other products too, which was amazing. Gross revenue was into the hundreds of thousands. My net income after all expenses is less than I could earn as a software developer here in Silicon Valley, but it’s still a respectable number, and being my own boss is fantastic. I couldn’t imagine going back to a regular full-time job now. Sure, I’m always complaining about the challenges of international shipping or payment processing disasters or something else, but that comes with the territory of running my own business.

The Bad

If there’s anything bad here, it’s the overall fragility of the business. A great business would have revenue from many diverse products, with reliable sources of supply, and a large and growing market. I have none of that. The market is owners of obsolete computers from 25+ years ago. There simply aren’t many of those, and the number is shrinking every year as some computers break and can’t be repaired. How many working Apple II and classic Macintosh systems even exist today? Ten thousand? Ten million? I really don’t know. I keep thinking that I must have saturated the market already, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Product diversity is another weak point. BMOW sells eighteen different products, but 80 percent of revenue comes from the Floppy Emu Disk Emulator. Everything else is basically just a distraction. If anything threatens the supply or sales of Floppy Emus, then the business is in big trouble.

The Scary

Friends, the global chip shortage is very bad. For over a year columnists keep predicting it will get better soon, but it only gets worse and worse. This won’t continue forever, but how much longer will we have to endure this crunch? Six months? A year? Two, or three? And what will the landscape look like then? Will semiconductor makers take this opportunity to discontinue some of their oldest and least-profitable chips, the chips that are needed for vintage computer hardware?

The Floppy Emu uses two primary chips: a microcontroller and a programmable logic device. The mcu is an Atmel ATMEGA1284 and the logic device is a Xilinx XC9572XL. Both are relatively old technology, like 15+ years old. Both have seen their prices double or triple in the past couple of years. And both now have very limited or zero stock everywhere, with little hope of getting more stock anytime soon. Maybe I can get more in six months, or a year? Maybe never?

The last time I did a Floppy Emu manufacturing run, it was very difficult to find parts, particularly the ATMEGA1284. I almost gave up. My manufacturing partner made a lot of calls, and eventually found a surplus parts broker who could fill the order for a nosebleed price. As of today, I have enough finished Floppy Emus to last until roughly September at my normal rate of sales. I don’t know what happens after that. If I can’t find the required parts, or redesign the board around new parts, then I’m basically out of business.


What would you do in this situation? I can’t decide, and I’m spinning my wheels trying to decide what to do, while the clock is ticking and time is running out.

One option is to redesign the Floppy Emu hardware around new parts with better availability. The existing parts are pretty old anyway, so a refresh would make sense. But what new parts should I choose? It’s not just the ATMEGA1284 that has supply problems – it’s virtually all microcontrollers from Microchip, ST, TI, everybody. And the options for programmable logic parts are even worse. There’s very scarce availability of any programmable logic parts, and the few that are available are actually less capable than the old Xilinx part, or cost five times as much. Sure, you can sometimes find parts with a few hundred at one supplier and 1000 at another, but it’s usually one specific oddball package or variant while the rest of the family is out of stock. That’s a fluke, not a reliable supply. To feel comfortable betting the farm on a new chip, I’d want to see all the members of its family with deep stock in the many thousands, at multiple suppliers.

If I redesign the Floppy Emu hardware, should I redesign around the best available parts options today, or around a blue-sky vision of the best-suited parts for the task regardless of current availability? A redesign will be a major time-consuming effort, and I can’t afford to get it wrong. It’s a gamble. If I redesign around the best available parts today, that greatly limits my choices. I could be locked into sub-optimal parts for a long time to come. That might make it much harder to add new features, or might create new supply problems in the future, or increase my costs. If I redesign around the parts I’d like to use in a perfect world, then I could have to wait a very long time before they become available again. The redesigned hardware might never see the light of day except for a few prototype units.

Given how much time any redesign would require, and the uncertain results, there’s another option I’m seriously considering: do nothing. Place some back-orders now for the ATMEGA1284 and XC9572XL, and then forget about it. Use the coming months to work on Yellowstone features or develop some cool new product, instead of redesigning the Floppy Emu. Hope that the parts become available before I need them, and if they don’t, it will be lean times at BMOW. I would still probably want to revisit the Floppy Emu hardware design in another year or two, to take advantage of the capabilities of newer parts, but I would do it after the chip shortage is over and there’s a clearer picture of what parts I can safely bet on.

Read 15 comments and join the conversation 

15 Comments so far

  1. Carey Bishop - February 16th, 2022 1:53 pm

    Would the RP2040 be a suitable replacement?

    It seems to be pretty widely available at the moment, and the PIO functionality may be a suitable replacement for some of the programmable logic.

    It’s also available in bulk directly from

  2. Steve - February 16th, 2022 5:49 pm

    On paper the RP2040 Pico looks like a nice piece of silicon, but without a good infrastructure to easily develop serious C/C++ projects for it. I couldn’t find much info about the C++ development tools, only some Arduino and Circuit Python stuff. And I don’t see any active discussion forums or sites about Pico C/C++ development either. I’d love to be proven wrong, but it looks like developing for this chip would be a lonely and frustrating exercise. But given the limited options right now, maybe I need to take what I can get.

  3. Scott - February 16th, 2022 9:05 pm

    What is lacking about the rpi pico with regard to C and C++? Have you looked at the getting started guide?

    I haven’t used the RP2040 for anything yet, but it looks pretty good. I also wonder if the PIOs could be used for what your Xilinx is currently doing. Someone recently implemented an additional USB low/full speed host/device peripheral using a few of the PIO units.

  4. Scott - February 16th, 2022 9:09 pm
  5. Sergey - February 17th, 2022 3:52 am

    Most of shops are selling only 2-3 pico to each buyer

  6. Matt W - February 17th, 2022 6:59 am

    I fricken’ love my FloppyEmu! How about solving the hard parts with speed and software? Like MicroCore Labs MCL65+, MCL86+ concepts – a crankin fast ARM with level shifters. Lots of companies make ARM options – although I have no idea how difficult it is to adjust the design once a part becomes impractical to use.

  7. Alexander - February 17th, 2022 8:49 am

    Have you considered talking to one of the more dedicated niche vendors, like Adafruit? They would probably be more willing to give you a peek behind the scenes on how they do sourcing, and might even be willing to work with you on a redesign, as they are doing lots of work on vintage floppy interfacing, recently.

  8. Tux2000 - February 17th, 2022 10:40 am

    You are not alone. Seriously.

    At work, we have at least three major projects for three of our (business) customers where parts are simply not available. Major suppliers are out of stock, some shady brokers pretend to have stock, but can’t deliver 100 or even 10 parts of really common hardware. Some slightly-less-shady brokers can get 50 parts for the 2019 price of 500 or 5000 parts. I’m talking about Microchip’s SAM-D- and SAM-L-Series, simple DC Motor bridge driver ICs, some generic displays, and so on.

    We have redesigned some hardware to use another motor driver IC, other projects simply wait or the customers try to get the missing parts for ridiculous prices (instead of us buying the parts).

    Of course, our customers aren’t happy, either. We can’t deliver, so they can’t deliver. Some planned to introduce our new developments to the market, but they simply can’t. All they have are prototypes build one or two years ago. So they have to delay that. Some customers now even have problems getting parts for their legacy products, and hope that we find a way to fix that problem.

    If you have the money, lean back, sell your finished products, and wait for the situation to go back to normal.

    If you don’t, try to get a job that does not depend on the delivery of new hardware parts, sell your finished products, and wait for the situation to go back to normal.


  9. Joshua Ryan - February 17th, 2022 1:20 pm

    Would the popular 2560 work in place of the 1284?

  10. Scott - February 17th, 2022 2:06 pm

    100% what Tux2000 said. I have a few hardware products that are simply on hold until the shortage eases. I’m not going to design around a shortage (not that that’s even possible any more).

  11. Darrick - February 17th, 2022 10:21 pm

    Sergey, You must be talking about the boards. Digi-Key says it has 23,793 in stock and ready to ship at $1 each for the processors.

    The programable I/O on the RP2040 is certainly intriguing.

  12. Steve - February 18th, 2022 10:28 am

    I’ve decided to prepare right now for another manufacturing run in September, as best as I possibly can, so I can get more time to ride out this chip shortage and decide what to do next. I placed a back order for the ATMEGA1284 which will hopefully be delivered in a few months. And I pre-purchased all the XC9572XL stock that I could find today, even though it meant paying 2.5x more than prices from 2019.

    I don’t really like this strategy, but it’s probably the least bad alternative. The downside is that it requires lots of money right now, to buy or backorder all these parts, which I won’t recoup through sales until 7-12 months from now. There’s also a risk I won’t be able to manufacture more boards for some other reason, in which case $15K of parts that I pre-purchased will become effectively worthless.

    As for the Raspberry Pi Pico / RP2040, I’ve taken a closer look at it and will write a separate post about it soon. The short version is it might be a good candidate for a refreshed Floppy Emu design, but I would probably still prefer something like a SAMD or STM32.

  13. jason - February 18th, 2022 4:02 pm

    Given the choices, I think you made the call. 🤞 FloppyEMU is pretty dang awesome. There is one possible product you could build that might be interesting, and doesn’t require chips. While the case you have for the EMU is ok, it has some shortcomings; mainly the button “poles” on the inside come un-aligned all the time, making the buttons not work. Plus, all those cables going all over the place… awkward and messy. What I would love and pay big money for is a “Duo Disk” like enclosure, with screens and buttons mounted right on the front, in place of the floppy slots. Then I could put the emu under the computer, with cables our the back. Even better if you could figure out how to put slots on the front for the SD cards. Even better would be bigger displays for it. Maybe this exists, but I haven’t seen it. How about working with MacEffects for such a thing, and make one that matches their clear case… Bonanza! Or maybe I’m just nuts. 🙂 Cheers.

  14. Mike - March 1st, 2022 12:33 pm

    I have an idea – just not sure if it is a good one, though. For what it’s worth – an accelerator. I had a iigs “back in the day” with a ZIPGS card, and it was great. My friend had a TransWarp, also great. Both of those are next to impossible to find now. A couple of people seem to be working on an accelerator for the iigs, however I wonder if the market is there for another? Or if the chip shortage makes it too chancy?

  15. Energy Specialist - August 23rd, 2023 10:39 pm

    It’s always exciting to receive a BMOW Business Update! Looking forward to learning about the latest developments and strategies that will continue to drive success. Keeping a finger on the pulse of these updates ensures we’re prepared to adapt and thrive in the ever-evolving business landscape. Also Visit:

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