It’s a difficult time in electronics manufacturing, especially for small businesses. The great shortage of semiconductors drives up the cost of components, if they cannot be found. Corn Stephanie Allaire was undeterred, delivering products and developing new ones for its community of dedicated customers. Allaire short Feonix Retro Systems, which targets the “new retro” market, an emerging niche in retro computing that involves going beyond restoring, modifying, or replicating old computers. New-retro machines remix old technologies with the modern, creating original systems that strive to maintain the essential characteristics of classic computers, such as simplicity and transparency.
For Allaire, it’s a return to the technologies that launched his career. “I was 11 or 12, and our dad bought a Commodore 64…. I was interested in hacking games at first. After that, I started doing more hardware stuff. Allaire then did personal and freelance design work for a number of companies, specializing in field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and electronic hardware design.
From 2008 to 2013 she lived in Los Angeles, designing equipment for the motion picture industry and pioneering global shutter sensor cameras. (Global shutters eliminate the motion and flicker artifacts that occur with traditional roller shutters, which create an image by sweeping sequential lines over time.) She also tried to break into filmmaking, but got stuck. come up against brutal competition from Hollywood. “I kind of came out of there with my tail between my legs…. I had to leave my car there because I couldn’t pay.
Allaire bounced back doing contract engineering for Huawei. But after returning to Canada, “I was a bit bored and I started doing a bit of retro,” says Allaire. Then in 2018, she came across a video of David Murray, also known as The 8 bit guy, where he describes the new-retro computer of his dreams. “I thought to myself, ‘Now is the perfect time. I accept the challenge. I started designing from his requirements.’ However, after an initial collaboration with Murray, Allaire realized that she was interested in much higher-end systems than he had in mind, and they parted ways: “I often say I’m kind of Silicone graphics of the new-retro computer wave,” laughs Allaire. She worked various day jobs, founding Foenix Retro Systems as a sideline until she decided to take it on full time last year.
Allaire’s sales are too low for it to outsource manufacturing. “Everything is built by hand,” says Allaire. She has learned to order as many parts as possible as soon as she sees them available. “I knew where the parts were in stock, and I only bought a few. And then the next day, everything else was gone.
Allaire’s machines combine a classic processor like the 8/16-bit 65C816 or the 16/32-bit Motorola 68000 with an FPGA that provides colorful 2D graphics and emulates classic sound chips. His latest product, the A2560K also has a built-in keyboard like the personal computers of the 1980s. They are aimed at the kind of person who is not afraid of assembly programming, who likes electronic music and who likes old-fashioned games .
Allaire remains in close contact with this target group through its Discord channel, where she encourages people to write software and provides frequent updates on progress. She also manages expectations when manufacturing issues cause delays. This leads to the heart of his advice for anyone considering starting a business. “You have to worry about your client. You have to take care of your customer,” says Allaire. It’s an approach that seems to have paid off in terms of loyalty: “90% of my customers are repeat customers,” she says.
This article appears in the March 2022 print issue as “Stefany Allaire”.