Buying an Amiga in 2017

We (like many others) grew up with Commodore personal computers and still love their devices. Especially the Amiga with its advanced graphics capatibilities was ahead of its time. Even nowadays, it is still fun to write code and play games. Therefore, we published an article at the nullsecurity platform which describes what has to be taken into account if you want to have such a machine for yourself. This blog post sums things up in case you are too lazy to read the whole PDF. ;-)

Buying an Amiga in 2017 is an interesting task. After Commodores bankruptcy, hardware development continued and new versions of AmigaOS were released. If you take a look at modern Amiga desktops, you can find something like this:

AmigaOS 4.1 Screenshot
Source: Marko Seppänen

Therefore, my problem was:

  • Which Amiga model, hardware upgrades and operating system are necessary, to get a modern desktop look and feel for writing code or using a tracker.
  • And still be able to play old games like Monkey Island, Battle Squadron or Pinball Fantasies.

A discussion should begin with classic and next-gen Amigas. Class Amigas were build by Commodore and Escom, use a Motorola CPU and contain the custom chipset which allowed an Amiga to be ahead of its time. Next-Gen Amigas are based on PowerPC CPUs and consist of modern components like OpenGL graphic accelerators. Classic software runs on next-gen Amigas in an emulator. The screenshot above is AmigaOS 4.1 on a next-get device which explains its high resolution and true colour palette.

Classic Amigas can be turned into a next-gen device if you add a PowerPC turbo cartridge and a graphics accelerator. The necessary hardware is old, rare and expensive. Furthermore, many genuine components on the Amiga mainboard will be turned off and are not used by next-gen software. In case of an A1200, even the case has to be replaced because of the required space. Therefore my first advice: If you are interested in classic Amigas, buy a classic device. If you want to play around with next-gen stuff, buy a dedicated next-gen device (e.g. an AmigaOne). Do not build a classic-next-gen Frankenstein. ;)

So the first problem is to decide whether to get a next-gen or a classic Amiga. I have chosen a classic device. Although next-gen models are great machines, they have a completely different PowerPC-based architecture than the classic Amigas I grew up with. Of course they run old software on an emulation basis as well, but each Windows or Linux PC can do the same. Furthermore, I wanted to execute games and demos on real hardware. Classic Amigas can be divided into two categories:

  • Low End Amigas house the keyboard and CPU in one shell.
  • Desktop Amigas come in a desktop or tower case. They contain internal expansion slots (except the A1000) which allow users to add multiple cards and therefore a broad amount of new features.

The good news are: Devices from both categories can be used for a great desktop experience which has (to me) the following requirements: I want to run a workbench with an increased resolution, productivity software and a game in memory at the same time. A hard drive with more than 1GB of space stores my software library and avoids the need to switch floppy disks. The whole system is connected to a modern LCD monitor.

To achieve these features, stock Amigas require a few hardware upgrades: Amigas in PAL or NTSC mode (which are used by almost any game) are not compatible with modern displays. So called flicker fixers exist which solve this problem. Increasing resolution and colour palette leads to a reduced responsiveness and consumes memory. Therefore, you should consider a memory upgrade. Additional memory is also important if you want to load game images from a hard drive because the necessary software WHDLoad depends on this. Finally, the hard drive needs something like an IDE connector as well.

I decided to buy an A1200 because I like the all-in-one keyboard case. Compared to an A500 or A600, it contains the AGA chipset which is the most advanced custom chipset revision. Here is a screenshot of my desktop:

Amiga 1200 Screenshot

The Amiga contains a ACA 1233n turbo cartridge which adds 128 MB of RAM and a 68030 CPU. A four GB compact flash card is connected as a hard drive to its internal IDE slot. A AGA Mk2 CR flicker fixer allows you to use a modern display using a DVI port. The workbench has a 640x512 PAL resolution (HiRes No Flicker) with 64 different colours per pixel. A floating point unit is missing. It runs almost everything of my gaming library, a word processor, an assembler to write code, a player for MOD files and a tracker to compose music. Each upgrade consists of newly produced hardware. There was no need to buy old stuff from the nineties. ;)

Listening to MP3s or using a browser works slowly (especially when loading images) and pushes the CPU to its limits. Increasing the colour palette or resolutions reduces the systems responsiveness sigificantly. Besides adding a faster turbo cartridge, further modifications are difficult because of the limited space in the A1200 case. Therefore, if you plan to add more hardware like a graphics accelerator, I recommand sticking to a desktop Amiga. A good example of a desktop Amiga is PrincessKnoekis A4000 which looks like this:

Amiga 4000 Screenshot

In comparison to the previous A1200, the increased resolution due to an additional graphics accelerator allows a very comfortable source code editing experience. It contains a 68060 which is the fastest possible CPU for classic Amigas and delivers a highly responsive desktop. Another advantage compared to the A1200 is the case: You can install many addons, like an ISA bus, MP3 decoder.

I hope this gave you a basic impression what desktop experience can be expected when buying a certain Amiga model. For more information, read the whole article or write me a mail.