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  • [theme music]

  • The year is 1985.

  • Marty McFly has returned from the future,

  • Ronald Reagan is sworn in for a second term,

  • and Commodore is about to release a new 16-bit computer

  • right after Atari has done the same.

  • And how it got to this point is rather impressive.

  • In the early 1980s, Commodore and Atari were at each other's throats.

  • Both had spectacular 8-bit computers and things were getting hairy at both companies.

  • Through a series of rather spectacular events that are best suited to a video of their own,

  • Atari and Commodore developed 16-bit successors to their earlier machines.

  • While Atari released the ST, Commodore's entry to the war was the Amiga,

  • a very capable system with color graphics and great sound.

  • But at about 1,600 US dollars,

  • it was a bit expensive for the average user,

  • so a low-cost machine codenamed "Rock Lobster" was in the works.

  • Then at CES in January of 1987,

  • the so-called home version of the Amiga was announced,

  • the Commodore Amiga 500,

  • with the earlier machine retroactively being labeled the Amiga 1000.

  • At almost half the price, and also being sold in retail stores,

  • instead of just computer shops,

  • the A500 quickly became one of the iconic home computers of the time period.

  • Let's take a step back, though.

  • The Amiga 1000 was the first machine

  • and was a slim-line desktop computer with a cool keyboard garage underneath.

  • Like the recently released Macintosh, it had a graphical user interface

  • but it was in color with great graphics and sound capabilities,

  • as well as several coprocessors which really made it quite efficient.

  • It was way ahead of its time,

  • and is considered by many as the first multimedia, multitasking home computer.

  • However, it was still somewhat high-priced

  • and the very capable budget Amigas were what ruled the day

  • and are what this review will focus on.

  • Namely, the Amiga 500 from 1987.

  • This was the best-selling model and is very similar to the 1000,

  • except that it has a built-in keyboard and Kickstart in ROM.

  • There is also the short-lived 500 Plus,

  • which included the enhanced chipset and a new operating system,

  • as well as the 600 and 1200 from 1992,

  • with the former being basically a cut-down 500 Plus with a PCMCIA port,

  • and the latter being an advanced 32-bit home machine with high backwards compatibility.

  • There were tons more Amiga machines, but they're not in the scope of this review.

  • I got my Amiga 500 for the cost of shipping,

  • as it was generously donated by Borin81.

  • Thank you again. I seriously appreciate it.

  • This is actually my second Amiga, but my first one I sold a couple years back

  • since it was an American NTSC machine.

  • The vast majority of the games that I want come from Europe

  • and are made to work with PAL machines.

  • This one's from Sweden, so it fits the bill nicely,

  • and it even has those nifty Swedish characters on the keyboard

  • that the kids are so into these days and are completely metal.

  • The Amiga 500 originally came with 512K of RAM, but this one's been upgraded to 1MB,

  • which is a really common upgrade and is really a necessity, in my opinion.

  • You can expect to pay between $50-80 for a complete system,

  • depending on what it comes with and where you buy it.

  • Most of the specs are the same as the original 1000,

  • a 16-bit Motorola 68K CPU running at 7.09MHz,

  • an 880KB floppy drive,

  • and the original chipset, or OCS,

  • with an 8-bit four-channel stereo sound chip

  • and six bits per pixel graphics, at up to 640 x 512 resolution without overscan.

  • For 1985, and even 1987, those specs are freaking crazy,

  • especially in comparison to the crappy PCs of the time.

  • And at the lower price point, it really made the system a no-brainer,

  • even in competition with some of the other machines from the day.

  • Aesthetically, I find the system very attractive.

  • Although, mine really needs some Retro Bright, especially on the keys,

  • because in its original luster, it's amazing.

  • The keyboard itself isn't too bad.

  • It's pretty typical of the time for home computers, with just enough tactile support to be acceptable.

  • I like that it has arrow keys, but you'll probably never use them,

  • since most games use the joystick ports in the back.

  • There are your standard DB9 ports which will take anything

  • from Atari-style joysticks to Amiga mice.

  • The mouse itself is pretty much "meh."

  • I'm not a big fan of the buttons, but the shape is kind of comfortable

  • and the precision is just fine.

  • On the back, you also have left and right RCA audio output,

  • ports for a disk drive, serial and parallel devices,

  • a proprietary power supply port,

  • RGB video output and monochrome composite video output.

  • There's also a built-in floppy drive on the side

  • which uses Amiga-formatted 3.5" floppies only.

  • You can attach and daisy chain more drives if you want,

  • even just one more helps tons with disk swapping,

  • but you can attach up to three, if you're crazy.

  • On the left side, you have an expansion which can be used for CPU, fast RAM and hard drive upgrades,

  • and underneath is the trap door expansion,

  • which is where the extra 512K of slow RAM is installed

  • and sometimes these come with a battery-powered clock installed as well.

  • There is no built-in PSU, so you will need an external power brick

  • similar to what the C64 uses.

  • Since this one's Swedish, it does have a Euro plug and runs at 220 volts.

  • I use a step-up power converter for UK devices

  • and one of these nifty universal plug adapters. It works just fine.

  • The power switch is actually on the brick itself, which I find a bit inconvenient.

  • Now, although there is a composite output port on the rear,

  • it only displays in monochrome.

  • So if you want color, and you do,

  • you'll need an RGB monitor like the Commodore 1084.

  • But I don't have one, or even have access to a SCART display,

  • so instead I use the A520 modulator, which outputs to RF and color composite video.

  • It works well but it's honestly a hassle to use. It's just awkward.

  • It looks like somebody stuck a stick up the Amiga's butt.

  • And I also have a Sony KV-1311CR monitor, which has a proprietary port for the Amiga,

  • but I don't have the cable for it. It's pretty hard to find.

  • Once again, this machine is a PAL computer,

  • so if you're in America, you'll either need an NTSC machine, which doesn't run as many of the games,

  • or you'll need some kind of setup for running PAL machines.

  • The Amiga uses and operating environment called Workbench,

  • and in my case, it uses version 1.3.

  • Unlike the 1000, the 500 has Kickstart in ROM,

  • so you just need the Workbench disk to start the OS.

  • Now you can call me weird, but I really like AmigaOS

  • and the blue, white and orange color scheme is pleasing.

  • It's simple to use and has multitasking, with calculator, notepad, printer options, the works.

  • I mean, what more could you ask for in 1987?

  • And the text-to-speech tool is always fun.

  • [computer voice] "Moogity boo doo."

  • For the most part, games themselves don't require booting of a Workbench disk before starting,

  • so you'll just need to pop in the game, boot the machine and let it do its thing.

  • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of games for the Amiga computers,

  • and the vast majority will work on an A500,

  • even games made well into the '90s.

  • While the machine did have some success in America,

  • it was nowhere near the amount that it enjoyed in the UK, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

  • As such, most games will come from overseas,

  • and be tucked away in these neat little non-conformist boxes that were so commonly used there.

  • I won't even pretend to be able to cover the massive breadth of games for the machines,

  • so here are just a few of my favorites.

  • Regarding the PAL A500 in America,

  • the biggest downside is the fact that most games were and are popular in Europe.

  • This makes acquiring them a pain,

  • and even then, there's no guarantee that it will work on an NTSC machine.

  • This is exactly why I waited for a PAL machine, and it's great,

  • but shipping everything is always a pain in the friggin' butt.

  • You can always download the games, and they're super easy to find,

  • but you'll need a null modem serial cable,

  • blank Amiga floppies, a PC and the software to use it,

  • like Amiga Explorer.

  • And although it works very well, it's very slow,

  • and takes about three to four minutes to write each disk.

  • There are also plenty of other options for using compact flash cards and other such devices,

  • but mostly these are easier to use in the later machines like the A1200,

  • as the 500 doesn't have a built-in PCMCIA port.

  • So with the 500, you are rather limited in your options.

  • And of course, there are lots of great emulation packages for the Amiga,

  • like the amazing WinUAE.

  • I love it. It does a great job and using it made me decide that I needed an Amiga.

  • So, is the Amiga worth buying or not

  • in today's retro gaming market?

  • Well, I have to say it's a resounding "yes,"

  • at least if you get a PAL Amiga.

  • Now, I have to reiterate one last time

  • the bad experience that I had with an NTSC Amiga 500.

  • I had it for a few months.

  • I tried about 20 or 30 games for the thing

  • and maybe half of those worked.

  • And of course, almost all of them are from Europe

  • because it just wasn't as popular here in America, or North America.

  • I don't know why.

  • I guess it really did have to do with the dominance of the PC,

  • which is unfortunate because the Amiga for its time

  • is an amazing computer,

  • and it's still something that's completely awesome to use today.

  • It's just a lot of fun.

  • There's tons of games for it.

  • It's got great graphics, it's got great sound.

  • You can use pretty much all of your regular peripherals with it.

  • And it's easy to hack if you want to. So...

  • I-- I really don't see many downsides.

  • Now, how is it in comparison to something like the Atari ST?

  • Well that's...

  • that's a theological argument that I'm not gonna get into.

  • But the Amiga 500 or one of its compatible variants?

  • Yes. Get one.

[theme music]

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B1 INT US atari machine pal disk computer port

LGR - Amiga 500 Computer System Review

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    Amy.Lin   posted on 2017/05/19
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