Int US 214 Folder Collection
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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?
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LGR - Amiga 500 Computer System Review

214 Folder Collection
Amy.Lin published on May 19, 2017
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