Amiga is the name of a range of home/personal computers using the Motorola 68000 processor family, whose development started in 1982. The original Amiga was designed by Jay Miner: his machine was many years ahead of its time when it appeared, having memory-mapped I/O, plug-and-play, a custom chipset (later dubbed OCS) with advanced video and sound features, and a microkernel with preemptive multitasking. Some of these features had been used previously in mainframe computers, but had never been available to the general public before.
The first Amiga computer, Amiga 1000 (or A1000 for short) was released in 1985 by Commodore, who marketed it both as their intended successor to the Commodore 64 and as their competitor against the Atari ST range.
In 1987 Commodore released two new Amiga models, the A500 and the A2000 as low-end and high-end machines, respectively. The first became the most popular Amiga computer of that decade and was mainly used as a console, while the latter was marketed as a more serious workstation for graphic purposes, due to the presence of a SCSI controller option, a Genlock slot and an I/O video connector.
In 1990 the A3000 was introduced in the market as the successor of both A1000 and A2000, with an extended chipset (ECS), and the second release of its operating system, to be known eventually as the AmigaOS.
In the same year, Commodore released three new low-end machines: the CDTV, aimed to move the platform to the living room; the A500plus, with the same enhancements as the A3000; and the A600, basically an A500+ in a smaller box with an IDE controller for hard disks. All of them were a failure, because of the inability of Commodore to market them.
Mass-market Amigas were then considerably cheaper than PCs or Macs of their time - this boosted sales in the more price-conscious European markets, but led to Commodore being viewed in the United States as a producer of cheap and nasty 'game machines'. Further adding to this were the fact that most Commodore retail outlets were toy stores, and the marketing campaigns which were woefully mismatched with the status-conscious American public. This explains why Amiga was very successful in Europe, but not in the US market, with less than a million sold.
In 1992 Commodore released their last Amiga computer models, the A1200 and the A4000: both of them featured the new AGA chipset and the third release of AmigaOS.
In 1993, in a desperate tentative to save their business, menaced by console giants as Sega and Nintendo, Commodore marketed the CD32 a console with specs similar to the A1200, plus a compact disc reader.
In 1994 Commodore filed for liquidation and its asset were bought by Escom, a Germany PC manufacturer, which in turn, filed for liquidation during 1997. Then the Amiga brand was sold to another PC manufacturer, Gateway 2000, which had grand plans for it, but was subsequently obliged by Microsoft to sell it in 2000.
The current owner of the trademark, Amiga Inc. has licensed the rights to make hardware using the Amiga brand to an U.K. computer vendor, Eyetech Group, Ltd (http://www.eyetech.co.uk) founded by some former employees of the UK branch of Commodore International. They are currently marketing the AmigaOne, a PowerPC computer suited to run the last remnant of the platform, the AmigaOS, that was in turn licensed to a Belgian-German company, Hyperion Entertainment (http://www.hyperion-entertainment.biz).
During these years, a very limited number of clones (Amiga-compatible computers) were produced, as both Commodore and subsequent owners of the trademark strongly refused to have Amigas produced under license.
Amigas running any operating system version upto 3.9 are being considered "Classic" Amigas today, contrary to the new Amiga Inc./Eyetech/Hyperion models.
Many "Classic" Amigas are still in use today to produce commercials or local cable TV shows.
The Amiga had some of the most impressive sound and graphics available for the home user. Indeed, it was also used for commercial entertainment production till the mid 1990s, aiding users in the Video editing and 3D fields. However, as a home computer, compatibility with ordinary household television sets was prioritized over professional-grade graphics.
The original Amiga chipset, OCS, was more advanced than other architectures of its time: it had dedicated chips for graphic effects based on the monitor's beam position and the use of genlocks was very easy; even today many broadcast corporations still use A3000s and A4000s for their real time video effects. One unique feature the Amiga had was the ability to change the monitor resolution on the fly, within a scan line or two. This allowed multiple overlapping screens of different resolutions that could be pulled down or up in front of each other, completely without interfering with each other, controlled at the hardware level. The chipset included a blitter, which could not only copy and manipulate large area of graphics, which made the Amiga well suited to arcade action games, but it also included line drawing and area-filling hardware, which helped advance the popularity of realtime 3D games.
The Amiga keyboard is quite similar to PC 101-key keyboards, but differs in subtle ways. Repeat keypress timings caused by holding down a key were handled by software on the Amiga, not hardcoded into the BIOS, and often synchronized to the display timings. As a result, e.g. scrolling through a document could be smoother than on the PCs of the day, which were limited to at most 30 repeats per second. The layout of the keyboard featured a left and right "Amiga" key (bearing the "A" of the (former) Amiga logo in black on the left and outlined on the right). It has the two keys "Help" and "Del" in the place where PC keyboards have "PgUp", "PgDown", "Pos1", "End", "Inst" and "Del". It doesn't have keys like "Print Screen", "Scroll Lock" or "Break", and has only 10 function keys instead of the 12 on PC 101-key keyboards. The smaller keyboard of the Amiga 600 varied slightly from this layout, lacking a numeric keypad and having the delete key relegated to where the right half of the backspace key would normally be. The Amiga keyboard can be used to simulate the mouse, for situations where no mouse is available, desktop space is limited, or precise cursor control is required. Mouse movement is handled by holding down either of the "Amiga" keys and pressing the cursor keys on the keyboard. Mouse clicks are handled by holding down either of the "Amiga" keys and pressing the left Alt key (for left-mouse clicking) or the right Alt key (for right-mouse clicking).
Models and variants
Marketed Amiga models
- Original Chipset (OCS)
- Amiga 1000
- Amiga 500
- Amiga 2000
- Amiga 2500/20 (integrated accelerator board with 68020 processor)
- Amiga 2500/30 (integrated accelerator board with 68030 processor)
- Amiga 2500/UX (with special UNIX version and an integrated accelerator board with 68020 or 68030 processor)
- Amiga 1500 (no hard disk, but two floppy drives)
- Extended Chipset (ECS)
- Amiga 500+
- Amiga 600
- Amiga 600HD (with hard disk)
- Amiga 3000
- Amiga 3000T (towerized version)
- Amiga 3000UX (with special UNIX version)
- Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA)
- Amiga 1200
- Amiga 1200HD (with hard disk)
- Amiga 4000
- Amiga 4000T (towerized version)
- CD32 (first 32-bit console with a CD-ROM reader)
- PowerPC architecture
- AmigaOne G3-SE (processor unit soldered on board)
- AmigaOne XE (with removable processor unit)
- microA1-I (features a PCI 104 slot)
A number of new Amiga models were announced after the end of the Commodore model era. However, very few of them were ever produced beyond simple prototypes (if they even got that far). Some models that were never produced include:
- The Amiga Walker: This was supposed to be a new, compact multi-media computer compatible with the classic Amiga. Its case design was very weird: The black case, about the size of a games console, was curved at the rear. It was joked to be shaped like a vacuum cleaner. There were more-or-less working prototypes of the Walker but it was never released into the mass market.
- The Amiga 5000 and 6000: One of the new owners of Amiga announced that it was planning to continue the classic Amiga line with two new models, the 5000 and the 6000. As far as is known, nothing ever became of them.
- iWin Amigas: iWin was a German company that announced in 1999 that it was designing new computers that were compatible with both classic Amigas and IBM PCs. The only source of information about these computers was iWin's own website, which contained some technical circuit diagrams about them. Upon closer inspection, the circuit diagrams were revealed to be completely unrealistic.
After a few months, the supposed "iWin Amigas" vanished without a trace, without ever being publically presented or released into the mass market. The general consensus of the Amiga community is that iWin never had done any real design, but were simply trying to pull a hoax on the eagerly-awaiting Amiga fans.
After powering up or rebooting an Amiga 500 this screen display is seen, meaning the OS started and asking the user to insert a bootable floppy disk. The displayed floppy is Workbench 1.3.
The operating system, AmigaOS, was also quite sophisticated, combining an elegant GUI like that of the Apple Macintosh with some of the flexibility of UNIX while retaining a simplicity that made maintenance rather easy. While its operating system was the only preemptive multitasking platform with a microkernel in the consumer marketplace for several years with an efficient memory management, robustness left something to be desired, mainly due to the absence of Protected memory, resulting in the famous "Guru Meditation" errors. The Amiga operating system has been resurrected in 2000 as AmigaOS 4, which currently runs only on AmigaOne computers and on A1200s and A4000s with a PowerPC accelerator card.
Other following operating systems that are still available for Amigas: Linux, OpenBSD and NetBSD. Commodore Amiga Unix (based on AT&T System V Rel. 4) was available only for the A2500 and A3000.
Third party software
In spite of being sold short, Amiga was originally supported by such prestigious software titles as AutoCAD, WordPerfect, Deluxe Paint, and Lattice C. Some titles were later ported to Microsoft Windows and continue to thrive there, like the rendering software Maxon Cinema 4D or Lightwave.
Several universities used to host the maybe most extensive non-commercial software archive for a single computer-platform: Aminet. It was born as a spare time project by Urban Müller, a Swiss student who was surprised by the immediate success of his archive. Soon the archive became mirrored worldwide and got even distributed on monthly CD-ROMs. Reports of daily additions to this software-archive were posted automatically to Usenet (de.comp.sys.amiga.archive), or could be requested as an email-newsletter. Most of the programs on Aminet were Public Domain or Shareware, but important software companies made updates and demo-versions of their programms available as well. Now Aminet is being superseded by OS4Depot, which archives non-commercial and free software for the upcoming release of AmigaOS 4.0.
- The name amiga is the Spanish word for 'female friend', from the Latin amica.
- The Amiga had and still has a strong user community, particularly outside the United States.
- The Amiga community contributed a lot to a computer subculture known as the Demo Scene. The Demo Scene was more or less a phenomenon inherited from Commodore 64 times.
- Amiga has two "three-finger-salute", one for warm reset (CTRL plus the two "Amiga" keys) and the other for reboot (CTRL plus the two "Alt" keys). The latter method was introduced with AmigaOS 4.0.
- When an Amiga crashes, it displays a flashing red box with a mysterious Guru Meditation Number. The number is actually the 68000 exception number, and the address at which it occurred.
- During the Commodore era, machines with 'thousands' model numbering were marketed as 'quality' machines for business use, while the other machines (A500, A500+, A600, A1200) were 'mass market' machines.
- The three most popular low-end models of the Amiga - the 500, 600 and 1200 - each had the name of a B52's song written on their motherboard. The most widely cited reason for this is the designers having been fans of the band. The motherboard of the 500 says "Rock Lobster", that of the 600 says "June Bug" and that of the 1200 says "Channel Z". No other models have song names on their motherboards.
- The Amiga 600 was originally supposed to be the Amiga 300, a very low-cost "introductory" model, but its specification changed prior to release, and it was instead marketed as the successor to the 500 and the 500+. The motherboard of the Amiga 600 still says "Amiga 300".
Owners and licensees
- Amiga, Inc. (http://www.amiga.com) — Current owners of the Amiga intellectual property.
- KMOS, Inc. (http://www.kmos.com) — current licensee of the Amiga intellectual property related to AmigaOS.
- Hyperion Entertainment (http://www.hyperion-entertainment.com) — Current maintainers of AmigaOS.
- Eyetech Group, Ltd (http://www.eyetech.co.uk) — Licensee for the AmigaOne platform.
News and discussions
- Amiga.org (http://www.amiga.org)
- Amigaworld.net (http://www.amigaworld.net) — Official support forum for the AmigaOne.
- ANN (http://www.ann.lu)
- Lemon Amiga (http://www.lemonamiga.com) — A friendly Amiga community mostly focusing on games.
- Aminet (http://ftp.uni-paderborn.de/aminet/change.html) — List of Aminet Mirror-Sites for public domain and freely available software for AmigaOS 3.x
- OS4Depot (http://www.os4depot.net) — Official repository for AmigaOS 4.x software
- Amiga Realm (http://www.amigarealm.com/) — Amiga Internet Directory Service and Archive Resource.
- Amiga Wiki (http://www.amigacentre.co.uk/cgi-bin/wiki.pl)
- Pouet (http://www.pouet.net) — A demoscene portal
- The Big Book of Amiga Hardware (http://www.amiga-hardware.com/)
- Amiga history guide (http://amiga.emugaming.com/)
- The Classic Amiga Preservation Society (http://www.caps-project.org/) — dedicated to the preservation of classic Amiga software.