The Commodore Amiga 500 was a fantastic 16-bit computer that was just one from a large family of Amiga computers. The Amiga 500 reached us in 1985 and basically was a cheaper version of the A1000 (the A1000 being Commodores first Amiga to be released) that was aimed at the home market. Eventually the 500 became the leading home computer of the late 80’s and its code name was ‘Rock Lobster’.
The Amiga 500 was an important platform for games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of all the 16-bit home computers, the Amiga 500 was the one to gain the greatest success as a games machine due to its graphic and sound subsystems, which were widely considered to be far ahead of their time. A game made for the Amiga platform generally had much better sound and graphics than for example the same game running on an IBM PC, and it was also a more powerful machine than its nearest rival, the Atari ST.
I can remember being very impressed with the Amiga 500s power when they were first released and i still regularly use it to playing fantastic retro games such as Zool, James Pond II,Pinball Dreams, Turrican II, R-Type, Jumpin Jackson (which has a sound track similar to the Rolling Stones song ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’) and many others. A personal favorite of mine was Shadow of the Beast II with the ending sequence that could have been taken from a film, something like maybe Miami Vice for example. . .
Anyway the basic 500 system uses a 68000 processor, 512k ram, and OCS chipset (Original Chip Set) that were known as Agnus, Denise, Paula & Gary.
Agnus is the central chip in the design. It controls all access to chip RAM from both the central 68000 processor and the other custom chips, using a complicated priority system. Agnus includes sub-components known as the blitter and the copper. The original Agnus and subsequent Fat Agnus can address 512 KB of chip RAM. Later revisions of Fat Agnus, known as Fatter Agnus can address 1 MB of chip RAM.
Denise is the main video processor. Without using overscan, the Amiga’s graphics display is 320 or 640 pixels wide by 200 (NTSC) or 256 (PAL) pixels tall. Denise also supports interlacing, which doubles the vertical resolution. Planar bitmap graphics are used, which splits the individual bits per pixel into separate areas of memory, called bitplanes. In normal operation, Denise allows between 1 and 5 bitplanes, giving 2 to 32 unique colours. These colours are selected from palette of 4096 colours. A 6th bitplane is available for two special video modes: Halfbrite mode and Hold And Modify mode. Denise also supports eight sprites, sub-pixel scrolling, and a “dual playfield” mode. Denise also handles mouse and digital joystick input.
Paula I feel that the PAULA sound chip was a giant leap forward from the SID chip based within commodore 64 but i personally prefer the SID. However Paula is primarily the audio chip, with 4 independent hardware-mixed 8-bit PCM sound channels, each of which supports 65 volume levels and sample rates from roughly 20 Hz to 29 kHz. Paula also handles interrupts and various I/O functions including the floppy disk drive, the serial port, and analog joysticks.
Gary controls access to the bus, as well as the diskette reader. The Gary custom chip has been upgraded over time- the A3000 implemented Fat Gary and, among others functions the A4000 implementation manages the IDE port.
In 1990 the A500+ was released. This machine was a European-only model. It also included Workbench 2.0 and a different graphics mode (ECS – Enhanced Chip Set). Unfortunately, the A500+ didn’t get the attention that Commodore had hoped for, and didn’t offer much over the Amiga 500.
Notable historic uses
The Amiga series of computers found a place in early computer graphic design and television presentation. Below are some examples of notable uses and users:
- Season 1 and part of season 2 of the television series Babylon 5 were rendered in LightWave 3D on Amigas. Other television series using Amigas for special effects included SeaQuest DSV and Max Headroom.
In addition, many other celebrities and notable individuals have made use of the Amiga:
- Andy Warhol was an early user of the Amiga and appeared at the launch. Warhol used the Amiga to create a new style of art made with computers, and was the author of a multimedia opera called “you are the one” which consists of an animated sequence featuring images of actress Marilyn Monroe assembled in a short movie with a soundtrack. The video was discovered on two old Amiga floppies in a drawer in Warhol’s studio and repaired in 2006 by the Detroit Museum of New Art. The pop artist has been quoted as saying: “The thing I like most about doing this kind of work on the Amiga is that it looks like my work in other media.”
He also created an image of Blondie at a seminar using the Amiga with Blondie doing a pose.
- A pioneer of the Digital Art movement, Laurence Gartel, along with Jeff Bruette, physically taught Andy Warhol regularly used the Amiga and relevant software.
- Film Star and Actor Dick Van Dyke was a self-described “Avid” user of the Amiga.
- Commodore Amiga’s were used in various NASA laboratories to keep track of multiple low orbiting satellites, and were still used up to 2003/04 (dismissed and sold in 2006). This is another example of long lifetime reliability of Amiga hardware, as well as professional use. Amiga’s were also used at Kennedy Space Center to
run strip-chart recorders, to format and display data, and control stations of platforms for Delta rocket launches.
- Artist “Jean “Moebius” Giraud credits the Amiga that he had bought for his son as a bridge to learning about “using paint box programs”. He uploaded some of his early experiments to the file sharing forums on CompuServe.
- Tom Fulp is noted as saying he used the Amiga as his first computer for creating cartoons and animations.
- The London Transport Museum developed their own interactive multi-media software for the CD32. The software included a walkthrough of various exhibits and a virtual tour of the museum.
- The “Weird Al” Yankovic film UHF contains a spoof of the computer-animated video of the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing.” According to the DVD commentary track, this spoof was created o n an Amiga home computer.
- Rolf Harris used an Amiga to digitize his hand-drawn art work for animation on his television series, Rolf’s Cartoon Club.
- Todd Rundgren’s video “Change Myself” was produced with Toaster and Lightwave.
- An Amiga 1000 can be seen in the movie Disorderlies in the background running a heart animation.
- An Amiga 4000 was in Michael Jackson’s movie Ghosts. At the left of the screen, an Amiga monitor and keyboard can be easily seen at the end credit. (at exactly 38:40)
- Scottish pop artist Calvin Harris composed his debut album I Created Disco with an Amiga 1 200.
- Susumu Hirasawa, a Japanese Electropop-artist is known for using Amigas to compose and perform music.
- Electronic musician Max Tundra also created his three albums with an Amiga 500.
- A black Commodore Amiga 1200 was seen on an episode of Bones, used as evidence to lead to a murder suspect. A clip of this show hosted on youtube became infamous because of the high number of errors i n such a minor mention. Amongst many other errors, an IBM 5150, the first PC was shown as its floppy drive, and it was claimed it used “a homemade operating system” with a “6800 chipset”.
- Tom Berenger’s character Gary Simmons uses an Amiga 500 for his KKK network in the 1988 movie Betrayed.
- Amiga 500 motherboards were used, in conjunction with a Laserdisc player and Genlock device, in arcade games manufactured by American Laser Games.
- A custom Amiga 4000T motherboard was used in the HDI 1000 medical ultrasound sys tem built by Bothell, Washington based Advanced Technology Labs (now part of Philips Medical Systems).
Here we have a television commercial hosting a few famous people to promote the Amiga 500.
The “classic Amiga” models were produced from 1985 to 1996. They are, in order of appearance: 1000, 2000, 500, 1500, 2500, 3000, 3000UX, 3000T, CDTV, 500+, 600, 4000, 1200, CD32, and 4000T. The PowerPC based AmigaOne was later produced from 2002 to 2005. Some companies have also released Amiga clones.
I adore the Amiga and its amazing versitallity whether it is playing games, watching or making demos to creating a piece of artwork on a graghics program it really is an outstanding machine.
I clearly remember purchasing my Amiga from a local store in St.Helens when they first hit the shops with a price tag of £359.90. I still have the receipt for my Amiga 500 for a whopping £500.00 (although this including the memory expansion and an external disk drive) and in my eyes it was£500.00 of my hard earned money well spent. . .