The Amiga is a family of home/personal computers originally developed by Amiga Corporation as an advanced home entertainment and productivity machine. Development on the Amiga began in 1982 with Jay Miner (1932-1994) as the principal hardware designer. Commodore International introduced the machine to the market in 1985, after having bought Amiga Corp. The machine sported a custom chipset with advanced graphics and sound capabilities, and a sophisticated pre-emptive multitasking operating system, now known as AmigaOS. It ceased production in 1996.

Based on the Motorola 68k series of 16-bit and 32-bit microprocessors, the Amiga provided a significant upgrade from 8-bit computers such as the Commodore 64, and the Amiga quickly grew in popularity among computer enthusiasts, especially in Europe. It also found a prominent role in the video production and show control business.

Many consider it "ahead of its time" due to multimedia and multitasking capabilities that made it a less-expensive alternative to the Apple Macintosh, but allegedly suffered from poor marketing.

The Amiga was originally designed by a small company called Amiga Corporation as the ultimate video game machine. Before the machine was released into the market, the company was purchased by Commodore, and it was redesigned into a general-purpose computer. The first model, called the Amiga 1000, was released in 1985 as a successor to the Commodore 64 and a rival to the Atari ST.

Commodore later released several new Amiga models, both for low-end gaming use and high-end productivity use. Throughout the 1980s, the Amiga's combination of hardware and operating system software offered immense power, but in the late nineties and early twenty-first century, other platforms, most of all the PC, reduced or eliminated this advantage.

At the time of its introduction in 1985, the Amiga had what was a complex overall architecture, featuring co-processors suited for audio and visual tasks. With its stereo sound, comparatively large color palette and brisk performance (due largely to the custom chipset) - not to mention its multitasking abilities - the Amiga was considered by some to be superior to all competing systems, despite competitors offering faster CPUs, higher resolution (though monochrome) graphics and (in some cases) built-in MIDI.

The platform had three significant upgrades (not counting later non-Commodore technologies), with the Amiga 2000 in 1987, Amiga 3000 in 1990 and the Amiga 4000 in 1992. These upgrades improved the platform's graphical abilities, allowing for more colors and different display modes, and added expansion slots and ports. The best selling models however, were the much cheaper but still remarkably versatile console models, the Amiga 500 (based on the 68000 CPU and OCS chipset, see below) and the later Amiga 1200 (with a 68020 and AGA chipset).

The platform also introduced other innovations. For example, the Amiga CDTV was the first computer to feature a CD-ROM drive as standard.

The Amiga was also one of the first computers for which one could buy cheap accessories for sound sampling and video digitization. This means that not only can the Amiga produce computer-generated images and sound, but users can input "real" images and sound for editing, composition, and use in computer games.

All Commodore Amiga models make use of Motorola CPUs based on the Motorola 68k architecture. Introduced by Motorola in 1979 the 68k CPU family has powered numerous computer and game systems, including the Atari ST, Apple Macintosh, Sega Mega Drive, and Sun Microsystems.

In desktop style Amiga models the CPU was fitted on a daughterboard, called a CPU card. Low cost Amiga models came with CPUs either socketed or embedded on the motherboard. On all Amiga models the CPU could be upgraded through an expansion card or direct CPU replacement. CPU cards were provided by both Commodore and third party manufactures. These cards often came with onboard memory slots and hard drive interfaces, alleviating those tasks from the base Amiga.

The Amiga is not limited to solely the 68k CPU architecture; it is also possible to install a PPC coprocessor that can be used by PPC aware software and libraries. PPC accelerators are arguably self contained computers that only use the base Amiga for compatibility with chipset depended software and hardware.

The Amiga's custom chipset, as the name implies, consists of a number of chips.

There are three generations of chipsets used in the various Amiga models. The first is OCS, followed by ECS and finally AGA. What all these chipsets have in common is that they handle raster graphics, digital audio and communication with between various peripherals (e.g. CPU, memory and floppy disks) in the Amiga.

Earlier Amigas could display graphics in 32, 64 (EHB Mode) or even its full complement of 4096 (HAM Mode) colors long before the IBM PC compatible or the Apple Macintosh. Its revolutionary visual processor made it one of the first home computers used to do digital effects for a TV programme. Later models sporting the AGA chipset (A1200 and A4000) added 128, 256 and 262,000 color modes from a 24-bit (16.8 million) color palette.

The sound chip, named Paula, supports four sound channels (2 for the left speaker and 2 for the right) with 8 bit resolution for each channel and a 6 bit volume control. The analogue part of the chip is connected with a low-pass filter, filtering out the many high frequencies often created in computer systems.

* Software such as Octamed uses software mixing to allow 8 or more virtual channels, and astute composers can mix two hardware channels to achieve a single 14-bit resolution channel by playing with the volumes of the channels in such a way that one of the source channels contributes the most significant bits and the other the least ones.
* Programmers developed a 14 bit stereo output routine by combining channels and volume controls with the existing 8 bit sound resolution.
* In the PC/Amiga/ST rivalry, the quality of the Amiga's sound output, and the fact that the hardware is ubiquitous and easily addressed by software, were standout features of Amiga hardware that the PC lagged behind for years.
* Paula can read directly from some of the system's memory (chip ram), using direct memory access (DMA), making sound playback without CPU intervention possible.
* There are third party sound cards that provide DSP functions, multitrack direct to disk recording, multiple hardware sound channels and 16 bit and beyond resolutions. Later a retargetable sound API called AHI was developed allowing these cards to be used transparently by the OS and software.
* The brightness of the Amiga's power LED is used to indicate the status of the Amiga’s low-pass filter. The filter is active when the LED is at normal brightness, and deactivated when dimmed. Older Amiga 500's simply turned off the power LED.

The original Amiga was launched with speech synthesis software, developed by Softvoice, Inc. This could be broken into three main components: narrator.device, which could enunciate phonemes, translator.library which could translate English text to American English phonemes, and the SPEAK: handler, which command-line users could redirect output to, to have it spoken.

In the original 1.x AmigaOS releases, a Say program demo included with AmigaBASIC programming examples. For 2.0, Say became a standard utility program which did not need AmigaBASIC.

Many expansion boards were produced for Amigas to improve the performance and capability of the hardware, such as memory expansions, SCSI controllers, CPU boards, graphics boards; famous third party hardware manufacturers were Great Valley Products (GVP) and Phase5. Later small manufacturers include Individual Computers. Other upgrades included genlocks, ethernet cards, modems, sound cards and samplers, video digitisers, USB cards, extra serial ports, and IDE controllers.

The most popular upgrades were memory, SCSI controllers and CPU accelerator cards. These were sometimes combined into the one device, particularly on big box Amigas like the A2000, A3000 and A4000.

Early CPU accelerator cards feature full 32bit CPUs of the 68000 family such as the 68020 and 68030, almost always with 32bit memory and usually with FPUs and MMUs or the facility to add them. Later designs feature the 68040 and 68060. Both CPUs feature integrated FPUs and MMUs. Many CPU accelerator cards also feature integrated SCSI controllers.

Phase5 designed the PowerUp boards (BlizzardPPC and CyberstormPPC) featuring both a 68k (a 68040 or 68060) and a PPC (603 or 604) CPU, which are able to run the two CPUs at the same time (and share the system memory). The PPC CPU on PowerUp boards is usually used as a coprocessor for heavy computations (a powerful CPU is needed to run for example MAME, but even decoding JPEG pictures and MP3 audio was considered heavy computation in those years). It is also possible to ignore the 68k CPU and run Linux on the PPC (project Linux APUS), but a PPC native Amiga OS was not available when the PPC boards first appeared.

There were/are also available 24 bit graphics cards and video cards. Graphics cards are designed primarily for 2D artwork production, workstation use, and later, gaming. Video cards are designed for inputting and outputting video signals, and processing and manipulating video.

Perhaps the most famous video card in the North American market was the Newtek Video Toaster. This was a powerful video effects board which turned the Amiga into an affordable video processing computer which found its way into many professional video environments. Due to its NTSC only design it did not find a market in countries that used the PAL standard, such as in Europe. In PAL countries the Opalvision card was popular, although less featured and supported than the Video Toaster.

Various manufacturers started producing PCI busboards for the A1200 and A4000, allowing standard Amigas to use PCI cards such as Voodoo graphic cards, Soundblaster sound cards, 10/100 ethernet and TV tuners.

PowerPC upgrades with Wide SCSI controllers, PCI busboards with ethernet, sound and 3D graphics cards, and towerised cases allowed the A1200 and A4000 to survive well into the late nineties as modern and competitive machines.

Classic Amiga models, from the 1000 to the 4000T, were produced from 1985 to 1996. Since then, no new generations of Classic Amigas have been produced. In addition, some companies released unofficial Amiga clones. AmigaOS 4 and beyond will run on both Amigas equipped with CyberstormPPC or BlizzardPPC accelerator boards, and on the PPC Teron series based AmigaOne computers.

Some modern-day "Amiga users" actually emulate the machine on modern hardware rather than running their software on the original hardware.

At the time of release AmigaOS gave the average consumer the experience of an OS quite ahead of its time. It was one of the first commercially available consumer operating systems to implement pre-emptive multitasking Other features included combining a graphical user interface with a command line interface, and allowing long filenames permitting whitespace, not requiring a file extension.

Like other operating systems of the time, the OS lacked memory protection. This was necessary also because the 68000 CPU of the first Amiga computers did not include a memory management unit (MMU). This decision remained in subsequent versions of the OS, and made the system more vulnerable to crashes from badly written programs than it otherwise might have been.

The problem was somewhat exacerbated by Commodore's initial decision to release documentation relating not only to the OS's underlying software routines, but also to the hardware itself, enabling intrepid programmers to "poke" the hardware directly. While the decision to release this documentation was a popular one, it also contributed to system instability as some programmers lacked the expertise to program at this level. For this reason, when the new AGA chipset was released, Commodore declined to release documentation for it, forcing most programmers to adopt the approved software routines.

Whether lack of memory protection actually made Amigas less reliable than other home PCs of the period is perhaps a matter of opinion. With properly written software, it was always very stable. The OS, however, became more stable, and more hardware independent, with each new OS release.

Commodore-Amiga produced Amiga Unix, informally known as Amix, based on AT&T SVR4. It supported the Amiga 2500 and Amiga 3000 and was included with the Amiga 3000UX. There are still enthusiasts running Amix but it was never supported on the later Amiga systems based on 68040 or 68060.

Other, still maintained, operating systems are available for the classic Amiga platform, including Linux and NetBSD. Both require a CPU with MMU such as the 68020 with 68851 or full versions of the 68030, 68040 or 68060. There is a version of Linux for PPC accelerator cards. Debian and Yellow Dog Linux can run on the AmigaOne.

There is an official, older version of OpenBSD. The last Amiga release is 3.2.

The very first production Amiga, the Amiga 1000, needs to load Kickstart from floppy disk into 256 kilobytes of RAM reserved for this purpose. Some games (notably Dragon's Lair) provide an alternative codebase to install, in order to use the extra 256 kilobytes of RAM for game material.

However, subsequent Amigas hold Kickstart in a ROM chip. When the machine is started, Kickstart displays a hand holding a disk, inviting the user to insert the Workbench disk (or some other disk). The first two sectors of the disk (512 bytes) are loaded into RAM and control is passed to it.

Most entertainment software, especially during the Kickstart 1.* years, contains a bootblock that loads the rest of the software from the disk and then pass control to it. The game or demo then summarily take control of memory and resources to suit itself, effectively disabling AmigaOS. The GUI can never be invoked. Therefore, most games and demos do not use the operating system at all. Alternatively, it can be said that they install their own custom operating system since any such program must install custom interrupt handlers and so on in order to be of any use.

A floppy disk bootblock may alternatively contain code to load the dos.library (AmigaDOS) and then exit to it, invoking the GUI. Any such disk, no matter what the other contents of the disk, is known as a "DOS disk".

The bootblock became an obvious target for virus writers. Custom bootblock loaders started to be created, which check for the presence of routines pointed by the reboot vectors or hooks in libraries before loading the dos.library, in order to detect viruses. If one installs a DOS bootblock (or a virus surreptitiously installs itself) over those custom bootblocks which don't continue the boot process as normal (such as those present in many games), it will ruin the software.

The Amiga is able to emulate other computer platforms which were in its same price range, or even far more expensive most notably the IBM PC, the Apple Macintosh and the Atari ST. There are also emulators available for many 8 bit systems such as the Commodore 64, Apple II and even the TRS-80. MAME (the arcade machine emulator) is also available for Amigas with PPC accelerator card upgrades.

The Amiga was a primary target for productivity and game development during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Software was often developed for the Amiga and the Atari ST simultaneously, since the ST shared a similar architecture.

All Amiga software is 32 bit on all Amiga models including the original 1985 A1000 and the economy A500. All Amiga CPUs contain 16 general purpose 32-bit registers. All Amiga CPUs and software may easily move 32 bits of data from point A to point B in a single machine instruction. 32 bit addressing limited the Amiga 1200 to a maximum of 4096 MB of directly addressable ram. Unfortunately the AmigaOS only truly supports 2048 MB, and older Amigas such as Amiga 500 only have 24 bits of addressing, so they can only directly address 16 MB.

Much of the freely available software was available on Aminet. Until around 1996, Aminet was the largest public archive of software for any platform.

When Commodore went bankrupt in 1994, there was still a very active Amiga community, and it continued to support the platform long after mainstream commercial vendors abandoned it. The most popular Amiga magazine, Amiga Format, continued to publish editions until 2000, some six years after Commodore went bust.

One reason for this loyalty is the multiple strengths of the machine: it has a relatively compact, efficient, multitasking OS, it is relatively easy to program for, software has easy access to the hardware (the base hardware was fixed so software could be coded specifically to the hardware), there is wealth of software, and it was an affordable multimedia machine. The Amiga also allows an unusual degree of control over its environment and functions which makes it both highly configurable and remarkably versatile, so that it can be tailored to a user's unique needs and preferences, much like a PC.

However as time wore on, the hardware was overtaken and as the PC improved in software and hardware the Amiga started to look dated. Despite this, its solid user base continues to produce software and get as much as they possibly can out of the machine. Amiga users manage to squeeze every drop of performance and capability out of the machines, with software and hardware expansions to enhance its capabilities. Even today (2nd qtr. 2006) there is enough demand for expansion hardware to keep some small scale manufacturers in business.

The bankruptcy of Commodore in 1994 severely stunted the Amiga's growth. Production was halted briefly, until it was restarted for a short time under Escom's Amiga Technologies. Though the machines had been upgraded and had plentiful hardware and software support, the lack of new Amigas meant that vendors sooner or later moved on. Most of the 'leading edge' technology hobbyists and productivity market moved to PC architecture.

Due to the fierce loyalty of some Amiga fans, the 'scene' continued, many years even after the last original Amiga was sold. Inevitably, though, the PC eventually became the undisputed leading home computing technology, and the console wars also left the CD32 for dead.

The rights to the Amiga platform were successively sold to Escom and later Gateway 2000, but Escom almost immediately went bankrupt itself (due to non-Amiga related problems) and Gateway merely vacillated over what to do with its new acquisition. Finally, an entirely new company called Amiga, Inc. (no relation to the original Amiga Corporation) was founded to manage the Amiga product line. Even though Amiga, Inc. has paid considerably more attention to the Amiga product line than Escom or Gateway 2000, because of the extremely small demand in the mainstream market and limited funds, development has been slow and sales poor.

In 2002, Eyetech in cooperation with Amiga Inc, began selling a small number of AmigaOnes. The "AmigaOne SE" was based on Mai Logic's Teron CX motherboard from 2001 based on the POP (PowerPC Open Platform) design, and development to adapt AmigaOS 4 to this hardware began. The AmigaOne SE was succeeded by AmigaOne XE, which was based on the Teron PX, a newer design with a replaceable CPU module which came in G3 and G4 flavours. In 2004, Eyetech began selling the Micro-A1, based on the Teron Mini, a mini-ITX model with a 750GX G3 CPU. The older Amigas are sometimes referred to as "Classic Amigas" to avoid possible confusion with the AmigaOnes.

AmigaOnes are not currently being produced or sold. It is not known whether more will be made.

AmigaOS 4 is still under development, and reports are that it is quite stable and usable. It is hoped that it may be ported to other hardware, possibly another evaluation board, the Pegasos or some kind of Cell based device.

Following Commodore's bankruptcy, two main clones of AmigaOS were developed: MorphOS, which runs on Pegasos machines, and the free software AROS project.

* The name amiga is the Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan word for "female friend", from the Latin amica. Reportedly, it was chosen because both "amica" and the masculine Spanish / Portuguese term "amigo" were already registered as trademarks.
* The name Amiga was used by its developers as a sort of decoy to avoid industrial espionage. When in public places the developers used to talk about the prototype referring to it as "our common Amiga", or using the codename "Lorraine".
* The Amiga was originally intended to be a workstation. When the A1000 was released, it was advertised as a home and business computer, but it didn't gain wide acceptance in business outside of video production and editing work, especially in the United States. Later versions included models primarily targeted at home and game use, such as the Amiga A500. (Reference about this can be watched in the Amiga 1000 advertising videos).
* The Amiga is still in use in United States and Australian government agencies for topographical and GPS-integrated cartographical systems.
* As of 2006, the Amiga still has a very strong user community, particularly outside the United States.
* The TV game show Lingo from 1987 used the Amiga computer for the Lingo cards and the randomly selected five-letter words.
* Amiga's three-finger salute, (CTRL plus the two "Amiga" keys), which reboots the system (but doesn't erase or reload the kickstart software) is actually implemented in hardware, unlike the software-based forms in many OSs. If the OS software doesn't acknowledge the key sequence in a short time (perhaps because the OS has crashed), the keyboard hardware will forcibly reset the CPU. Another kind of three-finger salute (CTRL plus the two "Alt" keys) was introduced with AmigaOS 4.0.
* When AmigaOS crashes, it displays a flashing red box with a mysterious Guru Meditation number — two 32-bit hexadecimal values. The number is usually the 68000 exception number or one of a list of error numbers, and some other piece of information, such as the address of the task that was running at the time the crash was detected. Lists of these errors codes were published regularly by Amiga magazines, so experienced users could use it as a useful reference, and the Guru Meditation system still proves nowadays to give the user more precise information than Blue Screen of Death used in Windows. The term "Guru Meditation" comes from fact that some of the original design team would see how long they could balance on an Amiga 'joyboard' while thinking about problems.
* The three most popular low-end models of the Amiga - the 500, 600 and 1200 - each have the name of a B-52's song written on their motherboard. The designer of these models (George Robbins) was a B52's fan. 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 Original Amiga - the A1000 - has the signatures of the development team members moulded into the underside of the plastic top casing.
* Steve Jobs was shown the original prototype for the first Amiga (Amiga 1000) before it had been purchased by Commodore, and said there was "too much hardware". He was working on Macintosh at the time.
* Two of the designers of the original Amiga, RJ Mical and Dave Needle, would later go on to design the Atari Lynx, giving it a framebuffer based display with a blitter very similar to that in the Amiga. The two would also go on to work on the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer.
* When Great Valley Products first released their 68030 accelerator board for the Amiga 2000, it ran Apple's MacOS faster than any real Mac. Apple soon caught up, though.
* In 1999 an announcement was made claiming that a German company named iWin 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 publicly 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.
* Today, many TV stations and broadcast corporations are still using A3000s and A4000s for their real-time video effects.
* Many programs have also been written for creating "fansubs" of foreign films and Japanese animation.
* Many competing products have been created for the Amiga's video capabilities ranging from simple genlocks that allow you to simply switch the RGB overlay feed on and off, to more advanced devices like the Supergen which has faders, and the ultimate expression of the Amiga's native power, NewTek's Video Toaster.
* Other interesting products such as Mandala Interactive System from Vivid Group that use the genlock capability enabled users to do motion tracking and interactivity, 20 years before similar products like the Sony EyeToy for the PlayStation 2 video-game console. These systems were used in science museums to study gesture recognition capabilities and also featured in multimedia artistic exhibitions. See also: Vivid Group Mandala System.
* Due to its ability to genlock, that is, adjust its own screen refresh timing to match the signal from a VCR, the Amiga also has a niche market among biologists analyzing video recordings (kinematic analysis) of organisms in motion at a time when other systems capable of doing similar tasks cost an order of magnitude more.
* Amigas were used in some NASA laboratories to keep track of multiple low orbiting satellites, and were still used in 1999. This is another example of long lifetime reliability of Amiga hardware (and one of its ubiquitous capabilities), as well as its professional use. They were also used at the Kennedy Space Center to run strip-chart recorders, and to format data for display for control stations for Delta rocket launches. See also: Reportage: l'Amiga à la NASA; Obligement (Fr).
* Amigas are still used in many theme park installations, mainly at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Florida and Disney World, using Richmond Sound Design's show and sound control software.
* Early episodes of the television series Babylon 5 were rendered on Amigas running video toasters. Other television series using Amigas for special effects included SeaQuest DSV and Max Headroom.
* In the motion picture Waynes World 2 the character Garth is seen wearing a Video Toaster T-Shirt. Dana Carvey, who played Garth, probably got the t-shirt from his brother Brad Carvey who worked for NewTek.
* A Japanese composer by the name of Susumu Hirasawa uses Amiga computers to compose some of his songs.
* Todd Rundgren used an Amiga with a Video Toaster to produce a full-length video for "Change Myself" in 1991.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home