Computers I’ve owned – Amiga 500

I actually owned 2, 1 broke down & was used for parts when i obtained another one which i kept u until the late 1990s.  The Commodore’s Amiga 500 was the low-end version of the Amiga range of the time.  It was a fairly easy machine to fix & maintain as many (if not all) of the ICs (system chips) were mounted on sockets so repairs often meant removing the cover & prise out the old broken chip & replace or test with a new one.  Like the 8 bit days where the ZX Spectrum & Commodore 64 were rival machines, the main rival of the Amiga was the Atari’s 520/1040 ST range. The A500 was superior in almost every area, apart from its MIDI capabilities and the disk drive, which was not only slow but very noisy as well and a bitter feud quickly developed between owners of these rival machines.

16 bit technology overtook 8 bit tech which in the late 80’s was still very popular, but meant users had to learn a new set of skills which were closer to IBM PC use of the era as the machine used a disc loaded rather than ROM based OS which was called  Commodore’s “AmigaOS” & was essentially Kickstart firmware and the software called Workbench provided on disk. The Spectrum / CPC464 & C64 8 bit machines were still very popular as budget gaming machines with re-released or games still obtainable from many outlets for £1.99 or £2.99, some of which were ported from Arcade or 16 bit versions but of a lot lower resolution or sound & colour pallette. The A500 spec is close to the Amiga 1000, the main internal change is  in memory  256 KB to 512 KB and an additional of I/O chip that controls the disk drive and also performs some of the address decoding. This chip also featured in the A2000 which was the top of the range machine in the range from the post 8 bit era.

The A500 was an easy machine to upgrade than both the ST and oter Amigas – no more having to send the machine away for upgrades or buying newer models – as it had an expansion port located in the bottom of the case. Owners could simply insert a memory card which contained any extra RAM or add on. The popularity of this upgrade meant that more 1 MB software (both 1 MB versions of 512 KB software and 1 MB only software) was released for the Amiga than the ST, which had to be taken apart to expand the memory.  I actually discovered as well that taking the machine apart there were some additional empty IC bays to add additional memory, in fact i removed the IC’s from the add-on memory card I had & slotted them into the main motherboard, this freeing up the expansion slot. The machine also featured the Motorola 68000 processor running at just over 7MHZ on the European / UK based PAL system which is actually a 32 bit capable processor but only used 16bit addressing in the Amiga.

The A500 in my experience was ery similar to the older VIC20 i owned, whereby you could connect a dedicated monitor (which were still very expensive at the time} or connect an RF modulator to plug into the family TV or the portable in the bedroom – remember these were the days most people culd only afford to have 1 colour TV & smaller portables used in the bedroom were mostly black & white.

Although the machine was discontinued in 1991, at the time i was still using some 8 bit machines for games & such simply due to the huge catalogue & the cost of the games, although game piracy on the Amiga & Atari ST was rife with copied games being the norm for many Amiga users.. a practice almost thwarted by use of password protection such as magazine or  game manual word identity e.g “on page 12 of the manual, what is the 4th word on the 7th line”.. which was great if you owned the original but proved tricky with emulation in recent times or where you didn’t have the manual or magzine because it got lost or ruined, or even thrown away when your parents decided to tidy up.
To me the Amiga was very much a more business machine than games machine, which i used the Amiga more to do graphic creating or even basic letter writing or the like – although i didn’t have a printer so had to go with handful of disks to a mate or down the library to get stuff printed, as again, printers were an expensive add on.

The computer itself will go down as a classic & more standardised components & connections were being used. 9 pin Serial ports, parallel port, RCA audio etc in common with the IBM PC of the time.  Despite the Amiga range featuring many more desktop computers & even a games console (the CD32) including the final desktop machine, the Amiga 4000 which was probably as good as any high spec IBM PC of the mid 1990s, the A500 was probably the most popular & sadly In 1994, Commodore filed for bankruptcy and its assets were purchased by a German PC manufacturer called ESCOM, who created the subsidiary company Amiga Technologies. They in turn went bankrupt in 1997. The Amiga will have a great legacy & has been used for many things from TV graphics, creating music videos & even used by NASA during their lifetime in the computer market.

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