James Matson reckons the Amiga computer is about the epitome of vintage computing. He really wants you to own one. And you, and you. But especially you. That’s why he’s taken some time out to give you a +1 in Amiga education so you know which model is right for you.
Congratulations intrepid retro gamer, you’ve decided you need to acquire an Amiga computer.
This is a good move. It signals to the rest of the world that you are of impeccable breeding, above average intelligence and flawless grooming. You have chosen a path that will result in the adoration of women and men alike, as well as a marked increase in your libido, Sudoku skills and general mental well-being. In essence, you’ve made the right choice. The challenge you’ll face with this choice, is that it is but the first of many choices you will face.
You see, there isn’t just one Amiga model to choose from. Nope, there are just shy of eleventy billion. Give or take a billion. Slow Amigas, fast Amigas, big and small and freakishly rare Amigas. During its heyday, Commodore was a real stickler for market segmentation, developing a fairly broad range of Amiga computers with varying features to compete with similar offerings from Atari and others. This can leave the rookie Amiga owner in a state of distress at trying to make a choice from all the models available.
Not to fear though. Retro Domination is here with the total Amiga scoop to help you make your foray into the world of Commodore’s flagship computing platform.
The 1000 was the first Amiga released, and while it’s a fine machine to own there are a few caveats that keep it from being the Amiga of choice. Firstly, the original design had a lot more in common with later x86 PCs than other ‘all-in-one keyboard’ style Amigas released after the 1000. The unit comes with a desktop case, separate keyboard and built in 3.5″ floppy drive. Internally, the specifications are exactly the same as the Amiga 500, so it’s running the 7MHz Morotola 68000 and has the same customer architecture, but suffers from a distinct lack of upgrade options in comparison with the newer Amiga 500 (yes, we know, 500 is less than 1000 – it’s a little confusing, but stay with us). You’ll have a lot more trouble finding upgrades or replacement parts for the Amiga 1000 than other models due to the fact the line was in its infancy back then and the 1000 seems to be a rare find these days. The only thing that’s worth a mention specifically in the 1000’s favour is that its composite out port is colour, as opposed to the Amiga 500 which is black & white. For the first time owner, steer clear of the 1000 unless you’re aiming to collect every model of Amiga. If you’re a die hard Commodore fan however, there’s no reason not to add the 1000 to your pile if one comes your way for the right price.
The 500 is the work horse of the Amiga range and probably the best known machine. Hiding all its guts in a fat all-in-one keyboard design with a floppy drive in the side, the Amiga 500 is considered one of the greatest gaming machines of the 16 bit era. In direct competition with the Atari ST, the 500 managed 32 colours and 4 channel stereo sound in most games via its custom sound and graphics chips, with special modes allowing 64 or even 4096 colours in some cases. Owning a 500 gives you access to pretty much the entire library of Amiga games, meaning you will never be short of titles to play from some of retro gaming’s best (Psygnosis, The Bitmap Brothers, Team 17, Bullfrog etc.) even equipped with the default 7MHz 68000 chip and 512KB standard RAM. Owing to the 500’s popularity there are a wealth of upgrades and peripherals available for it, including 512KB ram upgrades, external floppy drives, modulators that allow the machine to connect to a TV via RF or colour composite (without the modulator, the Amiga must be connected to specific types of dedicated Amiga monitor, or via black & white composite to a TV) and even external CD-ROM drives which open the machine up to CD based media. Perhaps best of all, is that the Amiga 500 and its extras are very, very easy to find. They’re neither particularly rare, nor should they be particularly expensive, so if you’re looking for a way into the Amiga world, the 500 is your one way ticket to gaming bliss. Our recommendation is also to source an Amiga monitor (such as the 1084S-D1) to go with it, as you’ll be able to enjoy the games in crisp, beautiful, sexy RGB quality. Failing that, the A520 ‘modulator’ is a good bet for composite to a TV.
The very definition of minor improvement, the 500+ is exactly that – a 500 plus a few things. But not many. With a newer version of the operating system and an enhanced chip set (called the Enhanced Chip Set or ECS funnily enough) the 500+ actually introduced some compatibility problems with major Amiga titles, and not a lot to balance that out. Not easy to find owing to a short lived product cycle and cosmetically similar to the standard 500, the ‘Plus’ is only for the purist collectors.
The 2000 marked a return to the more traditional desktop stylings of the Amiga 1000, except a whole lot bigger. It only takes a cursory glance at the Amiga 2000 to see that it’s built for expansion. With a separate keyboard and a main case that houses oodles of space for expansion, the 2000 could take everything from 52MB hard drives to ISA expansion cards, CPU upgrades and more. Sadly, the 2000 still ran on the same basic architecture as older Amigas, so you still had games constrained by the Motorola 68000 but thankfully 1MB of memory was standard. The 2000 these days is an expensive bit of kit to buy, and sadly not too common to find in the wild. It’s a shame really, because while the 2000 is – at its heart – an Amiga 500 in a big fat case, the truth is the expansion possibilities make it an attractive hobby machine for both the Amiga enthusiast or general vintage computer nut alike. We’d heartily recommend this as an Amiga to get, if not for the fact you’ll have trouble finding one at a reasonable price. Unless you live in the UK. Those bastards get all the vintage computer goodness at bargain basement prices.
What do you get if you scale down the physical size of the Amiga 500 but give it the enhanced chipset of the 500+? The Amiga 600 of course. The 600 is a funny beast. Back in the day it was considered a complete and utter failure. Its design left it totally incompatible with the wealth of Amiga 500 peripherals and upgrades of the day (including the external CD-ROM drive) and its one logical upgrade path – a PCMCIA slot in the side of the machine – was considered a dead end due to the cost of PCMCIA devices at the time. These days however, the 600 is seen in a truly positive light. It’s basically a smaller, more portable version of the Amiga 500 at least as far as gaming is concerned. All of a sudden you have a very attractive Amiga machine that can be neatly tucked away in your TV unit and brought out for gaming goodness whenever it suits. While we still think the 500 is the better choice overall due to compatibility of the older 500 chipset with games, the 600 is a still a viable choice due to its small footprint, so if one pops up for a good price (they don’t seem to come around often) you might want to think about grabbing it. There’s also a HD (Hard Drive) version, but good luck finding one.
Bam! Pow! Smack! The Amiga 1200 is in town. The budget end of the line used by Commodore to showcase its AGA architecture (a more advanced chipset than ECS) the 1200 is considered the gamers machine of choice. The gamer that is, who has no notion of a ‘budget’. Thanks to the AGA chipset, the Amiga 1200 can play games in glorious 256 colour mode and have all colour modes available at all resolutions; something of a luxury for Amiga gamers who had been used to suffering the limited palette of 32 colours in the past. Add to that the fact the 1200 did away with the aging Motorola 68000 and replaced it with the 14MHz 68020 and it’s easy to get swept up in the sexiness of the unit. Even the cosmetic design underwent a bit of improvement with a cleaner, crisper white outer casing and slightly more angular case design. While there weren’t a huge range of AGA specific games released for the Amiga, some of the ones that did make it out are a real treat to play (Shadow Fighter and Banshee come to mind) and some of the 1200 compatible tech demos are great too. There’s even a hard drive model featuring a 40MB internal drive out there, but the odds of snagging one are slim at best. Hell, even if you do come across a standard 1200, the price is going to be steep, steep enough to make the 500 seem like the smarter choice. The Amiga 1200 is somewhat of an exotic beast in the Amiga world, and owning one can be considered somewhat of a status symbol with less than 1 million units sold worldwide in its lifetime.
The 4000 is what happens to the Amiga 1200 when you inject Steroids and Red Bull into its belly button. With 2MB ram standard, IDE interface and a 68030 or 68040 processor to compliment its AGA architecture, the 4000 is an Amiga dream machine. It’s also a dream machine because you have a greater chance of shitting diamonds than you do of owning one.
With so few around, and commanding some astronomical prices on eBay, the Amiga 4000 for most of us will be a look but don’t touch affair. Which is a shame, because with device ‘standards’, compatibility and expansion akin to x86 PC clones, the Amiga 4000 would have given Amiga fans then – and retro fans now – the power and love of Amiga gaming inside a machine that had longevity attached. Sadly they were just too expensive then, and are far too rare now. If you own one, we’d love to hear from you, and how you’re still using your 4000 today!
So. Do you feel more learned now? Have we guided you on the first few steps of your Amiga journey? Good. We’re glad. Now off you go. You’ve got a world to explore, a world that was built by Commodore and is continued today in spirit by thousands of Amiga fans and nostalgic owners around the world. You’re part of a special club now, and we’ve only taken you through the front door. You still haven’t discovered the CD32, or the CDTV, or the PowerPC range of Amiga machines. There’s lots to discover! For our pick, to get you started at least, we’d have to say the standard 500 is where it’s at. Cheap, cheerful, easy to upgrade and with more games than you’ll ever, ever have time to play. Get onto it.