The Amibox Project

What is an Amiga?

Amiga 500 system

Amiga is a the name given to a series of personal computers which launched with the Amiga 1000 in 1985 from Commodore International. Due to production problems, the Amiga-1000 did not achieve wide adoption until 1986, and was quickly succeeded by the Amiga-500 in 1987, which went on to be the best selling Amiga.

Prior to the release of the Amiga, there were several personal computers on the market for small business and video game consumers. Early Atari and Nintendo consoles had success in gaming, and computers such as the Tandy TRS-80, BBC-Micro and Acorn Atom had similar success in the business computers market, with a few cross overs such as the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum reaching success in both.

Commodore 64

These were all very limited 8-bit computers, most of them based around the 6502 processor or a variant, and had very limited capabilities. In 1984, if you wanted to own a 16 & 32-bit computer, you had little option unless you were wealthy. 16 & 32-bit processors were used in mainframes at large companies such as Boeing and there were very few computers capable of high-color or 3d graphics in existence.

The business and cross-over machines of the early 80’s, while limited in their capabilities, were programmable. This meant that the home user could begin writing their own software, which lead to a dramatic increase in the computer hobbyist sector. A sector of which I was a part (for those interested, TRS-80, C64), but the hobbyist wanted more. More powerful processors, more impressive graphics, more memory to work with.

The Commodore 64 for example, could display a maximum of 16 colors on the screen, and those 16 colors were fixed in hardware – you couldn’t change them. I mention this both to advance this post, but also as a bit of a brag, because at the age of 7, I found a way to get a 17th color out of the Commodore-64 by swapping two of the color registers so quickly that the colors appeared mixed on the display. I wrote into a computer magazine with my code at the time, (yes, we used to have magazines dedicated to computer hobbyists), and though I don’t believe I was the first or only person to try this, the technique did appear in several games there-after.

I was not alone either, at around that time, David Braben was writing his hit video game Elite, a game which gave the player their own space ship to fly around a huge galaxy. David used a display-mode switching trick to mix the black & white and 4-color video modes of his (I want to say Apple?) to render the cockpit controls and dark space scenes on the same screen. Even more impressive, David used ‘procedural generation’ techniques to generate the game galaxy on-the-fly, because it would have been impossible at that time to fit the data required for such a game into the memory of the machines available. <- This paragraph inserted mostly out of hero worship for the man that essentially invented space-traders and procedural generation in video games!

Anyway, I think I’ve made it clear, we wanted more, and it was the Amiga that delivered. The Amiga was built with a simple philosophy, to manufacture inexpensive variants of the chips used in high-end mainframes at the time, and bring the resulting machine to the home consumer at an affordable price.

I know little about the Amiga-1000, which was modeled to look like business computers of the day, but due to it’s far higher sales numbers, I credit the introduction of Amiga to the Amiga-500 which was very much a home-user personal computer…

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