Contents | < Browse | Browse >
/// Buying your First (!) Amiga
By Jason Compton
NOTE: I know what you're thinking. "Wait a second. I already OWN an
Amiga. I don't WANT to buy one for the first time. True, if you're
reading Amiga Report, odds are you've already bought your first Amiga.
I would like, though, for all of you to distribute this article wherever
you can, on the condition that it says "Reprinted from Amiga Report
#1.39 with permission". My purpose here is to present some sort of
cohesive guide to people who might consider buying an Amiga for the
first time. They're out there. I've met them. I've sold Amigas to them.
It CAN happen. This article, I hope, can help. In addition, it could
be used as a reference if anyone wants to convince someone to buy an
So, you want an Amiga but don't really know which one would be right
for you? Maybe I can help. I've owned 3 so far, ranging from the 1 meg
Amiga 500 I started with to my current A3000, with an accelerated 2000
inbetween. I've messed around with the others enough to have some sort
of grip as to what I'm talking about.
Why would you want an Amiga? Well, plenty of other people can give you
reasons, and if I repeated them or added my own, this article would run
even more horrifyingly long than it already is. I'll assume you've
What do you need to own an Amiga? Two things: money and courage. How
much money depends on what type of Amiga you want, and we'll deal with
that momentarily. How much courage? A considerable amount. Right now
is not a time in which Amiga users can sit back smugly knowing their
future is assured. With an onslaught of uninformed, lying, and
otherwise deceived people out badmouthing the Amiga, it takes a strong
person to stare back and say, "You're wrong." It comes with practice.
Quick glossary: While I'm assuming that the reader either knows why
they want an Amiga, or know someone who will tell them :), I do sling
around a few terms I'd like to define:
ECS/OCS: The Enhanced Chip Set and Old Chip Set. These came with the
Amiga 500,600,1000,2000, and 3000. They are the ones which provide the
4096 color palette and 32/64 color game play (in most cases). AGA:
Advanced Graphics Architecture chip set, which provide a gargantuan
color palette (at least a quarter million, if I understand correctly),
and lots and lots of ways to display things on the screen. Comes in the
1200 and 4000.
PCMCIA slot: An industry-standard expansion slot, also called "credit-
card expansion slot". Usually used on laptops, but can be found on the
600 and 1200, for easy and cheap memory expansion. Zorro II/III slot:
The Zorro slots are the regular Amiga bus slots found on the 2000, 3000,
and 4000. The 2000 has Zorro II slots, which are slower than the Zorro
III slots found on the 3000 and 4000.
How will I help you decide? Well, I'm going to list the pluses and
minuses to each machine as I see them, and then rank the machine on its
expandability, compatibility with certain types of Amiga software (read:
games and demos), Cost-effectiveness, and future. I'll start with the
pioneer of the Amiga line:
The Amiga 1000 -------------- You can't find an Amiga older than this,
and you won't find one new. These were the first machines, initially
released in 1985. They're the classics, but not show-stopping
productivity machines. If you want to play games, run demos, and aren't
too worried about high-level graphics or speed- demon operation, this
is for you.
Pluses: If you can find a 1000 for sale, chances are you'll get it for
VERY, VERY cheap. I've seen a 512k system sold for $50. Your mileage
may vary. Like I said, for games and demos, I can't see a better
choice. Minuses: Expansion for the 1000 was fairly limited. It needs
special hardware to get the 2.0 and above OS. Your speed is effectively
locked at a 7.14mhz 68000, unless you dig up the specs for the LUCAS
68020 project and are a madman. The parallel port is also inverted.
Rankings (10 being the best)
Expansion: 1. It's just not very expandable anymore. You can add a HD
and 2.1, but it would be an effort.
Compatability: OCS/ECS-6 AGA-0. While you will be hard pressed to
get 1 meg of chip mem, most games and utilities will treat you well
enough with 1 meg, regardless of how you get it. 2.1 CAN be added, if
you like. It works, mate.
Cost-effectiveness: 7. Well, you're still getting the Amiga multitasking
capabilities, and nobody is looking to gouge you for it. Future: 0. The
1000 hasn't been much of an issue forquite some time.
Conclusion: If you can get it cheap, get it.
The Amiga 500 ------------- My personal first Amiga, it became
inadequate for me when I decided I wanted more speed and more
expandability, particularly towards IBM slots. If a 1000 is a bit too
flaky or too hard to find for you, and you want more expansion options,
this computer is a considerably better choice. No longer produced new,
but you can obtain a used one relatively cheap. I let a 2.5 meg 500 go
for $150, if that gives you any indication. You can go up to 8 megs on
this, and you can accelerate it to an 040, if you can find the board.
GVP still makes an 030/40 for it. It's a one-piece affair: bordering on
easy transportation. Pluses: Like I said, you can upgrade the memory,
HD, and speed far easier than on a 1000. One-piece design is nice. Can
use the 1 meg Agnus, putting it at a higher level of compatibility, and
is easier to upgrade to 2.1. Also fixed that parallel port thing.
Minuses: Expansion is expensive on this machine and tends to be
external, which can make for a very unwieldly system. The computer has a
relatively big footprint and I've heard some complaints about a bad
keyboard angle, but I always liked it. <shrug> Expansion: 3. No Zorro
slots built in, but you can get ones off of the left-hand expansion slot
(a Trumpcard 500 case has two of them, in fact.). But expanding this
sucker is pricy: buying a BaseBoard and 2 megs was $200.
Compatibility: OCS/ECS-10 AGA-0. After all, it's one of the target
machines for those chipsets, so it BETTER be compatible with all of the
Cost-effectiveness: 8/5. Like I said, I sold mine for pretty cheap, and
there's not much of a reason for someone to ask for an arm and a leg for
one. The 5 represents what happens when you start expanding the
Future: 3. Support for the 500 has really dwindled, but it's out
there, as exemplified by GVP's 030/40 add-on.
Conclusion: More useful than a 1000, but probably still not the best
choice for a full-blown high-memory and HD system.
The Amiga 600 ------------- This is the cutest computer I've ever seen.
It's sort of amazing that something this small really works Amiga
magic. It, much like the 1000, would be primarily a games/demos
computer, but it can of course handle application software...albeit
Pluses: SIZE. If you don't have room to spare, this is the computer
for you. Memory expansion is pretty low-cost, compared to the 2000 or
500, since it takes standard PCMCIA-slot RAM, and the 2nd meg of chip
ram comes pretty cheap ($35) too. With a little LCD screen and a power
socket, this thing could theoretically be a laptop. Comes with a
built-in IDE hard drive interface, which is always nice. Memory and HD
expansion (if it's a 2.5in drive) won't increase the size of the
footprint. Minuses: You can't increase the speed. Period. Ever. Also,
since it's surface-mount, if something goes wrong you've got a big
problem. The keyboard is a bit cramped, too.
Expansion: 5. Memory and HD additions are pretty straightforward, and
internal (see 500 expansion).
Compatibility: OCS/ECS-9 AGA-0. I've had a little trouble getting
assorted things to run on one of these, so I can't give it a 10. No AGA,
Cost-effectiveness: 8. A friend of mine got one new, 1 meg with a 40 meg
HD, for $200. Wasn't bad at all.
Future: 1. The support for the 600's hardware seemed to die instantly.
Conclusion: It will never win any speed records, but is the best
choice if you want a 68000 HD system with easy memory expansion. The
Floor models and other refurbished-types of this computer are still
being sold at outrageously high prices. This was the big brother to the
500: similar architecture, but a LOT more expandability. It has its
pluses and minuses. Pluses: The computer itself is a pretty good
investment, if you're not looking at true AGA. You get a TON of slots,
so you can add any Zorro-II (old bus format) card...and keep adding
them. It also has 2 16-bit and 2 8-bit ISA slots, expandable to 4
16-bit-meaning with a Bridgeboard, you can have a very well decked out
IBM system on here. Has a processor slot for easy speed upgrades, and
three drive bays. Can be accelerated up to 040/33, and can support
Zorro-II 24-bit cards for AGA emulation and more.
Minuses: This sucker is huge. I mean, REALLY, REALLY big. Maybe not
quite as big as an original XT, but that's not saying much. It's also
expensive to upgrade: not so much as a 500, but if you assemble a 2000
with an 030/25 and some memory next to a 3000, the 3000 wins.
Expansion: 8. Gotta love all those slots, whether or not you know what
you're going to do with all of them.
Compatibility: ECS/OCS-10 AGA-possible but questionable. After
all, 24-bit AGA is not true AGA, and no self-respecting shoot-em-up game
is going to be fooled.
Cost-effectiveness: 5.5. It's hard to say. New 2000s are being sold for
something outrageous like $500 for a 2000, 2 floppy drives, 1 meg, an
ECS chipset and OS 2.1. Old 2000s are bound to be a considerably better
Expansion routes are still a bit expensive, but not insurmountable.
Future: 3. Zorro-III is finally being developed, so the 2000s slots
might not cut it in the future, but it's still got a shot, since it can
support Emplant, bridgeboards, and 24-bit video cards.
Conclusion: A good computer for big desks.
(The Amiga 1500 and 2500 are not included because they're silly.)
The Amiga 3000 -------------- The first Amiga to feature an onboard,
standard processor that was NOT a 68000-at the same time being the only
Amiga without any 68000 on it. It's a very nice machine: compact but
still expandable, although not NEARLY as much as the 2000.
Pluses: Its 2 external-facing, 1 internal 3.5in bays make for some
pretty nice expansion options, and its built-in SCSI controller is a big
plus. Memory can be expanded onboard to 2 megs chip, 16 megs 32-bit
fast- VERY nice. The Zorro-III slots make going 24-bit video a more
attractive option as well. BUILT-IN FLICKER FIXER!
Minuses: The lack of a 68000 onboard is a drawback for many games and
demos, because try as you might to get them to run with a Degrader-type
program, some simply will not work. It's not the target computer for a
Bridgeboard, because it has only 2 16-bit ISA slots, meaning you can
have the Bridgeboard and a multi-IO (VGA/serial/parallel/IDE) card, but
no sound above a PC speaker. The Video Toaster also does not fit
without modification. Also, to my knowledge, nobody develops 3000
accelerators anymore, so you're stuck with what you've got unless you
find someone willing to sell. The 3000T, from what I have heard, can
come with an 040 onboard, however.
Expansion: 7, because although Zorro-III is nice, the slots are
overlapping, so while you have 4 Zorro-III slots, a video slot, and two
ISA slots, you can only have 4 cards at a maximum.
Compatibility: ECS/OCS-8 AGA-possible. Of course, OS-compliant things
will work just fine on the 3000, but a lot of things that rely heavily
on custom, 68000-specific code just won't work. That's when you want a
spare 500/1000 series machine around. AGA can be emulated to a point
with 24-bit video boards, but again, only for OS-compliant software.
Cost-effectiveness-8. Putting a 2000 system and a 3000 system together
side by side will bring the 3000 out a winner the vast majority of the
trials. At the blowout pricing of late, it's a good deal.
Future: 5. The 3000 has not been forgotten, as video board
manufacturers try to gain their attention with new, better, and more
features, as well as better AGA, since Commodore seems unwilling to
offer a true AGA solution to 3000 owners. Not being of the true AGA
generation, however, it is not at the forefront of the market anymore.
Conclusion: A very good deal for the money, especially as a
productivity machine. OS-compliant programs, a significant portion of
games, and even a lot of demos WILL work on it. Don't be scared-just
don't get too mad when things that work on a 500 won't work on it.
The Amiga 1200 -------------- The low-end AGA machine, the 1200's price
has fluctuated a bunch and is hard for me to keep track of. It has a
redesigned version of the 500's case, making it attractive in a unique
way. The 1200 is a machine with quite a bit of promise.
Pluses: AGA. Right there is a good reason to own one. It comes with a
68020 EC chip, meaning it gives you more speed than a 500/600/1000/ 2000
without turning itself into a racehorse. It can be upgraded up to
030/50, last I checked, with memory expansion available either on
processor boards or (slower) the PCMCIA slot. Comes with an onboard IDE
controller, always nice to have. If Utilities Unlimited ever gets
around to buying PCMCIA connectors for the right price, Emplant should
be available for it.
Minuses: It shares the keyboard design of the 500, for all practical
purposes, but that's a minor thing. It has no IBM-type expansion and in
general has pretty limited expansion, since the alleged external
expansion boxes for the 1200 haven't materialized, at least as far as
Expansion: 6. You can add processor upgrades, but memory is sometimes
constricted-like with ONE SIMM slot on the board. The Zorro slots are
nowhere to be found.
Compatibility: ECS/OCS-7 AGA-10? I rate the ECS/OCS compatibility lower
than the 3000s for these two reasons. 1. I owned a 2000 with an 020
and suffered the same incompatibility problems I do now with the 3000,
but back on the 2000 I could just disable the accelerator. Not so on the
1200. Also, since the system comes with OS 3.0, it's harder to get
back to good old Kickstart 1.3 for the picky programs that want it. I
haven't gotten too involved in the discussions on AGA compatibility, so
until I hear otherwise, it's got a 10.
Cost-effectiveness: 6. Seeing as how the price for a 1200 and HD seem
only slightly more than the cost of a new 2000 with 1 meg of RAM, I'd say
it's not bad. AGA-supporting monitors aren't the cheapest things in the
world, though, and the lack of expansion on this limits the cost value.
Future: 7. I keep hearing rumors of the 1200s demise, but haven't
seen solid proof yet, so I give it a 7 for AGA.
Conclusion: A faster, AGA'd 500/600-type machine, but far more
If you're not hankering for lots of expansion, but want AGA, it could
be your machine.
The Amiga 4000 -------------- The current Amiga flagship, this model is
the one that's the "must-have". It sports the fine points of AGA as
well as being highly expandable. Pluses-This is the high-end machine.
By all rights, this is the one that the "serious" user is supposed to
want. It sports Zorro-III slots as well as three 16-bit IBM slots,
meaning that it is easy to put together an MPC IBM system, if you REALLY
want to. In more practical terms, you can add both VGA and a sound
card. For the Amiga side, you get either an 030 or 040 onboard, and
pretty decent memory options. Onboard IDE controller for hard drives.
You also get the 3.0 version of the system software, which from what
I've gathered is 2.0 faster with some really innovative features.
Minuses: Not coming standard with SCSI has been a hangup for some
people, as has Commodore's 4091 SCSI card. Actually, from reports I've
read, the Emplant SCSI controller is one of the better options currently
available for a 4000 SCSI solution. The computer is expensive, but the
price is dropping (I've seen a lower end 4000 sold for $1400 new...)
Some problems have been had with the Super-Buster chip and some Zorro
Expansion: 8. I approve.
Compatibility: ECS/OCS-7 AGA-10? Again, just like the 1200, sharing the
same problems with ECS and OCS programs, mainly due to the 3.0
Kickstart. That's a surmountable problem, but a bit of a pain, really.
Cost-effectiveness: 6. Being a high-end machine, its price is a bit high.
Seeing how it's been dropping, though, it may become a better and better
bargain by the day.
Future: 8.5. It's got whatever future there is for the Amiga, which of
course I hope is bright and wonderful. This is the standard-bearer for
now, so it leads the way for the next generation of Amigas. This
machine could go far.
Conclusion: Everybody wants to be #1, and own it, too. The 4000 IS an
awfully nice machine, but it's not a necessity for everyone. The 2000
is a better IBM solution, if that's the main goal. The 1200 is a
lower-cost solution to playing AGA games. The 4000 does both well,
however, and gives you a powerful computer on top of it.
The CD Consoles:
CDTV/A570 --------- An Amiga 500 in CD-player's clothing, this computer
looked for all the world like a modular-stereo CD player. Commodore
tried to define the CD field with it. That didn't take.
The CDTV is the independent unit, while the A570 is an external unit
which plugs into the left-hand expansion slot on the 500, which behaves
as a CDTV.
Pluses: Well, the A570 unit is selling now for $100 in some places,
which is really an incredible deal for ANY CD-player, let alone one that
will play CD+G and CDTV titles. Not all of the CDTV titles were bad,
from what I've gathered, and it'll let you sling around the term
"multimedia" like a pro.
Minuses: This unit really never took off. It's been supplanted by the
CD32 by Commodore, even though just about every other CD console had
supplanted it anyway. Too bad, because some of them REALLY suck.
Compatibility: 6. It reads CD+G, CDTV (obviously), and even some
ISO-9660 formats. It'll only play CDTV titles as games (again,
obviously), but that may not be enough for a lot of people, with CDTV
titles sort of elusive and CD32 moving in. Expansion-5. The CDTV could
be turned into a full-blown 500, or hooked up to one via ParNet.
Cost-effectiveness-(?) For $100, I don't see how you can go wrong,
especially if you don't own a CD player already. Otherwise, though, I'm
not up on the prices. Sorry.
Future: 2. Some more CDTV material might trickle out, and of course you
can always play audio CDs, but the Commodore CD market is in the CD32.
Conclusion-The 570 unit add-on looks like a nice deal, but the CDTV as a
stand-alone isn't really exciting.
The Amiga CD32 -------------- Commodore's new entrant to the CD game
console field, this sucker is apparently doing VERY well in Europe and
is occupying most of C='s production time. Now selling in Canada and
occasionally in America, but could be a strong US contender, if it gets
enough popular support from dealers and retailers. Based on Commodore's
AGA graphics system.
Pluses: Has a price which pretty much beats out the competition. CD-I
is $500, 3DO is $700, while the CD^32 is priced around $350-$400. The
Jaguar with CD is said to run around $450. If the MPEG module is priced
at the latest-rumored $200, that brings a CD32 to $600, a full $100
less than a 3DO (which plays MPEGs), and $100 more than a CD-I, which
plays a proprietary (read: less popular) format. The CD^32, being based
on the Amiga architecture, also has more years of development and
support behind it. In the future, will be able to deck out to a full
Amiga 1200-type system. According to AR1.36, it has over 150 games in
various stages of completion.
Minuses: It IS a game machine, for now.
Compatibility: 9. I don't know about the CD+G or ISO-9660
compatibility, but the CD^32 is supposed to be able to play CDTV titles.
Some may have to be re-released with CD^32 patches, but I am not
positive on that. Expandability-Unknown at this point. Let's see what
Commodore does. Utilities Unlimited has mentioned a possible 3DO
emulator for the CD^32, which would be a remarkable piece of hardware.
Cost-effectiveness: 9. Compared to the other 32-bit CD consoles in the
Future: 8? The console is the biggest seller in Europe, and
thanks to its price could be big in the US. The problem is that all of
the major tech/ computer distributers are waiting around to see if it
does well, which is a bit of a paradox. This could be the big booster
shot for Commodore-Amiga, though. I'm seriously considering buying
one, and I HATE game machines...but its expandability options entice me,
and besides, I own an Amiga as it is...since the prime reason to go AGA
would be for games, the CD32 can give an ECS/OCS Amiga user who is
happy with the productivity/graphics end of his/her current system a
relatively inexpensive AGA game solution. After all, if you've got a
2000 or 3000 decked out to the gills, but would like to play James Pond
2AGA, this could be the answer.
I hope this long undertaking has been worthwhile. Mail me with any
suggestions/responses/additions/deletions you may have, and spread this
knowledge as far as you can. Only Amiga makes it possible, but only
with your help.