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              Review: AmiFast A3000 SIMM RAM Expansion Board
                            By:  Jason Compton 
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ZIP RAM.  Aaargh.

It's hard to mention the former without immediately proceeding to the
latter.  ZIPs are oddly shaped, fragile, and difficult to find.  And those
are the GOOD things about them.

So it's a foregone conclusion that if you've got an Amiga 3000 and less
than the full 16 megs of Fast RAM, you're somewhat unmotivated to rush out
and get some more memory.  But if ProvTech has anything to do with it,
everybody's A3000s will be running with 16 megs of Fast RAM, and in nice,
convenient SIMM packages, no less.

The AmiFast from ProvTech is a long, narrow PCB that covers almost the
entire area of ZIP sockets, mating with a number of pins.  The board runs
the long way from the front of your A3000 to the back, and has four SIMM
slots at the back of the machine, awaiting 4 or 8 meg modules.  You can
fill these up to 16 megs of Fast RAM, the most the onboard A3000 RAM
controller will handle.

The idea is simple-For about US$90, you buy the ability to replace your
existing ZIPs with more economical and MUCH more available 72-pin SIMMs, so
you can take your A3000 with less than 18 megs of memory up to the limit. 
If you have the full 16 megs of ZIPs now, the AmiFast will be of no
use--but if your A3000 is like mine, with just 8 megs of ZIPs, the cost of
an AmiFast and 2 8-meg SIMMs, if you're a good shopper, isn't such a bad
deal.  If you're running with less than 10 megs, you should give the board
some serious consideration.


Installation
------------

ZIP chips are fairly fragile, and their vertical design makes them an
incredible pig to remove from their homes.

In order to install the AmiFast, you're going to need to gut your A3000,
removing the disk drive array.  This is no simple task in and of itself,
but can be accomplished by mere mortals.

Once that's done, you'll see the bank of ZIPs in the front, right-hand
quadrant of the A3000.  Yank these out.  This is easier said than done.

As I said, I had 8 megs of ZIPs, which meant the ZIPs were next to each
other in pairs.  Removing the first ZIP was an incredible chore--I wound up
prying them up gently with a very small flathead screwdriver, and then
working them loose with my fingers.  The second was a snap--just pull
straight up with a pair of pliers.  In the course of doing this, I bent a
LOT of little ZIP pins, and one chip lost a pin.  Scratch one ZIP.

Did I mention these ZIP chips are fragile?

Once that's done, you'll need to install the AmiFAST.  ProvTech recommends
that you not install any SIMMs into the board until you are done with
installation.  I took their advice.

Mating the AmiFAST board isn't the easiest thing in the world to do--there
are pins running down the length to lock it into the bank of ZIP sockets. 
There's a small hole provided, allegedly for guiding the board into place,
but I found it much more productive aligning the board by sight on the
corners.  The manual does a good job of explaning which pins need to be
where in which sockets, and the board itself is well labeled, pointing to
key pins and telling you where they should be.

Once the board is pushed in place with some satisfying crunches, you can
install your SIMMs.  You can put in 4 or 8 meg SIMMs, of basically any type
(but ProvTech says they should be 8 or 16 chip SIMMs, 1Mx16 DRAMs will not
work), following the rule that 8 meg SIMMs preclude a SIMM in the previous
slot.  (i.e., out of slots 0, 1, 2, and 3, 2 8-meg SIMMs would be placed in
slots 1 and 3, leaving the other two blank, or 1 8-meg SIMM would be placed
in slot 1 and two 4 meg SIMMs in slots 2 and 3.)

I personally used the 8/4/4 configuration, as that was the memory I had on
hand.  The 8-meg SIMM was a double-sided model and fit just fine.

ProvTech maintains that the AmiFast is compatible, in functionality and in
real estate, with an installed A3640 board, but we did not have an
appropriate 3640 to test in the A3000.


Using Your New RAM
------------------

Well, it's really simple.  Either you have the memory, or you don't.  (The
first time I didn't, because I accidentally put the SIMMs in the wrong
configuration.) There's no software to configure, no jumpers to set on the
AmiFast--furthermore, there isn't even a single IC on the AmiFast board.


What You Get
------------

Basically, you get exactly the RAM you put into the A3000, and neither you
nor the A3000 are tipped off that they're SIMMs instead of ZIPs.  Both AIBB
and real-world testing tell me that the computer functions precisely the
same--the AIBB benchmarks were all within .01 of the pre-SIMM A3000,
suggesting that the machine is exactly the same for the journey.


Is It Worth It?
---------------

At current pricing, a pair of 8 meg SIMMs is US$80 or less, if you're a
good shopper.  Or, if you're like me, you might have some 80ns 4 meg SIMMs
that aren't particularly useful in some newer accelerator boards, but
they're perfect for the AmiFAST.  Tack on the $90 AmiFAST board and you're
looking at about $170, tops, to get a 16 meg A3000.  Current ZIP pricing is
a difficult thing to analyze--after all, the irony of the AmiFAST is that
as people buy it, they'll be selling their ZIP chips, which will create a
new supply of ZIPs.

Since it's generally easier to come up with reasons NOT to buy something
than TO buy something, let's get those out of the way.

An AmiFAST isn't for you if you--

Already have 16 megs of ZIPs installed

Already have a high-class 040 or 060 accelerator installed--since it will
support its own, faster-access SIMMs already.


However, an AmiFAST is probably a good idea if you--

Are planning to do some serious work on your A3000 and/or add a graphics
card, and you're running with 10 or less megs of memory

Are planning to install an A3640 040/25 card and have 10 or less megs of
memory (while you're inside the A3000, may as well kill two birds with one
stone)

Are looking to add some memory, but loathe the thought of using ZIPs, or
having to find them, or buy them used.


Also, it's worth noting that while the AmiFAST is available for about
US$90, it can be ordered directly from ProvTech as either an unassembled
kit or simply as a PCB, for project hacker types.  This cuts the cost by
roughly 50 and 75%, respectively.  ProvTech includes full assembly
instructions.

--

ProvTech
RR 4 Box 72
Washington, IN  47501
812-254-1781 evenings
812-257-0902 BBS
75507.3170@compuserve.com