back to article Happy birthday, Amiga: The 'other' home computer turns 30

On July 23, 1985, Commodore kicked off a new era in its history with the launch of the Amiga 1000. Through the 1980s and into the early 90s, the Amiga built for itself a cult following and gained a reputation as a personal computer ahead of its time. The tangle with Atari Part of the story behind Amiga is the tale of two …

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Ah, the good old days!

I bought an A1000 in '85, but had to wait a while before I could get a colour monitor, so the agonizingly slow Mandelbrot written in BASIC was all in green. :-(

Eventually went through A2000, A2500, A3000 and bought an A4000 just after I heard that Commodore was shutting down. I had lots of software that I had written and was in the middle of a big project - I did *not* want to change systems at that time! I've put UAE on my Linux box just for the nostalgia of running my old software.

(And yes, I know this dates me badly!)

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Roo
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Windows

Re: Ah, the good old days!

I had a 512K PAL A1000 back in the day, it was really fun machine. While the graphics were good and the games were fun the thing which blew me away about it was the audio. Really wish I could have found the cash to add a hard drive, upgrade the motherboard to a 680[23]0 + more RAM etc, really was a fun machine to write C on. A few years later I moved onto a 386 + Win 3.1 because it was cheaper than upgrading the A1000 which felt like a massive step backwards after all the relatively lovely Amiga APIs. :(

I loved Matt Dillon's editor DME, did anyone else come across that ?

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DJV
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Re: Ah, the good old days!

Yes, DME was my programming editor of choice as well. I wrote a whole bunch of useful macros for it.

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Re: Ah, the good old days!

Exactly the same experience, I really couldn't understand how MS had managed to make Windows so difficult to program after having used intuition.library and so on.

Of course now I know that MS just threw shit at the fan for years until they got Windows 3.1 and considered that they'd caught up with the Mac and the x86 didn't help (handles, thunks, WTF).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah, the good old days!

It would be a lot more interesting to hear about how the Amiga fitted into the UK market and the pricing over here (not a complaint against the comments above but just a request for more info).

I did use the Amiga a little at the time but my exposure to it was limited and with the passage of time.....

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Happy

Ah, memories

I remember ordering an A500 in 1989 during the tail end of my first year at college, and buying every Amiga magazine for the cover disks during the wait for delivery. I used to take them out and look at them every evening.

I think it was the last time I remember getting so 'childishly' excited over a new piece of kit.

The Atari ST was never an option (at least without midi equipment), I'd appreciated the SID chip on my C64 to much,..

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Fond memories.

I can remember seeing the Amiga 500 at a friends house just after I left school. I think I saved up all my money for a whole year to buy my own. After I did, I basically said goodbye to any teen social life I may have had. While my mates were busy sitting in the park drinking bottles of beer, I was sitting in a cold dark bedroom copying my mates floppy disk collection and rocking away to tunes on "OcataMED".

The addiction grew and I had to build myself a A4000. So while my mates were saving up for a car, I was saving up for the king of all home computers. Finally I bought the A4000 base machine. I can remember the guy from the computer shop giving me a lift home in his car with it as I paid for it in cash. I think it was over £1000 at the time.

I think I added every bit of hardware that was released for my Amiga. From the Mediator PCI - expansion, custom ATX tower, CDROM drive, SCSI card, Voodoo 3 and Picasa IV gfx cards right up to a 128MB (yes MB) Ram expansion and PowerPC 680040/604e card. All the way through the 90's this thing was my life. I learned how to write HTML by hand and code on it. It was a sad day indeed when my PowerPC card burnt out and I had to settle for a damn HP laptop with Windows ME! :(

I rock Linux Mint these days, and still have a copy of UAE installed for that sense of nostalgia of running Workbench, dreaming what Amiga computing/hardware may have been like if Commodore had not fell through.

Happy Birthday Amiga.

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Pint

Re: Fond memories.

Seeing as you missed out as a teen - heres a beer :)

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0xdff058

I too have fond memories of the Amiga, I loved how open the platform was (especially for the time). I spent many an hour writing code in 68000 and C and abusing the hardware, timing my code in raster lines, and my first Internet usage, with KA9Q then AmiTCP.

Today Linux is my weapon of choice, but it was the Amiga that set me on my way!

Is it sad that I remembered my favourite hardware register, 0xdff058, almost quarter of a century later without having to google?

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Re: Fond memories.

You sir, are a true geek. We wish for the best parts of IT, and get the job done, regardless of platform.

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Re: 0xdff058

"Is it sad that I remembered my favourite hardware register, 0xdff058, almost quarter of a century later without having to google?"

Don't worry about it - I can still remember some 6809 op-codes even though it had thousands of them.

( I too remember my A1000 with affection even though compiling Lattice C was a disk swapping operation until I got a hard drive)

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Re: 0xdff058

Ha, what about the Sinclair ZX81, where I remember the start of addressable memory was at location 16514 ?

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Re: 16514

That was the first character after REM, if a REM statement was the first line of BASIC. Before POKEing in a HEX machine code program, you had to make sure you had enough characters after REM to support your Z80 machine code routine(s).

One of the most exciting moments of my teen life was writing a Z80 routine

LD BC, nnnn;

LD HL, mmmm;

ADD HL,BC;

LD B,H;

LD C,L;

RET

10 REM xxxxxxxxxxxxxx (appears as Sinclair-esque nonsense once values POKEd in)

20 PRINT USR 16514

And seeing it produce the expected answer (mmmm + nnnn) on screen! Seriously mind-blowing and I've always wanted to know what was REALLY happening inside every computer (and every high-level language) I've used ever since.

Started with 1K ZX-81, graduated to 16K, then Spectrum, then A500+, and finally threw in the towel and got a PC once they had decent enough graphics and sound to replace the Amiga.

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MrT

Memories...

Get thee to the Life Science Centre in Newcastle - the place is currently stuffed full of retro gaming gear for the Game On 2.0 exhibit (runs until 03 Jan 2016).

Can't remember everything, but did play a maze game on the ZX81, 3D Deathchase on a ZX Spectrum with a natty little CompactFlash card drive fitted to the back, and a bunch of other good things. Can't remember what the Amiga was running. Their Beeb was busted, though, just showing static on screen (blown capacitor?) :-( ...

Sorry this sounds like an advert, but I've just spent the afternoon wandering about the place with a big grin on my face.

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Anonymous Coward

Started with an Amiga 500 (power pack edition) after using Spectums for years. Began by getting into music with trackers and then Midi with MusicX which still today is my favourite MIDI software, also got into Comms (BBSs) and Fido (Pre-Commercial Internet days) which was a great way to get pirated software (warez) and eventually started my own BBS with obligatory private (hard to get access to) warez sections and also started an Amiga fido based network which ended up having more than 100 nodes and points across the UK and US which for a 15yo kid was a whole lotta fun. In the end the Amiga directed me into my career as my first proper job was for an early UK ISP and eventually to the present where I own my own hosting company. I owe it all to you Amiga truly.

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Big Bash

"In the end the Amiga directed me into my career as my first proper job was for an early UK ISP and eventually to the present where I own my own hosting company. I owe it all to you Amiga truly."

Your comment makes you sound suspiciously like an awesome guy I know from Lowestoft who was a major help with our Amiga "Big Bash" shows !

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Was The Mutts Nutts

Probably the best machine ever invented and had some of the best games ever written for it. Nothing graphically outstanding by today's standards of course.

Many many many hours of my life spent on sensible soccer, cannon fodder, pinball dreams etc.

Those were real games on a real machine !!!!!!!! and funnily never needed any updates or patches.

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Re: Was The Mutts Nutts

Yeah, even the viruses were nice...a box saying "TeeHeeHee you have a virus" with maybe some music and that's where it ended.

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Amiga 500

Gave me a window on computing.

It was awesome.

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Oddly enough

I am in the middle of bringing my a1200 back to life.

Replaced the hardrive with a CF card and it boots in 5 seconds, also got a 68030 card in there...

Its up and running atm, fun to set up (and trying to remember short cuts etc after 20 years)

WHDLoad is running on it :-0 But to be fair never really played many games on it.

My a1200 back in 1998 was my first computer i took online and what fun it was.

But still want an a4000 to play with

And just a small plus if there are any EX Amiga users on here that used IRC back in the late 90s ans sat on arcnet on a channel called #pba say hi :--0

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Happy

Re: Oddly enough

Snap! To be honest, I haven't touched it much in recent years but I gave my A1200 the same treatment 10 years ago with a 68030 and a CF card. My expansion board allowed me to add a 128MB PC SIMM, wow! It also had space for an FPU that allowed me to run Linux and I tried Gentoo for a laugh.

It was also fun to play with the networking capabilities. With a PCMCIA ethernet card, I was able to browse the web, chat on MSN messenger via an XMPP gateway, and even mount my Linux NFS shares as local drives. SSH worked too, though sadly I could only get it working as a client. To be able to SSH to my Amiga and get an AmigaDOS prompt would have been quite trippy.

Proof of some of the above.

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Re: Oddly enough

I wish I hadn't given my A1200 away now (along with my Spectrums and BBC Micros). By the time I got rid of it, it had a 2.5" HDD, 50MHz 68030 with 64MB, and a 10baseT PCMCIA ethernet. I remember waiting three days for it to ray trace a scene with a gold ashtray and tumbler in Imagine, with the trapdoor open and the bottom propped up to try and keep that '030 cool so it wouldn't crash. Those were the days. I still can't hear the name "Amiga" without getting a strong urge to play Speedball 2 or Alien Breed.

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Re: Oddly enough

Speedball 2 was my favourite all time game. "ice cream, ice cream!"

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Re: Speedball 2

It's been given a reboot. Check it out on Steam.

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Pint

Happy birthday Amiga, and a toast to your legacy

the Amiga chipset (the chips had pet names IIRC) was really something, even when my 600 went into guru meditation (froze), often enough audio would just keep playing. I was using Protracker - a sampler and sequencer that let you to build sounds from actual bits and a delta filter, which would yield increasingly interesting results the closer it got to choking on itself. Much better than the canned stuff! I also remember DPaint and making interlaced bitmap animations because the system could not handle full-res. Good times, and fond memories of coming up with solutions to maximize the possibilities - modest in scale yet mindblowing in scope. When Amiga went down I had to get another media-capable computer: I was hooked on the fun of playing with sounds and images. There were a few options if you wanted to do anything with media or graphics, most notable Apple, Atari, Silicon Graphics, and SUN. With the latter two being rather expensive (let alone the software), and not quite as easy to use, and with Atari for some reason being equated with the Evil Empire, a Mac it was gonna be - I did feel at the time it was a step backwards; even for its limited power, the Amiga always felt much more like a multimedia computer.

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Anonymous Coward

amiga forever

with a top end Amiga 1200/4000 with PPC fetching well over $1000 dollars. The retro/classic market makes this one of the most sought after classics to own today. And yes I still own a PPC Amiga. :)

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if they were so good, why did people stop buying them? why did the business fail?

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Commodore screwed up is what happened. They sank heaps of cash on CDTV / CD32 which flopped and and didn't invest enough in things which would have kept the platform competitive.

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Because Commodore lost the plot. :(

While it appeared that they languished on their success they were developing some remarkable new systems to replace it with - I had the technical details of some parts and they really were very clever, efficient and way ahead of their time. Unfortunately they struggled with the hardware development including one point where, according to hearsay (I lost my contacts within Amiga HW dev at this time) they had to reverse engineer their own chipsets as they'd "lost" the designs; I still don't understand this or know the truth behind it. One of the more interesting developments that they were apparently attempting was hardware windowing support where each window could have it's own colour palette, colour depth and (possibly, was never sure on this) even DPI resolution. This was an evolutionary change from the multiple screen system where each screen could have its own resolution and could be split vertically (horizontal bands of differing display modes), simultaneously splitting the screens horizontally as well and effectively creating hardware windows would have tasked the chip designers somewhat but the efficiency and performance could have been amazing had they pulled it off.

As a result of Commodore's failure to capitalise on their success they let the (initially) technically inferior PCs overtake them in the market and with the opening up of the PC market by OEMs and the subsequent reduction in costs Amiga's fate was effectively sealed.

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Whole books have been written on the subject, but there were a few key things.

Commercially, commodore didn't spend enough on R&D or promotion. They were used to the very long life cycle of the C64 and presumed the Amiga could survive in the same basic format for a decade.

Technically, moore's law means that commodity hardware (x86 PCs) always wins. What can only be achieved on custom hardware today will be done cheaper and better on standard hardware tomorrow.

Piracy saw developers move to machines perceived to be more secure - the cartridge and CD based consoles.

There are many other issues but the last one I'll mention is architecture. It's cleverness was also it's downfall. All the clever interplay between chips and systems and RAM limited the ultimate speed of the machine. You have to break the tight integration to go faster, but doing that breaks the backward compatibility of software that talks directly to the hardware. A faster Amiga wouldn't have run any Amiga software. The tech reached the end of the line. Modern Amiga implementations that are faster retain compatibility only through emulation.

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Anonymous Coward

There are many contributing factors towards Commodores demise - no one reason - see the wikipediia article if you're that interested. One mans' opinion based on the following:

In 1991 I bought an Amiga 1200 -on the way added a 1230 50Mhz accelerator & 8MB of RAM and in later a 56k modem, 4GB hard drive and 8xSCSII CD-ROM.

In 1997 I bought my first of dozens of PC's, for my fathers business, a 486DX2 with 4MB of RAM * Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and later a Pentium 166Mhz Pentium Pro running Windows 95.

I mostly ran productivity software on both architectures and played lots of games on both too. I learned to program and understand shells and CLIs and AREXX scripting language. It just seemed to be simple and obvious on an Amiga. I never had to create DOS boot-disks or mess about with HIMEM or mounting CD-ROMs or limiting my save file names to less than seven characters and all the other foibles of a Window/DOS based system.

It wasn't perfect. Amigas had no system memory protection. The accelerators could overheat. Fewer and fewer users meant less software, less hardware, file compatibility issues (couldn't create Word documents on an Amiga, although there were even ways around that).

However I can honestly say that the PC experience didn't even come close - until I built a PC with an Athlon Thunderbird running at 1.4GHz, and was running Windows XP with 1GB of RAM. That brought a level of snapiness and speed to the overall PC experience which approached that of my Amiga. A level of stability (far fewer BSOD screens) on a par with my Amiga. And extensibility (USB, DVD-ROMs, networking) which came more easily than on an Amiga.

Experience is a very personal thing. How we define how good something is will always depend on our own point of view. For me, the Amiga was a time saver, an elegantly designed, powerful system, easy to learn, easy to love. And at a time when it was half the price (and so called "power") of PC's running other operating systems.

I don't think we shall see it's kind again.

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I remember it a little differently. Maybe my brain is addled after so many years but I recall the CD32 was a last-ditch quick-and-dirty attempt to get a product that would sell, and was a surprising success. It was just that C= were already pretty much dead, the banks were circling and they couldn't finance building enough of them to haul themselves out of the pit they were already in.

They were in that mess by various management regimes dithering about what they should be making next. There are hundreds of stories about products in the very late stages of design that got canned, and/or replaced/redesigned to products that then bombed (such as the aforementioned CDTV). It seems really only the C64 and Amiga actually got through the management BS to get onto the market, and they dined out on that for far too long.

Another story I remember reading was about ESCOM, the only company that bought the Amiga and really actually did something with it. I understood that they re-introduced the aging A1200 & A4000s via ESCOM stores, and - perhaps surprisingly again - were selling modestly, but they were looked upon with disdain by the vast majority of PC-familiar sales dudes and weren't pushed as they might have been. However the profit on the Amigas was so much better than the generic PCs they were selling that if they had pushed them more, or in most cases actually set them up demo-ing something, ESCOM might still exist, as might Amiga in some form.

Rather than the hardware though, which of course just dates by years passing, I mourn the loss of AmigaOS which while dated in many respects still has a lot of stuff nobody seems to have learned. I'll use modern OSes accepting clicks (or taps) on GUI elements that weren't even on screen at the time of the click/tap as an everyday example. Crazy stuff.

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Escom blew the Amiga's last plausible chance at survival

@tin2; Regarding the reintroduction of the A1200 by Escom.

The A1200 came out in late 1992 and while a worthwhile improvement was essentially a "catch up" to the PC that was starting to overtake it by then. (#) By mid-1994, it had fallen behind again, the Amiga was no longer dominant... and then Commodore went bankrupt.

Aftter more than a year during which technology moved on and the stranded Amiga atrophied further, Escom relaunched the three-year-old-spec A1200 for £100 *more* than it had cost before the bankruptcy.

They claimed the price increase was needed to cover the costs of getting it back to market- but whether or not it was done in good faith or just milking the remaining faithful, that was the point it became obvious to even me that the Amiga had lost its last chance.

In hindsight, it was probably already doomed when C= went under, but that was where it became obvious to me at the time.

(#) I bought my Amiga at the end of 1991, when it was still "the" machine for playground exchange of games. By early 1993- just over a year later- it was noticeable that the focus was shifting to PC games. In hindsight, I wish I'd gone for a secondhand Amiga a year prior instead of buying the new- but second-best- Atari ST I could afford then (which I ended up selling to part-fund the Amiga anyway), and had got another full year of the Amiga at its peak.

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Technically, moore's law means that commodity hardware (x86 PCs) always wins. What can only be achieved on custom hardware today will be done cheaper and better on standard hardware tomorrow.

The Amiga as the Lisp machine of home computing?

With the onset of the "AI winter" and the early beginnings of the microcomputer revolution (which would sweep away the minicomputer and workstation manufacturers), cheaper desktop PCs soon were able to run Lisp programs even faster than Lisp machines, without the use of special purpose hardware. Their high profit margin hardware business eliminated, most Lisp machine manufacturers went out of business by the early 90s, leaving only software based companies like Lucid Inc. or hardware manufacturers who switched to software and services to avoid the crash.

I can live with that.

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Linux

...and get off my lawn!

They were always a consumer niche product that didn't get any respect from the larger business market. The Microsoft hegemony chipped away at their market share year after year until they were finally relegated to Video toaster enthusiasts.

The same thing happened to them that happened to nearly another alternative to MS-DOS.

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Devil

...and again, get off my lawn!

All of the 68K's were fine machines, especially considering what the state of the PC clone market was like and what MS-DOS and Windows were like. When I finally defected to monopoly ware in 94, I nearly came straight back because of what WinDOS could do to what was ample RAM on a 68K machine.

Amigas were really not that far behind typical PCs of the time. They certainly weren't behind PCs at all in terms of multimedia capabilities.

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"I recall the CD32 was a last-ditch quick-and-dirty attempt to get a product that would sell, and was a surprising success. It was just that C= were already pretty much dead, the banks were circling and they couldn't finance building enough of them"

Yes, I can confirm that this is the story I remember hearing as well- that the CD32 was an easy-to-develop cash cow (#) that was successful as far as it went, and that Commodore's failure was in spite of this. (##)

People seem to conflate the CDTV and CD32, but despite the ostensibly similar concept, the marketing and positioning were somewhat different. CDTV was a relatively expensive attempt at a multipurpose multimedia machine a la Philips CD-I (###) and I'm sure the marketing cost them a bit alone. It flopped- I'm guessing- because it was too expensive (£500, around £1000 in today's money) for something that had no compelling selling point. (e.g. The Hutchison encyclopedia offered little over the printed version beyond sparse audio clips, a few pics and basic searchability, and the games were often just shovelware of existing Amiga games with few CD enhancements).

The CD32 was a more obviously game-focused and lower-end (####) machine.

(#) Since it was essentially a stripped-down A1200 attached to a (presumably off-the-shelf mechanism) CD ROM, with only the Planar conversion chip being new.

(##) It was apparently never sold in the United States due to legal issues, though.

(###) The Philips CD-I ultimately flopped as well; it's my opinion that it only survived longer than the CDTV because Philips had much more money to spend on marketing and keeping it alive in the face of public indifference.

(####) Though it was higher specced- the CDTV was essentially based around an A500-level Amiga, whereas the CD32 was A1200-spec (which the CDTV probably should have been in the first place; the Amiga might have survived better if the A1200 had come out 18 months earlier).

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WINUAE

is the best emulator out there and it works bloody well.

WELL worth checking out.

May i recommend "Twintris" as the definative tetris clone.

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Re: WINUAE

+1 on Twintris. Written by Svein Berge, who may or may not be the same Svein Berge from Röyksopp.

Although I am assured that Svein and Berge are both common Swedish names, I'm convinced it is, because their first album - Melody A.M. - contains tracks which use Amiga ProTracker style tricks such as tone portamanto (iirc 3nn on the effect code list).

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First steps

So I went from a Spectrum 48k to a Spectrum 128k (still have that one.) and the old Speccy/C64 rivalries still ran deep when I upgraded so I got an Atari ST! It was a great machine (I never knew that back story of engineers switching sides, very interesting.) but I was always slightly envious of my A500 owning friends who always seemed to have slightly better games/software. I could only argue the better audio side for so long.

So I eventually bought an A1200 with a hard drive. That was pretty much what I class as my first "real" PC. It was my favourite thing in the world.

Then I did what the majority did and bought an Intel PC and a Sony PSX and the rest is history. :D

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Happy

Re: First steps

I followed the same path as you! Quite liked my spectrum but only really messed around on it. Eventually got an A1200 for Christmas when I was about 12 and that started a love of computers that has never ended. Even set me on the path for an IT career!

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Gronking, TV modulator that fell out frequently, Barbarian with Maria Whittaker ... great days.

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Anonymous Coward

ST was better

That is all...

;-)

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Re: ST was better

I was going to downvote you, but then I remember the Miggy vs ST wars back in the day. Made Win v MacOS seem tame.

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Re: ST was better

I had, and loved, an ST. Nowt wrong with the Amiga though. Just couldn't afford both and my friends had STs.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ST was better

The down votes were expected :-)

I had an ST and it was a great piece of kit - as was the Amiga. They were both the next big thing after the ZX Spectrum I started with. Probably the first tangible example of the rapid technological progress made over the last 25 years or so.

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Memories

I had an A500 with a "sidecar" HDD boasting a whopping 20MB storage and 1.5MB ram expansion. I crafted myself a pretty sweet Unix-like system from Fred Fish disks and used to develop with Lattice C. Mostly I remember it for the games like Dungeon Master, Virus, Monkey Island, Pinball Dreams etc.

I saved up and was prepared to buy an A4000 but Commodore jacked the prices up and I bought a PC instead using OS/2 & Slackware as surrogates. I made the best choice in hindsight. Commodore managed to run the brand into the ground.

It was kind sad to watch the Amiga brand tossed around from one failed relaunch to another. The delusional loyalty and misplaced hope in comp.sys.amiga.advocacy and the magazines was pretty hilarious though.

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Re: Memories

I got a A590 here with the wopping 20mb working as well!

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Re: Memories

The delusional loyalty and misplaced hope in comp.sys.amiga.advocacy and the magazines was pretty hilarious though.

;_;

Why so cruel?

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Re: Memories

I had an unholy stack off the side of my A500+

A memory expansion, an HD, and then the huge lumpen CDROM (A520?) on the end.

As a testament to the home-builderynessability of the Amiga, it was a SCSI HD on a SCSI board that some people I knew had built and written their own drivers (or whatnot) for.

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