History of the Amiga

Adapted from an article in CU Amiga, 1996

1982

The year was 1982, and the Atari VCS was the game console of choice. The stubby joysticks, the version of Space Invaders with 99 variations; we lived in excitingly technological times as we waited for our 16k ZX Spectrums.

Meanwhile, in America three dentists had $7 million burning a whole in their white pockets and wanted to invest in the crazy video games business that they heard was making so much money for companies like Atari. They formed a company called Hi-Toro, which later changed to Amiga, and took on Jay Miner and Dave Morse. Jay was the brains behind the custom chips in both the Atari console and home computer: he knew that a fancy processor wasn't enough. RJ Mical, an ex-employee of Williams (the arcade games people behind Defender), joined the team to handle software.

The plan was to create the ultimate games console, code-named Lorraine. The design specifications were simple. Lorraine was to include graphics and sound effects which were state-of-the-art In Silicon Valley, while Amiga built joy-sticks as a cover, the designers got busy.

However, something wonderful happened an somewhere along the line, this killer games console started to sprout some odd additions. A disk drive on a games machine? A keyboard connector? Parallel and serial ports? A modem? There was even a hardware PC emulator and digital telephone answering machine in the pipeline.

1983

Although the custom chips hadn’t been finished and only existed as a pile of stock chips and wiring, the heart of the machine was ready to be shown at the CES Show in January 1984. Although hidden behind a partition, visitors passing up nearby escalators saw a glimpse of an amazing machine: the "Boing" demo was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

Unfortunately this all happened at the tail end of the First Home Video Game Boom. Even Atari had made a few expensive mishaps and had been bought by an ex-Commodore employee Jack Tramiel. Amiga too was in trouble, and needed external investment. The decision to add computer interfaces to the original Lorraine now looked like a masterstroke: the First Home Computer Boom was only just beginnin.g

Atari’s Jack Tramiel wanted a home computer and could see what the Amiga team were capable of. He lent Amiga half a million dollars while they negotiated share prices. However, Tramiel knew Amiga was in trouble and didn’t want to play fair, Amiga wanted $2 a share, Atari offered half that. Amiga wanted $1.50, Atari offered half again

With only a matter of days before they would have to accept the Atari offer, the Amiga team were in despair - until out of the blue came a call from Commodore Business Machines. Commodore bought the shares at $4.25. and invested over $25 million In Amiga.

1985

Commodore-Amiga made some changes to the Lorraine (the modem vanished, memory was doubled to 265K and double sided disk drives included as standard), and in June 1985 the Amiga 1000 was launched at the Lincoln Center in New York, with the aid of Debbie Harry and Andy Warhol.

The Amiga 1000 was an amazing machine. Gone was the pretence of a games machine, this was a workstation. With a modern PC-style case which could house the external keyboard underneath and that rainbow coloured tick badge, it looked special. There was a two button mouse, a 14MHz Motorola 68000 processor, 256K memory expandable to a whopping 512K and a graphics display which could not only be genlocked but also offered a dazzling 4096 colours on-screen at once. And as for the operating system, no-one had seen a graphical orientated multitasking interface like it. and still today there isn’t anything like it. Heck, the Amiga even came with digital sound and speech synthesis. So by September this $1000+ machine was shipping to wide acclaim.

1986

The Amiga 1000 was cool, but it was also expensive. Work started on the successor, the A2000. Two teams, one in America and one in Germany had designs, but the German A2000 version was the one that succeeded.

The Vic 20 and Commodore 64 were popular in the UK, although there were hundreds of other contenders for the title ‘best home computer’ including the Amstrad CPC, Memotech MSX, Sord M5, Dragon, Lynx, Enterprise, Jupiter Ace and even the Spectrum was still going strong.

1987/88/89

The A2000 and A500 were launched .The A2000 came in a huge box with many internal expansion slots, aware of the growing dominance of the IBM-PC clone. It was even possible to fit a special bridgeboard and use PC style expansion cards.

The A500 was launched in the UK on the 12th June, and did away with the expansion slots (besides a ‘trapdoor’ memory and an expansion port on the side) to form a complete, single box unit. It sold for 587, and against its deadly rival the Atari ST it looked over-priced, but extremely well tooled-up.

All through 1987, and for a few years after, the Amiga /ST wars raged. The ST’s processor was slightly faster, but the Amiga had the custom chips which gave it the edge. Initially Amiga games software were simply Atari ports, which gave the false impression that both machines were identical, but the ST was cheaper.

Eventually, as more games were specially written, and the first of the unique graphics and sound utilities came along, it was recognised that the Amiga was the better machine. Sales shifted in the Amiga’s favour, and the Atari —despite various updates to the ST — lost the war.

The first Amiga virus programs started to appear, although at first many refused to believe they existed.

1990/91

Overdue it may have been, but the A3000 was launched with the all-new Workbench 2 operating system. Out went orange and blue and 68000 chips, in came blue and grey and 68030s. The A3000 was the first 32-bit Amiga, and it was packed with features, like the SCSI interface and the ability to use standard SVGA monitors. It was fast, sleek and many Amiga users today still rate it as the best Amiga ever made.

The CDTV also first saw the light of day. At a staggering 699, the CDTV was a 1Mb A500 and CD-ROM player in an extremely smart black box. Ahead of its time it may have been, but "overpriced and lacking in software" was the most popular description.

The VideoToaster appeared, and the A2000 would never be the same again. Offering untold power to American video users, the Toaster did things to NTSC TV production that would have cost ten times as much without it. One of the great Amiga injustices is that a PAL version for the European market never appeared.

1992

What was going on? Some Amiga owners were irritated when they found out that the "new" A500Plus, which Commodore had sneaked into Cartoon Classics packs over Christmas '91, would not run some games. The A500+ appeared as a "Iimited edition" for a short while, with Workbench 2, but in May the A600 was launched for 399. It offered less expansion than the A500 and lacked a numeric keyboard and was greeted with a universal cry of ‘huh?’ It sold quite well to a lot of new users and a misguided few looking to upgrade their A500, but three months later the price was dropped to 299. The A600 did boast some important clues about what was to come:the PCMCIA port was intriguing, and the internal IDE hard drive more than interesting.

Featuring the AGA chipset and 16 million colours, the A4000 was the first Amiga to use the powerful Motorola 68040 processor, although a cheaper 68030 version was also available. It was far from perfect though; the internal IDE interface and lack of A3000-type flicker fixer did not go down well. The hardware design was also criticised. The enhancements to Workbench 3.0 were minor at first glance, although substantial improvements were made under the cover.

1993

The A1200 started to appear on shelves. The A1200 was one of the best Amigas designed, taking the A500 approach but cramming in as much as possible. A 68020 processor was fitted as standard, the IDE interface was now starting to look like quite a good idea, and the new Workbench was showing Windows users what a bit of intelligence and some custom hardware could do. A1200 expansions are continuing to appear, many running considerably faster than the A4000with 68030 Perhaps surprisingly, the A1200 could well be remembered as the "Ultimate Amiga" rather than the A4000

A miracle of cost control, the CD32 games console had the makings of a world beater as it included the internals of an A1200 and a double-speed CD-ROM drive at a sensible price. Launched in the middle of 1993 at a bash featuring Bruno Brookes and ginger whinger Chris Evans, it never really caught on.

1994 - Present

1994 saw launch of Workbench 3 1, offering a few minor tweaks. Commodore celebrated by going bust.

And then it went quiet. Dave Pleasance and Colin Proudfoot wanted to lead a management buyout, but couldn't match any other bids when the company was sold off a year and a half later. Commodore had been bought out by German PC manufacturer Escom, who formed Amiga Technologies and began selling Amigas in Escom stores throughout Britain. However, people had been moving onto PCs in the absence of any new Amiga models and the A1200 looked a bit pathetic, while the A4000T was way overpriced. Within a year Escom were bankrupt.

The rights to the Amiga were bought by a little known American company Viscorp, but after a few months they sold the rights to PC manufacturer Gateway 2000.

And that brings us to today and Gateway 2000. For Months, the speculations went on, that there new Amiga would be relased by the end of 1999. However, recent sources report that this Super Amiga will no longer be released - So what happens next ? - Only time can tell..........