Probably the defining computer of the 90's. The PC was humming along in the background, and the Mac well, it was a DTP machine, but the yawning gap left in the middle for computer enthusiasts was filled firstly by Atari's feeble ST, and then much more stylishly by the amazing Amiga 500!. This machine was sex on the desktop. It plugged into your tv / monitor, and straight into the speakers as well (if you had them). It had 512K RAM built in!! (considering the Commodore 64 had, well, 64K, this was a drastic improvement. I mean imagine if your next computer instead of having 256MB has 5GB of RAM, then you get into the pants wetting and exciting world that we were in back then...

The Amiga had really smooth graphics, a customs graphics chip was responsible for this it could do up to 4096 colours in HAM mode. Which was groundbreaking at the time. You could use it for desktop publishing, like a Mac, you could write code, or do spreadsheets like a PC, but where it truly excelled was the games department. These usually fitted onto one or two floppy disks and they ranged from okayish crap (Shinobi) to mind bogglingly excellent (Speedball2, Megalomania etc).

And there were thousands of them, you could copy, you could swap. A whole scene was built up for the underground exchanging of these games, the scene became a community, of sorts, with it's own electronic magazines, such as The Grapevine. The Amiga inspired such absolute devotion it is hard to imagine nowadays, in the age of easily replaced pcs, and almost disposal peripheral cards.

I had my Amiga from 1989 to 1997, and only got a PC when it became apparently that that was the platform of choice for the computer science degree that I had chosen. Sigh.

There was something about it and I wish I could put my finger on it. It felt like a real computer, it felt good in a way that most computers simply don't. The closest I ever got to the nice feeling of the Amiga was the Imac, but even that felt a little to smoothed out and curved for my tastes. The Amiga had real computer grit as well as style, you didn't feel like you were juggling razor blades like you did with a PC, or that you were shaving with a bowling ball, like the Mac. You felt like you got a good, clean shave. No blood, no mess, it felt good.

The A500 was by far the best selling Commodore Amiga computer. It offered a good compromise between price and performance whilst being significantly more advanced than it's nearest rival (in fact, it's distant cousin) the Atari ST520.

Compared to the Atari, it had a slightly lower clock speed, 7.14MHz vs 8 MHz, but in it's favour it had custom graphics and sound hardware that Atari owners could only dream of. Most importantly, it had four channel, 8-bit stereo sound and a block image transfer unit (BLITTER) to move graphics around leaving the CPU free to do other things.

When the A500 was first released, it made a lot of IBM PCs look overpriced and outdated. Amiga users could suddenly do a lot of things that PC owners simply couldn't at that time- Low cost video editing, a pre-emptive multitasking operating system, multiple display resolutions overlaid on top of each other, low cost audio editing. To top it all, it was also an amazing games machine.

The world moved on, however. PCs got faster and cheaper, wheras the Amiga remained unchanged for too long.

Commodore, keen to at least give the impression that they were keeping up to date, made some changes in the form A500+, but in effect these changes were mostly cosmetic. They also introduced problems of their own- The A500+ simply replaced the A500 one day, but was incompatible with a lot of A500 hardware (All hard disc drives) and a significant amount of existing software. This must have put off a lot of potential A500 customers and is widely regarded as the beginning of the end for the Amiga.

Commodore appeared to respond by shooting themselves in the foot again- They ended production of the A500 range altogether and introduced the A600 in it's place. Again, this just made things worse- It was basically an A500 in a smaller package. The numeric keypad which made the A500 look businesslike was removed, the OS and Kernel were upgraded again bringing more incompatibilities, which again made people who would have bought an A500 think twice before buying what looked like a vaguely A500 compatible toy.

The final nail in the coffin was the release of the (actually quite advanced) A1200, which was no doubt what Commodore really wanted to release when they killed the A500 in the first place. It was clear that the A600 was simply meant to look like a 'cut down 1200' to fill a hole in the model/price lineup, and that the spirit of the A500 was gone forever...

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