Remember Moon Lander?

Like many dyed-in-the-wool Amigans, I started my venture into the world of home computing with a Commodore 64. I guess that was around 1987. Over the previous few years, it had all started happening computer-wise. 'Micro' computers were increasingly 'must have' items for the home and there were quite a number of models to choose from. There was Commodore's Vic 20, the Sinclair ZX range, the Ataris and one called the Dragon, each of which engendered a huge amateur following. Many of these early micros still have a hardcore of enthusiasts. Of course there were many other machines, now forgotten or but vague memories. In those days, a micro with 16 or 32 Kilobytes of RAM was quite a beast. But I didn't succomb to the trend until Commodore Business Machines (CBM) announced its latest technology, the Commodore 64. Featuring a collossal 64 Kilobytes of Random Access Memory, this instrument of desire was all I wanted! And it came with its very own software loader, the Datasette! With this, you could load a game from a tape cassette in under 30 minutes! I remember the first time I loaded 'Rambo-First Blood' and being mesmerised by the loader's routine of flashy colours and jingle. Twenty minutes later, I was the hero himself! Sixty-four Kilobytes and a full sized keyboard for a hundred and ninety-nine pounds ninety-nine. Heaven! I even learned how to program it by 'peek' and 'poke'. I somehow managed to get a wonderfully animated screen showing hundreds of coloured squares flashing on and off in random fashion. Now achieving that on a PC at the time required an honours degree in rocket science! You could even create simple games by copy typing thousands of characters from Amiga magazines into the keyboard and saving it all on the Datasette. Remember Moon Lander?

The Full Montybyte

I sold the C64 for twenty-five pounds to a young woman down the street who thought her little lad ought to 'learn about computers'. I never talked to the kid himself, but I hope he was as inspired by it as I was. But my sights were on the new Commodore Amiga and that twenty-five quid made all the difference. In 1991, I made a special trip to Doncaster and bought my A500 for what seemed a mortageable price. Even so, the cost had actually been reduced by two-hundred pounds, following Commodore's disastrous 500 launch! Anyway, it had a scrumpostuous 500Kb of RAM and its Motorola 68010 processor ticked at an unimaginable 7 Megahertz. Second Heaven! I later spent an additional thirty quid upgrading it to a Full Montybyte of RAM, thanks to that novelty in the marketplace, a computer fair.

Commodore goes Pear-shaped

The uprated A500 realised a much better price than I expected. About half what I paid for it, in fact. I suppose that in itself said something about the Amiga phenomenon. It went to a chap where I worked, also 'For his little lad', but I knew better! And somehow Commodore did it again, for in 1993 the Amiga 1200 arrived! Pity Commodore went pear-shaped almost as soon as the A1200 arrived in the shops. By 1994, CBM was history. And that's a story so full of drama, twists and turns and so well known to Amigans, it literally brings tears to their eyes! So enough already, I'll not dwell on this phase of the Amiga's heritage but turn quickly to the machine I use for LightWave rendering.

The Commodore Penny

I bought the A1200 desktop from Tandy in York on 11 January 1993. It cost me four-hundred pounds less the Commodore penny. It had 2Mb of 'Chip RAM' and a Motorola 68020 running at 14MHz. You booted it from a single floppy to load the Workbench operating system. There was a 'trapdoor' slot which allowed go-faster bits to be attached and there was the possibility of a hard drive, thanks to its IDE interface. But I didn't know anything about such stuff at the time. All I wanted was this wonderfully usable, intuitively scrumptious machine. I wanted it to beguile me, to excite me, to suck me in, to shape my future. And that is what it did.

Rendering was S-l-o-w!

It soon became clear that I needed a hard drive and after all, they were getting bigger and cheaper all the time. By the time I took the plunge, the biggest IDE drives were around 250Mb and cost about a pound per Mb......irresistable! So I was off down the M62 to Bradford, where the Trilogic shop fitted 'em while you waited. Now I could really get into things, especially 3D. But long before I became hooked on LightWave, I experimented with Imagine, by Impulse Inc. It was the first 3D software I'd tried. Version 2 was given away on an Amiga Format coverdisk in 1993 and that did it! I spent a hundred pounds upgrading to Imagine3 and most of my spare time waiting for the '020 to do its stuff. Rendering was a s-l-o-w process! What I needed next was an accelerator.

The Need for Speed

The need for speed took me half way up the A1 to meet up with a guy selling an '030/50MHz with 8Mb attached. He'd come from Further Up North, so we rendezvoused in Wetherby. At the time, an 8Mb SIMM was selling for around three-hundred pounds, so a similar sum for the second hand Microbotics board with the RAM was a good deal. I remember handling it like a NASA engineer pampering a Mars Lander and my A1200 was suddenly in the same league! But by then, CD-ROMs were making their appearance.

Cheaper than a Second Hand Car

Soon, all the Amiga magazines were teasing us with CDs. And soon, they'd drop their floppy editions completely, so Eyetech's buffered IDE gizmo plus CD-ROM offer became as irresistable as all the other stuff had been. Another two hundred pounds for the fastest 8x external system around and my desktop had sprouted cables from places never intended! How much further could all this go? The answer, as all Amigans know, was a LOT further! Those blistering 060's were now slightly cheaper than a second hand car and Zorro slots were no longer the exclusive province of the A4000. That meant graphics cards, sound cards and things I'd never imagined. It was time to tower up!

Good Old Maplin!

Once I'd got the guts of my desktop into an Elbox Power Tower there was more than enough room to swing several cats on the end of a long rope! With the original CD-ROM and interface sold off, I decided on a Power Flyer fast IDE interface to really pack in some drives. The Microbotics card and the 8Mb went for fifty pounds. In their place I fitted an Apollo '060/50MHz. This came with only one SIMM socket, but with pads for a second which was duly soldered into place. This cost me two pounds including postage, thanks to RamJam Consultants Ltd. Each socket needed the maximum 32Mb, this was LightWave after all! And once the theory of over-clocking was explained in the mags and it became fashionable for Amigans to do it, I swapped the 50MHz crystal for a 64MHz one from Maplin. They didn't sell anything faster. It cost me three quid. The best buy I ever made! The clock battery on the Apollo went soon afterwards and once again, it was Maplin to the rescue. Two rechargable NiMHs for a fiver! Fitting it needed a bit of ingenuity, but that's what do-it-yourself is all about. That was yonks ago and the spare has still to be unwrapped.

Jees!

The advent of the Zorro 4 bus by Elbox meant I could fit a graphics card. The best appeared to be the 4Mb design by Village Tronic, the Picasso IV. Jees! Another five hundred quid for the pair brand new! Why Amigans didn't embrace the dark side at such prices, I don't know! Well I do actually, but that's another story. So, with the new bus, the PIV, a Power Flyer IDE, a 50x CD-ROM and a couple of 4Gb drives, what next? It was a Zip. You know the 100Mb 'floppy'. I reckoned I needed one to backup my animations and maybe send 'em to the mags for publication. So in went a Zip drive to fill my allotted IDE space. What next? The Internet of course!

Even Granny Understands It

Oh heck! The A1200 serial port was too slow for digital exchanges down the 'phone line so, of course, another gizmo was needed. This was solved by the wonderful Silver Surfer module, which allowed my new modem to perform its magic. Surely it was now time to call it a day? You must be joking mate! This is the Amiga we're talking about, not some jumped up, here today gone tomorrow PC clone. This is a system of sublime elegance. A system so intuitive, even your granny can understand it! Call it a day! Not likely!

It Wouldn't Understand

A Catweasel controller allows me to read almost any floppy disk ever invented by man. It's so clever, I put in two extra Sony drives from Maplin, nine quid each. That's right, I have three floppy drives including the original 800Kb double-density Chinon from the A1200. Ever tried formatting three floppies to different specs, concurrently, on a PC? Nah, it wouldn't understand!

Preludes are a bit like Houses

So was that finally it? Nope! I had the sound side to consider. Now getting the very best from the Amiga's built-in sound chips is just not on. They'll make a noise OK, but to listen to Pavarotti while rendering a LightWave masterpiece needs a Prelude, nothing less. 'Sorry', said Eyetech, 'No longer made!' Crumms! Let's see what AmiBench has to offer. Almost miraculously, I managed to get a Prelude sound card second hand for yet another hundred quid! Now Preludes are a bit like houses, they don't get cheaper with age. This superb piece of engineering slots nicely into the Z4 bus and the sound is, well, just wonderful!

So is that it? Yes, I think so. Here's the kit in a nutshell.

A1200T with 1D4 motherboard (unmodified) with 2Mb 'Chip' RAM
Kickstart 3.1 ROMs
OS 3.9
Apollo '060/64MHz
64Mb fastRAM
Zorro 4 bus with video enabler
4Mb Picasso IV graphics card
Prelude 16bit sound card
Power Flyer IDE interface
2x4.3Gb hard drives
50x CD-ROM
100Mb Zip
Catweasel floppy controller
Chinon 800Kb DD floppy drive
2xSony HD floppy drives
Silver Surfer high speed serial port
Magic Express 56K v90 external modem
Hitachi CM620ET 17" monitor

Made to make You Smile

Now you might be wondering why I spent a small fortune upgrading a 1980's computer? It's true that with the sort of money expended here, I could have had a Pentium 4 driven PC, maybe a 60Gb drive, half a Gig of RAM, Dolby Surround, a CD burner, DVD with television as required and any number of USB attachments. It would have a hundred times the computing power and it would come with the latest Windows OS. If you are wondering this, then I know you're not an Amigan and perhaps the simplest answer I can give you is the sheer enjoyment Amigas provide. But it runs much deeper than that, because the Amiga lets you do things as you want 'em to be done. It even 'thinks' like you do. It has 'intuition' as a core system. It was made to make you smile. No PC ever did, or ever will, do that!

I suppose I should be thinking about a CD writer if I'm ever gonna get my animations published!


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