Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My First Ami

The first Amiga I owned was the A500.  I paid cash for the machine, the A501 512KB memory and clock board, the 1084 monitor, and a dual external disk drive (two drives in one case.)  It was 1987, and I was upgrading from the C64.
The A500 came with a soap-bar sized mouse with two prominent buttons.  Like most mice of the period (but unlike Sun workstation mice) it was a mechanical mouse, with a roller ball that needed cleaning often, especially in a dusty basement room like mine.  Physically the A500 was a self-contained computer, containing both the keyboard and the CPU and Memory.  Also included was a single 880KB 3.5" floppy drive, which was accessible on the right side of the machine.  The power supply was an external brick, which given the failure rates of commodore power supplies was probably a blessing.
Standard memory was 512KB, which was considered "Chip" memory.  This meant that is was accessible to both the 68000 CPU and the special custom chips.  Because this caused contention for the memory, programs did not run at full speed when only this memory was available.  Adding the A501 gave you another 512KB (labeled "Fast RAM" because it wasn't shared) and a battery backed clock.  The card fit into a slot set in the bottom of the machine, behind a panel and could be installed by the end user.
Kickstart 1.2 was standard on my machine, along with Workbench 1.2.  (Shown is the Kickstart 1.3 "insert disk" graphic - 1.3 was similar to 1.2, but included bug fixes to allow booting from hard disks.)  Included also with the machine was the AmigaBASIC software, which I played with but was never that interested in.

The first expansion beyond the basics was a memory expansion.  Another 4MB was useful in running the Wordperfect word processor, as well as allowing me to run a C compiler from the RAM disk and avoid floppy grinding.  After about a year I finally gave in and purchased a hard drive.  This was a seagate ST4096 80MB SCSI drive, driven from a Supradrive SCSI controller.  At the time 80MB felt like a pure luxury - only one problem though!  The drive enclosure I had was meant for 3.5" drives, and the ST4096 was a 5.25" drive. This meant my drive ran "naked", sitting on top of a piece of cardboard perched on the open drive case.  Never had a problem.

Next: Expanding the A500, death of a friend.

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