Retro Home Computers – Commodore Amiga 500



Commodore Amiga 500,
1987 – 1992

Generations Ahead of the Competition

Commodore Amiga 500

Above: Commodore Amiga 500 with 1084 monitor, external disk drive and new operating system

The Amiga 500 was the first “low-end” Commodore Amiga computer. It had the same 16/32-bit multimedia architecture as the Amiga 1000. It was announced at the winter Consumer Electronics Show in January 1987, at the same time as the high-end A2000. These were released to accomplish two purposes. The first was to grab the consumer market with the Amiga 500 while going after the business market with the Amiga 2000.

The Amiga 500 sold for US$595. It had the same processor as the Amiga 1000 with Motorola 68000 processor, which clocked at 7.14 MHz. Memory was standard at 512KB, but the computer was hobbled with anything less than 1MB. Commodore knew this and provided for a memory expansion port on the underside of the Amiga 500. Later, vendors came up with memory expansion ports that would allow as much as 8MB.

Hardware Specs

Amiga 500 motherboard

Above: Amiga 500 motherboard

The display resolution was 640 x 400 if run in interlace mode. Due to the flicker, most of the time it was run in 640 x 200 in workbench or when running productivity apps. Most games still ran in 320 x 200, the same resolution of the Commodore 64.

However, the Amiga’s speed and 12-bit graphics made the games look much better and with stereo 8-bit sound, they sounded a lot better as well.

Competition

The direct competition to the Amiga 500 was the Atari 520ST. Users of both communities felt that their system were better than the other. While both were solid machines, the Amiga 500 did have a better architecture and operating system.

Atari 520ST

Above: Atari 520ST

Commodore’s Downfall

Atari did a great job of putting together a system to compete against the Amiga, but Amiga Corporation had several years to come up with their architecture. The key to the amiga was its decentralized processing farming out key tasks to custom chips freeing up the processor for other activities.

In fact, the Amiga running at 7.14 MHz could run multimedia presentation much faster than a more expensive 25MHz DOS based machine fo the time.

The original A500 proved to be Commodore’s best-selling Amiga model, a true successor to the famous Commodore 64, that was still in production. However, in 1991, Commodore made a huge mistake in cancelling the very popular Amiga 500 to replace it with the Amiga 600, a machine, by most critics that was worse than the Amiga 500. In fact, the Amiga was the top selling computer that Commodore had at the time. A decision that caused concern over the current Commodore leadership.

Amiga 600

Above: Amiga 600. Notice the missing numeric keypad

In one move, Commodore had trimmed a significant amount of revenue from their books. A move, that the Commodore of old would not make. It was no until Commodore released the Amiga 1200 that revenue began to pick up again.

Commodore Amiga 1200

Above: Commodore Amiga 1200

Many attribute the cancellation of the Amiga 500 and the money wasted on the Amiga 600 to Commodore’s down fall in 1994.