Bootstrapping an Amiga 2000 Graphics Card Because Vintage is Pricey

If you have a computer on your desk today, the chances are that it has an Intel architecture and is in some way a descendant of the IBM PC. It may have an Apple badge on the front, it may run Linux, or Windows, but in hardware terms the overwhelming probability is that it will be part of the Intel monoculture. A couple of decades ago though in the 16- and early 32-bit era you would have found a far greater diversity of architectures. Intel 3-, and 486s in PCs and clones, Macintosh, Commodore, and Atari platforms with the 68000 family, the WDC 65C816 in the Apple IIGS, and the Acorn Archimedes with an early ARM processor to name but a few.

In the tough environment of the 1990s most of these alternative platforms fell by the wayside. Apple survived to be revitalised under a returning Steve Jobs, Atari and Commodore withered under a bewildering succession of takeovers, and Acorn split up and lost its identity with its processor licensing subsidiary going on to power most of the mobile devices we take for granted today.

Surprisingly though some of the 16-bit platforms refused to die when their originators faded from view. In particular Commodore’s Amiga has lived on with new OS versions, new platforms, and community-supported hardware upgrades. News of just such a device came our way this morning, [Lukas Hartmann]’s MNT VA2000, a graphics card for the Amiga 2000 using a GPU implemented on an FPGA.

The Amiga 2000 was an object of desire in the late 1980s, a 68000-based Amiga in a big box with a number of expansion card slots in Commodore’s “Zorro” format. Its graphics capabilities though while cutting-edge for 1987 were starting to show their age by the 1990s, and if you want to use one today you’ll find it something of a chore at anything but the lowest of resolutions. Third-party graphics cards were produced for them in the 1990s, but those that survive fetch eye-watering prices. [Lukas] decided to address this problem by creating his own Zorro card with a Papilio Pro FPGA development board on it, carrying a Xilinx Spartan 6 to do the heavy lifting.

His write-up of the project is both a comprehensive and interesting description of the hurdles he faced and how he overcame them. It includes some neat ideas such as using the Amiga itself as a logic analyser, and describes a few of the dead-ends and mistakes he made along the way. You may not be an Amiga enthusiast, but even so it should be well worth a read.

We’re pleased to see Amiga-related items here at Hackaday. Some of us even have more than one Amiga ourselves. In the past we’ve covered quite a few Amiga stories, including this A2000 still running a school’s HVAC systems. If you would like to try the Amiga experience without the pain of resurrecting ancient hardware though we’d like to point you to our coverage of AROS, an open-source rewrite of Amiga OS.

via [Dean Massecar]

76 thoughts on “Bootstrapping an Amiga 2000 Graphics Card Because Vintage is Pricey

  1. What I understood of it, the Amiga graphics system was technically underperforming even as it came out, but it was pushed beyond limits with clever hacks using Hold and Modify (HAM) display modes to push more colors on the screen at higher resolutions at the expense of being incredibly tricky to program. It was a machine practically made for demos, because the way it worked was really ugly and couldn’t pull off all the tricks at the same time.

    I still remember some people were praising how clever and “powerul” the Amiga was for splitting tasks across different chips, in comparison to the Intel architectures, because it could do more with less – but that was forgetting that once you wanted to e.g. upgrade the CPU to something greater it all just broke down – all the tricks stopped working.

    1. For example, having three or four different kinds of RAM was a bit of a bugger, and adding more RAM you lost the use of some of the previous, so adding upgrades to the machine was just creating sedimentary layers of stuff that didn’t work anymore.

      1. I don’t remember losing any benefits from upgrading RAM or the CPU, and I had multiple machines doing everything from graphic design to 3D animation to video editing from 1992 till 1999.

        1. One notable that sticks out to be (simply for being recent), is that some ram upgrades overlapped the address space used by the pcmcia port on the 1200. Which was a bit of a bummer.

      2. No you had chip ram and fast ram. Adding ram would just add fast ram it would create layers of stuff. BTW I wrote an early virus checker for the Amiga as well as the Modula-2 Rexx bindings. I owned an Amiga 1000, 2000, and 3000t.

    2. When the Amiga came out in 1985 there was literally nothing else like it. You’d have to get a high end workstation at 10x the price to get anywhere near it. With the commercial breakthrough in 1987 with the A500 it was still ahead of the competition. Due to Commodore’s management (primarily Irving Gould and Mehdi Ali) slashing R&D the next generation chipset didn’t come out until 1992, and it was a severe case of too little, too late.

    3. “What I understood of it, the Amiga graphics system was technically underperforming even as it came out, ”
      No you are wrong. When the Amiga came out PC where at the CGA or maybe the EGA level VGA was a few years away. HAM was not that hard to work with and many programs offered HAM graphics.
      Add in the Blitter, sprites, multi-tasking and sound an it make the PC look like a pile of junk.

      1. IIRC the DCTV display box used HAM. I LOVED that thing. Too bad nobody ever adopted it. They were cheap and looked damn nice. I remember trying to hack one together with a SuperGen so I could have “hi def” graphics over my video. Unfortunately a short happened somewhere and killed the SuperGen dead. They were really hard to find so that ended my experimentation with it.

      2. “VGA was a few years away. ”

        VGA was introduced in 1987 – it came out simultaneously with the Amiga 500 in the IBM PS/2 line of computers. The Amiga was technically obsolete on launch.

        1. The Amiss was a huge success due to its power and price. Obsolete and Amiga 500 do not belong in the same sentence in the 80’s and early 90’s. It wiped the floor of the Pc’s at the time at a fraction of the cost. Yes Pc’s caught up and I made the jump to PC, but it took years of PC progress and price drops, and stagnation at Commodore to happen.

          1. Wow! Jay “ANTIC” Miner! Have to ask, why didn’t you just give TIA a horizontal position register for the sprites? Why having to count cycles, bang the register, set a timer, and use HMOVE to fine-tune? It’s a bit… complicated. Still haven’t written any 2600 code but it’s something I’d like to do.

            I bet the answer is “transistor count” and “it’s complicated”, right? TIA is full of polynomial counters, to protect against glitching when it clocks over, I think.

        2. The A500 was the third Amiga computer produced. Perhaps you mean the A1000.

          I’m not sure I’d hold out the IBM PS/2 as a prime example of IBM computers. In any case, VGA cards were an add-on item, and I seem to recall that VGA cards were insanely expensive. So-called “graphics accelerators” came out later because prior to that, IBM computers relied on the CPU to handle everything. I also recall tricks used in VGA cards to get smoother, faster graphics that resulted in reduced color depth.

          Commodore made a lot of mis-steps with the Amiga, but so did IBM and clone manufacturers with their designs. Being someone who lived through that era and used a lot of different kinds of computers, IBM clones (aka PCs) of that era stunk. Macs were decent but single tasking and no real upgrades, and insanely expensive.

        3. The Amiga 1000 was introduced in 1985. Even then VGA was 16 colors at 640×480 and had no hardware acceleration. The Amiga was 16 colors at 704×484.
          AKA again you do not know what you are talking about.

          1. Actually VGA could do 640×480 at 256 Colors. You needed to upgrade to 512KB.

            At 320×200 256 Colors was standard and most games supported this because of the increased color palette. SVGA (SuperVGA)which 640×480 and 800×600 and 1024×768 were usually called to differentiate between 320×200 standard VGA.

        4. Amiga 500 had stereo voice 4096 colour and iy had full support in games. PC with vga and beeper was 3-4x times expensive+sound card. Even then Amiga audio kicked ass it was amazing machine for the price!!_

        5. “VGA was introduced in 1987 – it came out simultaneously with the Amiga 500 in the IBM PS/2 line of computers. The Amiga was technically obsolete on launch.”

          In case you didn’t know – the Amiga 1000 aka the first Amiga was released on July 23, 1985. Amiga hardware was way ahead of a similarly priced IBM PC and its performance was closer to expensive commercial arcade machines of the era. As for VGA – it was YEARS before it had any serious support and didn’t become affordable until much later. The IBM PS/2 was IBM’s utter failure to update the original PC hardware. Saying that any IBM PS/2 was better than an Amiga 500 is laughable. Considering that Amigas with Video Toasters ruled that world of broadcast computer graphics in the 1990s your statement that the Amiga was obsolete from day one is utter bullshit.

          On behalf of the spirit of Jay Miner and everyone else who signed the underside of every Amiga 1000 case please check your facts before posting.

    4. It was not that underperforming, but had some quirks that lately didn’t help sales compared to PCs. HAM mode was truly wonderful for the time on static images but wasn’t used on animations, save probably for a few exceptions I don’t recall. About the ugly tricks you’re in part right, but almost everyone at the time had to use them because of hardware limitations, they were not limited to graphics; when the Amiga moved from early 68k processors to full 32 bit data and address ones a lot of software stopped working because early programmers put data in the unused address bits, which caused a mess on late processors since 68020 onwards that made use of those bits.
      Although this trick was discouraged on all official Amiga programming manuals, RKM etc, some programmers didn’t care, or probably didn’t read them, so that most people blamed the problem on AmigaOS instability while actually it
      was programmers faults,
      Another problem was that PCs albeit vastly inferior architecture-wise were becoming cheaper every month and the Commodore commercial policies didn’t help spread the Amiga.
      At that time we already had 3rd party bridgeboards with dual bus so that an Amiga program could use a PC video card in high res, but they were costly, most games would not support them and Commodore albeit having a wonderful computer in their IP portfolio still wanted a game machine, so in the early 90s we still saw wonderful computers on paper being sold without a hard disk and a real time clock chip.
      Commodore could have focused their efforts on selling just the computer making it compatible with PC peripherals, but they wanted to build an ecosystem like Apple did, too bad they had no Steve Jobs and his reality distortion field that ensures people flocking to buy the last model no matter the cost.

        1. The Macintosh problem is for some crazy reasons they started with an odd 24 bit address space. During development work on the IIci, the first fully 32bit Macintosh, Apple had a program called “Mr. Clean” where 32bit ROMs were made for the SE/30 and some other Macs so Apple’s people working on System 7 and software developers could have their products ready for the launch of the IIci and other fully 32bit models.

          Unlike many other Apple prototypes, they seem to have managed to get back all the Mr. Clean ROM chips. Nobody has as yet turned up any copies of those. Owners of the real Macs and emulator users would loooove to have those ROMs.

          I used to have a Yeager prototype Powerbook Duo. I used a ROM image program on it, should still have that file somewhere.

          1. The public fix for the “32-Bit Dirty” ROMs in those Macs was a system extension that patched the issues in RAM. Originally Connectix sold it as MODE32, but Apple bought it and gave it away for free as “32-Bit Enabler”.

            A common hardware fix, at least for the SE/30, is to swap in the ROM SIMM from a IIsi or (I think) IIfx. You don’t need MODE32 with them, but they’re getting rare as hen’s teeth now. Homemade SIMMs with clean ROMs on flash memory are easier to find.

      1. “PCs albeit vastly inferior architecture-wise…”

        That’s the thing I remember about the amiga vs. pc wars. The Amiga chip set did things in a helter-skelter fashion with every chip doing a bit of this and that. One chip draws sprites AND reads the joystick/mouse, while another chip could copy chunks of video memory from A to B, but this memory had nothing to do with drawing the sprites which operated out of a different set of registers… etc. and I never understood why exactly that was “superior”. You didn’t have a single proper anything to do the whole job, so you had to do things in weird and convoluted ways with odd limitations and caveats that was more like racing the beam on the Atari 2600 than a modern computer.

        To me that was never superior – it was a plain hack, and clear from the get go that this is not going to be a lasting solution. Then again, I only became aware of computers when the Amiga was already virtually dead.

        1. We should keep in mind that the Amiga was launched 30 years ago as a 16 bit computer clocked at 8 MHz with 512 KB of RAM (early models even only 256). There was no way you could achieve a fraction of its features without custom chips and coprocessors: electrons on bare silicon run much faster than instructions in a pipeline.
          The PC architecture has its share of hacks too (x86 modes just to name one) but due to the very different user base you won’t hear many PC users talking about them.

        2. Because things are different now?
          On a PC you offload video decoding to the graphics card if you are lucky. In fact you offload a lot of tasks to the graphics cards.
          Good network cards allow you to offload some TCP/IP tasks…
          Good RAID cards offload checksum calculations from the CPU.
          You have it backwards. PCs today are more of a hack vs the Amiga. Using a CPU to do IO and graphics means that it can do it’s main task of running programs. Take a look at all high end systems and you will see tasks being offloaded to other “chips” even Intel’s current cpus off load graphics tasks to a GPU that just happens to be on the chip.
          When the Amiga came out Intel CPUs didn’t even have FPUs unless you added a 80387 chip that costs hundreds of dollars to the system.
          You had to get a graphics board that cost
          Yes and IBM model 80 with a VGA card and a Soundblaster could come close to an Amiga 500 in performance but at several times the price.
          Just so you can get a grip. The Amiga 500 was $699 at launch https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amiga_500.
          The IBM PS/2 80 which was the only PS/2 at launch that had a 386 was US$6995-10995 http://pctimeline.info/ibmpc/ibm1987.htm
          No even you PC works the way you think seem to think it does. It is more like the Amiga from 1987 than an PC from 1987. Intel started to push for moving more to the CPU back in the 90s so they could keep more value in the CPU. That is why you had things like WinModems but that has died out.

      2. I think the big issue, as far as PCs in the home (Amiga’s main market) go, was DOOM. It’s 50% of why I bought my first PC, and many others too. By that point Amigas had fallen behind in CPU power, far as I know there were never any official models with > 68020, which was obsolete by that point.

        The weirdo graphics were a nice hack at the time, for limited RAM, but the PC’s flat Mode 13h was easier to program, and the VGA registers were left open to tweaking (dunno whose idea that was, but it worked out well), so you could create planar Mode X and blast bytes even quicker.

    5. It is difficult to understand the Amiga, even if you owned one… most of the people didn’t understand it was far more than a “game console with a keyboard”. But this is poor Commodore marketing.

      The Amiga had:

      • 24 DMA Channels that allowed custom chips to read data from ONE memory (chip-memory that is), with no slowdown at all to the CPU
      • A Block Image Transferer chip (blitter – something you found many years later on expensive gfx boards), used to move graphic images and draw 3d polygons and lines – again – with little effort from the CPU
      • A Copper chip – in perfect sync with the light beam, allowed writing to the hardware register on each line, changing palette, resolution (yes, the Amiga could have both low-res and high-res on the same screen) and allowing for perfect “vsync” – no tearing!
      • Optimized management of graphics memory: screens with a variable number of colours, namely from 2 to 64 using bitplanes, plus playfields / hardware scrolling modes.
      • A special hardware compressed mode, HAM (allowing 4096 colors on screen), mostly useful to draw or digitize pictures.
      • DMA for floppy disk data transfers*
      • a plenty of hardware sprites
      • 4 digitized audio channels, 8bit resolution, again, all DMA (no cpu stress).
      • 16/32 bit cpu (68000) at 7Mhz, so quite fast when it first come out.
      • A multitasking operating system, something that PC had 10 years later, trying to get the best from all of the above
      • Fast memory: accessible from CPU only, when installed speeded up the whole system by a rough 33%
      • much more – for instance search for: “amiga genlock” if you really were interested ;-)

      * this came on ONE floppy disk, loading while you watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89wq5EoXy-0
      this came on TWO floppy disks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4M7e79XTYk (both at 50fps)

      These are the pros, now the cons:

      • Commodore International! Poor, poorest PC marketing ever! Slept for too many years instead of thinking to an updated chipset in the first place.
      • Difficult to program: to get the best result, you have to cope with three chips (Copper/Blitter/68000) at least!
      • A complex OS (see below): device drivers, ports and messages, multiple processes that had to be synchronized
      • No memory protection: if a program went nuts, it could destroy everything else in the system, forcing you to say goodbye to all the multitasking benefits.
      • Weird video modes for an office use. Commodore gave the Amiga VGA-similar modes only in 1990, and with a few colors (4), a bit too late and too underpowered for the time being (1989/1990).
      • Again: Commodore was never able to create a strong professional market (including assistance) as Apple did instead. DTV and 3D markets where somewhat developed, being the natural consequences of such an advanced architecture. A notable software born on the Amiga and still around today: Lightwave 3D.

      My two (or better, 22 :D ) cents!

      1. The Video Toaster was the thing for broadcast TV special effects for several years. Combined with Lightwave an Amiga could rival dedicated 3D and video workstations costing six figure prices.

        Another 3D program that started on Amiga was Caligari trueSpace.

    6. That is news to those of us who actually owned Amigas. I used a succession of Amigas from a mostly stock A500, to several A2000s with 68000, 68010, 68020, and 68030 with original graphics and then a couple different 24 bit graphics cards, an A1200 stock with 68020 and then with a 68060, and an A3000 that I ran for a while with a 68030 and then a 68060, first with an Opalvision card and then a Cybervision graphics card. My wife used them for word processing, a few games, and internet. I used them for word processing, database, spreadsheets, internet, photocompositing, desktop publishing, 3D graphics, etc.

      I also had fun playing demos I downloaded, on several machines with different processors. I’ve repaired and upgraded Amigas for others. The poorly designed A600 had problems, and the A1200 had a few, too. But nothing like how you are characterizing them.

      The modern PC owes more to the Amiga than most people know. Many Amiga patents are used in them. Gateway Computers bought up Commodore Inc. just to collect on the patent licenses being used by PC computer manufacturers.

      The Amiga architecture and OS really excelled at multitasking. Something that Windows and the Mac OS stunk at, at that time.

      Here is how bad Windows 95 is: I still have a Pentium 200 with Windows 95 on it. Running Windows, it is slow and choppy, and barely multitasks. Try to start a program while it is printing or rendering a 3D scene, and it slows to an unusable crawl. Try to use a word processor while it is printing or rendering, and you run the risk of overflowing the keyboard text buffer. Yet if I start Amiga Forever emulation software, it flies. In emulation, it is a better computer than Windows 95, simply because Windows 95 sees the emulation as a single task. Interestingly, this computer has the same chipset on the graphics card as the Cybervision 64 card that I had in my Amiga 3000.

          1. This is true Until Windows 2000, or Windows NT, or OS /2 you are using MSDOS and loading Windows on top of it.

            This includes Windows 1.0-3.11, 95, 98, and the dreaded ME which tried to hide this by removing the ability to drop to the MS-DOS prompt.

            That said Windows 2000 Professional was the first decent consumer OS that offered multitasking and stability among the Windows versions introduced. XP the successor is still my go to OS on a modern computer. Vista with SP2 and DX11 installed is actually better than using Windows 7. If you need USB 3.0 functionality then go to Windows 7. Otherwise the rest above Windows 7 are crap. Not sure about Windows 10 but they said it will be the last Windows MS will release. I’m just not too fond of their spyware built in even if it is free.

      1. Wow that’s a lot of Amigas you went through. Now they are Ex-Amigas? :)

        I remember seeing an Amiga 500 in a computer show. Marble Madness was on it. It looked almost identical to the arcade and even had a roller ball. Using a CGA 4 color PC with Floppy Drives I was drooling.

        As far as your comment about Windows 95.

        It was a horrible POS that constantly crashed. I lost one job trying to reinstall Windows 95 that was constantly crashing so I thought I’d do them a favor. Another job I was testing a game for Windows 95. How many BSOD I saw I can’t remember but it gave me a real bad impression of Windows 95. I was a user of DOS and Windows 3.1 at the time and it did not crash as much. DOS was probably the most stable.

        But as far as your comment about multitasking. You have go to Windows 2000 built on the NT kernel to really claim you were using a multitasking operating system on a PC although Windows NT 4.0 and under probably were true multitasking operating systems I just never used them since games were not supported. All Windows versions from Windows 95, 98, and ME were all running on top of MS-DOS. So none of these are true multitasking operating systems. Windows 2000 was probably the most stable Windows version I ever used following 98SE. Later they patched it and renamed it XP. I still use XP today on this computer and it’s fast as silk on a modern motherboard.

        I’m curious since you have so much history with Amiga computers. Do any of the Amiga computers allow ISA or PCI slots for using an IBM graphics card as their output rather than the motherboard?

        Which of these Amiga computers would you say has the best compatibility with using IBM ISA or PCI cards and IDE hard drives?

        If you got any PC related questions I probably can help you out.

        1. I seem to recall that there was a bridgeboard that would allow you to use an ISA graphics card as RTG, but it was very slow since it is only 16 bit ISA. I don’t know of anything that would adapt a PCI card to an Amiga.

          Much faster to use a Zorro II or Zorro III graphics card. Strangely, I had a Zorro III graphics card for my Amiga 3000 and a PCI graphics card in my PC that had the exact same chipset on them, both with 4M on the card. The Amiga had a 68060/50MHz, the PC was a Pentium 200MHz, both with 128MB of RAM. But the Amiga felt faster and smoother, although the PC was technically faster and could save PNG and JPG files faster, and render 3D scenes faster. Only about 2x faster, though.

          I don’t recall the graphic chipset name, but the Zorro III graphics card was a Cybervision64.

          I see now someone has come out with a Zorro II/III graphics card for the Amiga with HDMI output. Currently sold out the first batch, but accepting pre-orders.

    7. – almost nobody used HAM because it works only for static pictures, Deluxe Paint was the exception for obvious reasons (you need a tool to create those static pictures), it had to recalculate whole line of pixels every time you made a change.
      -amiga came out in 1985, Mac capable of color came out 5 years later, X68000 in 1987, only consoles delivered ‘arcade’ graphics
      -system was cpu independent
      -two memory kinds (dma capable/cpu bound), you are thinking ways of connecting memory. PC also had stupid ISA EMS memory cards.

  2. I AM an Amiga enthusiast (albeit more in heart than practice) and I do own my fair share of Amigas (500, 1200, CDTV, CD32). And I do love the active community.
    You guys really should do a piece on the Apollo project (a modern take on the 68k in FPGA). That and AROS are probably the best chance for a future for the Amiga right now.

      1. One article I would like to see one day is a sort of “where are they now” about the people behind the Amiga and its software success. I mean not limited to the hardware/OS gurus but also the lesser famous ones like the guys behind SoundTracker, DOpus, Powerpacker, CygnusED, PageStream etc. Even better, put them around a table and upload the resulting gem on Youtube.

  3. When it came out it outperformed the competition. How tricky was it to program? Depends on what the programmer was trying to achieve. OCS/ECS/AGA systems did well what they intended to do, I personally think it was extremely flexible with copper lists, the first real blitter and all of this sitting on a shared bus. I liked it a lot as well as the games they produced with them – again in its own time. However, even the engineers admitted the graphics subsystem was too close to the hardware but it’s hard to tell if it was a curse or blessing since it was short lived.
    This project is about an RTG board which is completely separate from the chip RAM and from the shared Agnus bus. It’s pretty much the same what the pc industry did with ISA but instead of hundreds of people working on the bus it was only one man – Dave Haynie – who came up and implemented the Amiga Zorro II-III bus.
    Since Amiga RTG boards are still rare and expensive even when they use a bog standard VGA chip this project is very interesting although most boards didn’t try to reinvent the wheel to this degree.
    I find it very refreshing that he’s trying to implement the actual graphics chip (it wasn’t always called GPU) and not using a third party one. A true Hackaday project.

  4. How about putting the Amiga put into context of when it came out. To say the “graphics system was technically under performing” is similar to saying B&W TV is technically under performing. Whats up with this crappy B&W picture? I don’t care that the other option was just not to have ANY TV, I’ll just complain that they didn’t invent, sell and dominate the market with 60″ HD TVs. The Amiga did it’s job and it did it quite well. If you’re going to bitch at something lets lay blame Commodore management for not having enough vision to allow the engineers to design incredible machines and allowing them to be marketed… But I digress.
    And under performing to what? The 8-64 colors, low-med res machines of the day? So from that to 4096 colors is “not trying hard enough”? WTF? I’m going to have to go out on a limb and say you were sometime in the 80s.
    I applaud the success of this homebrew video card. This is what I call true hacking and wish him all the best in his endeavor. I only hope he keeps on developing it!

    1. 4096 colors, but it would take two pixels to change the color value with HAM, so you couldn’t have all colors next to one another, resulting in difficulties actually displaying anything on it.

      VGA came out the same year as the Amiga 500, and with VGA you could have 256 colors on screen at a decent resolution without trickery, with a framebuffer, with no bullshit about playfields and sprites and bitplanes working at different resolutions and memories and timings. VGA could do 8 bits per pixel for a full proper 256 color mode, where the Amiga 500 could only 6 bpp, or 12 per 3 pixels with HAM, and the rest was a hack that either worked for your particular purpose or not.

      The only thing that kept the Amiga relevant for a couple years is because it was marketed as a game machine while the IBM PC was not.

      1. HAM came out with the A1000. And it wasn’t just HAM for still pictures, it was very fast and smooth graphics and sound when PCs managed beeps and slow low color graphics.

        Commodore really stunk at marketing the Amiga. It could use your TV, and was set up so that it could be easily synced to an external video signal. There were boxes for video overlay even for the Amiga 1000. JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) used Amigas for many years, yet Commodore didn’t use that information to sell Amigas.

        The website hosting an article about this was going away, I saved it (with permission) and posted it here:
        http://www.polyphoto.com/upchug/AEcastro.html

        The 68000 was pretty fast compared to the 8088 out at the time. I recall a story about the Amiga 1000 shortly after it came out in Computer Shopper, I think, with an A1000 running a spreadsheet in an emulator. So the Amiga was emulating an IBM 8088 computer, running MSDOS and a spreadsheet. It was still faster than an XT natively running this. When they loaded the same information into a spreadsheet running native on the Amiga OS, Workbench, it was a LOT faster.

        The Video Toaster was the killer app that kept Commodore going a bit longer, and kept Amigas around. I used an Amiga 3000 in my digital photo compositing business. Around the early to mid/late ’90s, an Amiga with a 68060 could run circles around most Windows and Mac machines if you needed it to be able to do more than one task at a time.

      2. As I recall the deal with HAM was, you can change the intensity or the color from one pixel to the next, but not both at the same time. It wasn’t originally designed into the graphics chips, it was sort of a bonus when someone noticed that it could be done, so it was added to the OS.

        1. The idea of HAM isn’t too far from the 4:2:2 or 4:1:1 coding used in some TV equipment, like VCRs, etc. Having a lower chroma resolution than luma is a standard part of PAL and NTSC, I think.

      3. “256 colors on screen at a decent resolution without trickery, with a framebuffer, with no bullshit about playfields and sprites and bitplanes working at different resolutions and memories and timings. ”
        256 colors at 320×240 resolution.
        Sprites, bitplanes, playing fields? Those where called features. You are just clueless and need to go away at this time. framebuffer… Like just having a framebuffer is a good thing. That is what you get today if you can not get proper drivers for your GPU.

      4. VGA was also ridiculously expensive at first. It wasn’t until the early 90s that VGA cards made their way into the hands of the general public and game developers began to utilize VGA modes with any regularity.

        1. Could you define the price range for expensive for a VGA card?

          I seem to recall VGA cards costing $25-$100 at most for 256KB memory which could do 256 colors at 320×200. The VGA monitor on the other hand were expensive. If you couldn’t afford an NEC Multisync or Viewsonic then you could go with a much cheaper VGA monochrome monitor which if I recall correctly tended to be more flat screen and thinner than their color counterparts.

      5. Not entirely true. VGA cards were pretty cheap maybe under $100 if I can recall. The computers themselves were probably $1000-$2000 on average for a clone build. Now if you were to buy a genuine IBM brand computer you could be paying $2000+ for a PS/2 computer. The PS/2 was a failure and probably when IBM decided to get out of the PC market. No one cared about IBM’s MCA bus or a compact computer with limited expansion add the IBM OS/2 which didn’t take off like Windows did.

        Clones were the way to go if you wanted a cheap and compatible IBM computer. For some reason I am thinking they sold for about $25 for a clone VGA card back in the day. We are probably talking about 256KB memory installed so you will get 320×200 resolution with 256 colors. If you had more memory like 512KB you could pump it to 640×480 and with 1MB 1024×768. So low end VGA card with 256KB you could get at a pretty decent price. High end SVGA those were probably the expensive ones.

        PCs were regarded as a game machine because that was my go to gaming system. It was just an embarrassing one. :) I didn’t own a Nintendo, a Genesis, a Turbo Graphx, or Atari 400 and had a bunch of games like most kids probably did. The problem that IBM PC were not taken seriously as a gaming machine was the graphics and sound were not up to par with alternatives like the C64, Amiga 1000, Atari ST, Apple II and IIGS. It did however defeat the early Mac Class B/W and the Mac Color Classic did not put up much of a fight and not many game titles. The IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000 did elevate it from one note to three notes but it was still pale in comparison to the audio from the alternatives but for most clone computer users they were stuck.

        What changed that really made the IBM a true gaming machine was the introduction of Adlib for midi music galore and then Sound Blaster came in and added digitized speech. Once this was done combined with VGA 256 colors you had realistic games that either were on the same level as the other gaming computers at the time or superior. This paved the way to games that switched from floppy to CDrom which had a side effect of killing MIDI music since they could put the actual score on a CD instead.

        I would say by 1987-1988 Early adopters had pretty good game machines but cost a bundle for the equipment. It wasn’t until around 1989-1990 did it become consumer affordable and accessible. I would say around this year IBM games began to dominate and the decline of other alternate beloved gaming computers lost their foothold. They had nothing to compete or better the PC since storage capacity was MFM to RLL to IDE which was cheaper than SCSI which Apple and Amiga used except for certain models that used IDE. Also the CDrom really just blew the door open for video animations and music scores for games that floppies could no longer compete on the same level although I will say certain floppy games “Prince of Persia” to name one was impressive at the time and truly demonstrated the turning tide of how awesome games could be on the PC with VGA and Sound Blaster support as the de facto standard. Also I would say the 80386 with a 80387 Math CoProcessor for certain games like Falcon 3.0 was the beginning of exploring new territory in the 32 bit world. Systems were equipped with 16MB and maybe 32MB max at the time on some better motherboards with more memory slots compared to 128KB for a C128, looks like 9MB for an Amiga 500. Atari ST was probably 4MB max.

        Note even though DOS was restricted to 640KB, games were written to use XMS and EMS memory which allowed them to tap into more memory.

        I love all these older gaming machines. I remember going to the computer fair and seeing on the game boxes all these wonderful computers that I didn’t own but wanted to because they blew away the PC in the beginning. I lived the ugly Monochrome fake 2 color, the Fugly CGA 4 color, and semi decent 16 color EGA. VGA was a huge jump in realism from a graphical standpoint. But the thing that kept the PC from being a true gaming machine was the damn internal PC speaker. Imagine from 1981-1987 that was all you could listen to a one note irritation while all other gaming computers even a cheap C64 was blowing you away with incredible graphics and sound. Sure load times were horrible but damn for awhile it was like night vs day.

    1. Hey I’d buy you a cup if you were around here. Although at the moment no Amiga hardware problems yet but I am looking to hook my Amiga to a LCD monitor which I hear due to the low frequency you need to adapt it for it work on VGA input.

      Did any companies sell video adapters for the Amiga 500 or later for VGA output?

      The Amiga Monitors are getting harder to find and using a standard VGA input on a monitor would be a way to keep this girlfriend useful for many years to come.

      As for Millennials they never endured the slow progress from Monochrome to VGA and beyond. If they did they would appreciate how far things have come along. Unfortunately today most care about eye candy than content. Something was lost from the golden era of computing when you had many choices for a computer. Today it’s just MAC or PC.

  5. I didn’t own an Amiga, but my friend did (Amiga 500). Word in those days was that when you buy a PC, you need to separately buy video and graphics card to obtain good gaming/video/audio experience. While on Amiga it all came included. So at that time, it was definitely a better option. I haven’t followed on how Commodore managed to drop the ball, but it must have been an epic fail – cosidering how Apple fans will pay 3x more for the machine equivalent to a plain PC.

    1. My very, very simplified version of the whole story is that C= were directing most their resources into “doing the C64 again”. Plus politics and lawsuits. Arstechnica have great series of articles on it though.

    2. The Mac was well designed and responded well to for example high res graphics cards. But it remained really expensive. Plain PCs had the mass market and were also open enough to attract innovation. And the PC grew quickly. While the Amigas and Ataris had to develop everything from scratch at that point. Which just didn’t work.

      Does anyone remember the software that allowed running the Apple Mac OS on an Atari ST? It was a cool hack, with the ROM in a cartridge. Later implementations allowd loading it from floppy making it truly a pirate product. But it was a better Mac than the original…

      Heck, even games consoles are just PCs these days.

      1. “Does anyone remember the software that allowed running the Apple Mac OS on an Atari ST? It was a cool hack, with the ROM in a cartridge.”
        Spectre GCR was the version of this I recall. The magazine review of it I read pointed out that you had to take the ROMs out of a Mac Plus or the like to make it work. On the other hand, Atari had a (probably not very good) ST portable, and if you put Spectre GCR into its ROM port you had a workable portable Mac for about a tenth the price of the real thing.

    3. The Amiga was definitely a gaming computer. I think most people who bought computers back in the day wanted a business computer for doing their taxes, word processing, or some other computer related issue. They didn’t care about joysticks or fancy graphics but something to print out their work and get on with life. Gaming isn’t socially acceptable as it has become today. You were considered a nerd or geek for playing games on a computer as most people played at the Arcades. It wasn’t until the home gaming consoles did a shift begin of what was cool.

      Maybe if the Amiga was rebranded during the Sega and Nintendo era as a gaming console that was affordable like $199 they could have made an impact and we would have an Amiga gaming console that rivals the XBox and Playstation today.

      The closest things was the CD32. I think most kids were to used to cartridges which simplified life than to deal with fragile discs that could be scratched.

    4. It looked like Medhi Ali and Irving Gould gutted Commodore. They did all kinds of financial fu to extract money from the company, like making secured loans to relatives and collecting salaries of $3 million each when top people at IBM didn’t get paid that much. They filed for bankruptcy in a court in the Bahamas, where they only look back 6 months for malfeasance. When the stockholders argued for an American court as that is where the company headquarters actually reside, and where bankruptcy courts look back 1 year, Ali and Gould fought like wildcats to keep it in the Bahama court.

      There was a lot more to it than that, but that was the end. Crappy management forced the A600, cost more than the A500 but did less. A fantastic 24 bit AA graphics chipset in development got cut back to AGA.

      Here is someone who was there, Dave Haynie, giving a better synopsis than I:
      https://www.quora.com/What-happened-to-the-Commodore-Amiga/answer/Dave-Haynie?srid=3ncU

  6. Only complaint I ever had about my Amiga 2000 at the time was it used interlaced video for 640×400 mode. So, it wasn’t that good for word processing. I bought a ‘flicker fixer’ card for mine and a Zenith 14″ flatscreen CRT VGA monitor (I think it was the first consumer flat screen) instead of the Commodore RGB monitor. It made text look good but had the side-effect of giving horizontal movement a ‘comb’ effect.

  7. My suggestion for arbitrating access to memory is to do a burst read of the block you are planning to display, into a cache. Flip-flop 2 caches to get double buffered access. The display portion will read from the caches and they will periodically be refilled in burst mode from the SDRAM. This should probably get you enough free time to allow the host to access video ram when reads are necessary.

    There is the other trick they used to do, use VRAM, which is double ported.

  8. Amiga, and AmigaOS, ever recall me an awesome, incredible reactive system, like i’d never see again on Windows nor Linux.
    I will ever love my dear Amiga. I miss you.

    Dot.

  9. …and now someone who is claiming that he’ll soon own the rights to the Picasso96 graphics drivers is threatening to shut him down if he does not cough up some money:

    Sick =(

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