Restoring My Amigas

by Eric Schwartz
The AmiTech-Dayton Gazette, June 2007

There have been a lot of annoyances and setbacks going on at the homestead lately, but that's not what I'll be writing about here. Some may have noticed I've been accumulating and restoring a lot of classic Amiga hardware over the last few months. This was set off, at least in part, by the death of the Cyberstorm 68060/PPC card in my A4000T. Even with a Mac and a Pegasos 2 around, I still use the Amiga for several applications, mostly handling the graphics applications the Pegasos was (so far) unable to run adequately. The PPC processor stopped working on the Cyberstorm stopped working a long time back. Once I had diagnosed the problem, and removed any PPC-dependent software, the system worked fine again. PPC Amiga software was not particularly necessary since I had the Pegasos (though I had sent it in for repair recently as well). It was a scare for a while, and helped prompt the purchase of the Mac as my "modern" Internet machine. When the remaining part of the CPU card quit, it was a bigger deal. By swapping back to the 4000's original 68040 card, I got the system back up and running, but without the RAM available on the Cyberstorm. Amigas are pretty efficient with RAM, but dropping from 144 megs of fast RAM to 16 still hurts, and severely cuts down what you can do in the graphics arena. It became necessary to explore my options, and quickly.

I started restoring some of my older Amiga systems, cleaning up months to years of dirt and neglect. A main focus was a desktop A4000 with a GYP '060 card (unfortunately not compatible with the tower), which I discovered had spent some time as a mouse nest. I cleaned what couldn't be replaced with parts from another system, and a new Amiga system was (re)born. It performed what I built it to do, but there were some drawbacks. The desktop system didn't have a graphics card, so I was back to being at the mercy of chip RAM limits, as well as having to shuttle files around on floppy disks. It came off as a stopgap measure, and far from ideal. There's little bad that can be said about having another Amiga around though.

The Amiga fever expanded beyond simple necessity. I cleaned up my Amiga 1200, for use with my old Epson scanner. That helped with my work. Getting the SX-1 expansion for my CD-32 was nowhere near as necessary. The idea there is to build the 32 into a system specifically for Amiga games and demos. I'm learning that the CD-32 is a surprisingly quirky system when you try to do specific things with it. Except for overpaying to get the CD-32 components thru eBay (via England), it's been an interesting project. Next I'm looking into the idea of replacing the 2.5 inch hard drives in these two systems with Compact Flash cards on IDE adapters. The drive in the 1200 appears to be faltering, and a solid-state solution seemed to be an excellent replacement option, especially since Amigas don't need masses of storage, or constant repetitive drive writes. I'll keep you all posted on the status of this project.

I've been scanning eBay for Amiga hardware a lot. It started out for finding hardware to fix up the A4000s, but drifted into dangerous territories. Getting CD-32 hardware is one example, though I've also looked at trying to acquire a CDTV, as that's one of the only Amiga models I don't have an example of. I haven't gone so far as to buy one yet. However, I did make a recent eBay score I'm quite proud of. I won an auction for an excellently cared for A4000T, with a 68060 card (Quikpak model) and Video Toaster 4000. Therefore, with some judicious hardware swapping, I am proud to announce the triumphant return of my fully-powered A4000T. (except for the PPC, but that's not a big concern) I'm writing this column on the machine right now. One thing that's been driven into my mind over the course of my Amiga adventures is, even though the point of my quest has been repairing, restoring, or replacing busted hardware, Amigas can be surprisingly hardy and long-lived machines, even if they aren't cared for immaculately. In this culture of planned obsolescence and disposable computers, the idea of a system staying usefu1 for over ten years is almost unheard of to anyone else. It's probably too much to ask, but it would be pretty nice to get another ten years out of all this refurbished hardware. Here's to hoping!