by Eric Schwartz
From the Amitech Gazette, January 2019

Welcome to a whole new year, Amiga fans! Is it any better than the last one? Looking at the world at large, perhaps not so far, and for some I know it has been a near-literal kick in the teeth, but for me personally, aside from some snow, it’s going OK for the moment. It’s been somewhat interesting, at least.

I had a little bit of extra cash sitting in my PayPal account, so I ended up purchasing some new Amiga hardware on Ebay. I picked up the ‘Terriblefire’ TF328 expansion for the Amiga CD-32 game console, sold by Canadian Ebay user “alenppc” (who sells them periodically on Ebay, and has one up now as of this writing.) Based on an open-source hardware project, the Terriblefire expands the CD-32 with 8 megs of RAM and an IDE interface for hard drive or CF card, along with more, in the same vein as the SX-1 or SX-32 expansions, but easier and less expensive to obtain today. The version sold by Alenppc included 8 megs RAM, an IDE to CF adapter, an 8 gig CF card with OS and lots and lots of Amiga games included (the exact legality of which I will not examine at this particular time), and a riser circuit board to connect to the CD-32 main board with interfaces of its own, created by my frequent grump-target of my Vampire accelerator stories, Kipper2K.

Initial tests and impressions have been good, and with a bit more testing I hope to bring the ‘Terriblefired-up’ system to the meeting for demo and general playing around. Compared to other expansions I’ve experienced that expand the CD-32 from ‘game console’ to ‘Amiga computer,’ it’s largely the same, though the 8 MB RAM is on-board rather than on a separate memory stick, and the only ports in back are for RGB video and a PS2 keyboard, where older commercial expansions offered most to all of the ports found on the back of any Amiga computer. It’s possible a version of the TF riser card with more ports might be available—I don’t know, but here the lack of an external floppy drive port is the big detriment, meaning that the only apparent way to get new files on the system is to burn them to CD-ROMs, or possibly pulling the CF card and plugging it into another system that can read it. Still, as an option to inexpensively expand the CD-32 console, it’s an attractive option (only costing me approximately $120 shipped with all the stuff I mentioned above). It’s far less pricey than trying to acquire a vintage SX expansion today. In fact, if Ebay listings are to be believed, I could conceivably make a lot of money selling off the CD-32 extras I already own, like the SX-1 expansion, the Full Motion Video cartridge, and about three Competition Pro joypad controllers. They’re more valuable than Beanie Babies!

With the new year, I have been changing and updating my own stuff here and there. I am now on Twitter, just like a president. I haven’t tried it out yet, but there is even an unofficial Twitter client for Amiga systems, so I could use it pretty much anywhere besides a phone.

In other things I haven’t tried yet, I downloaded the latest “Amibian” distribution for my Raspberry Pi, which is an Amiga emulation setup. I may demonstrate it at a future meeting, though this month’s is unlikely. This is another step in an ongoing quest of mine. I have my veteran Amiga 4000/060 tower, which has served me for well over a decade now. Knowing that the life of any computer system is finite in one sense or another, I have been looking to find a newer replacement. The problem I run into, however, is that while the options I have tried have done well in their own way, surpassing the classic system in some ways, I keep finding things, whether software or hardware-related demands, which bring me back to the 4000.

To give examples, while my G5 Mac running MorphOS wipes the floor with my Amiga for speed, storage, memory and modern OS conventions, it only runs its own software and ‘well-behaved’ Amiga software, which means some of the software I’d like to work with ranges from ‘quirky’ to ‘unusable’, and metal-banging software such as old games are out of the question. My Vampire-carded Amiga 600 performs well, if not as heavy on the horsepower as the G5, but I’m waiting on core revisions to improve convenience, add the AGA chipset emulation, and still some software I want doesn’t work properly. So that sends me to the emulation option. Perhaps emulating an Amiga using a full-fledged PC would be a better option than a Raspberry Pi, but considering I can purchase a complete Pi system for about fifty bucks give or take, the economics are on its side.

Many turn to emulation in order to play classic games more than running productivity software, but I’m looking to explore the top end, and how it can surpass the real hardware the way a Vampire or PPC Amiga might. There are a number of factors I’m looking to explore through the various hardware and software solutions I’ve accumulated. One is the aforementioned economic factor. Classic Amiga hardware of all kinds are getting pricier as the retro community grows and working examples get scarcer. Another is obviously speed, storage, and other specifications. Even modest computers and phones far exceed the wildest dreams of an Amiga user from 1994. While I don’t need an Amiga stacking terabytes upon gigahertz, it’s nice to meet and hopefully exceed the power of a 50 Mhz 68060-based system. While compatibility with old-as-dirt software and those games and other programs that address hardware directly is not a deal-breaker, it would be quite helpful to me where possible, and a distinct reason I hold on to older systems. Finally, it would be good to make use of the newer standards, or at least not be left behind. It would be nice to connect to a flat-screen monitor via HDMI, use USB devices and storage, and make use of the internet at least a bit from the Amiga side of things. Each of my options can do some but not all of these things, so I keep them all around to do whatever aspect I want at the moment. When I figure things out enough that one solution becomes the solution to all (or nearly all) of the problems, I shall become invincible, at least from an Amiga standpoint.