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The Classic Amiga Lives On

by Eric Schwartz
From the AmiTech Gazette
Dayton, Ohio December 2021

It’s almost hard to believe this year is nearly over. It seems like it’s gone by too quickly, yet intolerably long at the same time. I suppose it doesn’t help that 2021 played a lot like a rehash of 2020, just with the players and certain details shuffled around. Regardless, it’s the holiday season once again, with the outside world slightly more accessible than it was at this time last year.

Amiga news has been a little on the thin side this month. Perhaps the developers are taking their holiday breaks as well, not that I blame them. In Vampire news, the Apollo team is developing a V4 version of its accelerator for the Amiga 500 and 2000, and potentially every Amiga model with a standard socketed 68000 CPU. This new Vampire uses the same Altera Cyclone 5 FPGA chip as the V4 stand-alone, and thus should offer the same capabilities, such as the AGA chipset implementation, SAGA 24/32-bit graphics modes, updated audio capabilities, and all the speed. They also recently released a new revision (8) of the AROS-based Apollo OS distro. Info and downloads are available on http://apollocore.com.

I’ve commented in past articles how the Amiga market and community has embraced its ‘retro’ nature over the last handful of years in ways they hadn’t really done previously. It’s a subject I think about frequently, which is probably why I write about it often, but it’s still fun to ponder. After the loss of Commodore, from 1994 to roughly 2000, we were in a form of denial, not really accepting the Amiga as we knew it had died, cheering as other companies stepped in to try to revive the corpse, either failing or succeeding just enough to not get very far before falling down again. There were dreams for the future of Amiga, some modest, some a little too ahead of their time, but few had the resources to really run with their ideas and sell them to a larger public.

Around the turn of the century, the tumult over the ownership of whatever was left of Amiga would subside, though there would still be the occasional flareup dispute over who exactly has the rights to sell what to whom. Even so, this was the “Amiga Next Generation” era, with the players working to bring the Amiga experience to more powerful hardware, usually based around the PowerPC CPU and new operating systems such as MorphOS and Amiga OS4, which added more and more features of modern operating systems while keeping a largely Amiga-style look and feel, and compatibility with a lot of classic Amiga software—the well-behaved software at least. You had the disputes between the red and the blue sides, each claiming superiority and trying to carve out the biggest piece of a tiny pie.

Meanwhile, some continued to use and maintain and play with their classic, if dated Amiga hardware, or use one of many steadily improving Amiga emulation packages, content to enjoy the old games and programs from when the Amiga excelled, rather than fight the uphill competition of the ‘NG Amiga’ versus modernity. Over the last ten years or so, that attitude has grown in precedence. Part of this may be because the PowerPC CPU line has dead-ended, leaving the various NG Amiga versions to fall behind until they can work their way on to a new platform, such as Intel/AMD or ARM-based CPUs. Also, retro gaming and computing enthusiasts young and old have surged, resulting in new interest in the classic Amiga, both from old users and new ones experiencing it for the first time.

While interest and development in the next-gen Amigas are still moving at their own pace, interest and development of various incarnations of classic Amiga systems are outpacing them, in their own way. You have emulators to give you the experience of anything from a bare-bones model to a super-fast expanded version that never actually existed. Some people are refurbishing their old hardware with fresh capacitors and clean new cases. They might add devices to allow the old hardware to use new HD displays, or use flash drives or memory cards instead of deteriorating floppy discs. They might get newlymade RAM expansions or CPU accelerators for their decades-old hardware. They can go even further beyond with FPGA-based or Raspberry Pi-based expansions and stand-alone systems, offering near-complete compatibility with all Amiga software and games, while approaching, if not necessarily reaching, the performance of the NG systems. Even Hyperion, the developer behind Amiga OS4, has seen this swell of interest, and begun developing ‘classic’ Amiga operating system updates with versions 3.14 and 3.2. It even caps off with a ‘mini’ Amiga 500 retro gaming device coming in 2022.

Maybe it’s not exactly what every Amiga enthusiast was hoping to see, but it’s hard to deny that the Amiga has gotten more interest, activity, and new developments over the last five or so years than it has in the ten-plus years preceding it. As an Amiga fan of both the high and low ends, new interest for 2022 and beyond is just the thing I’d be asking Santa for.