Amiga: The Nostalgic Computer That Came Before the PC

When you think of classic computers, the Commodore 64, Apple II, and perhaps even the Nintendo NES come to mind. But what about the Amiga? While that might not be a household name today, back in the 1980s and early 1990s it was a major player in the personal computer world. In fact, at one point it was even projected to surpass its competitors from Apple (at that time known as Apple Computer) and Commodore. So what is an Amiga computer? Read on to find out…

What is an Amiga Computer?

Amiga was one of the first personal computers to come with a color screen. It was designed for media creation, and was first manufactured by Commodore in the 1980s. It was a significant breakthrough at the time, with a graphical user interface, multi-function expansion slots, and a great deal of portability. The Amiga name is derived from a Spanish word meaning “loved one,” which Commodore hoped would indicate how users would feel about the product. Amigas are famous for their beautifully vibrant graphics, thanks to the powerful but unusual graphics chip installed inside the computer. Amigas were also extremely popular among computer game developers in the 1980s and 1990s, so many of the classic video games from that era were released on the Amiga.

History of the Amiga Computer

In the late 1970s, Jay Miner and his team at MOS Technology designed and produced the 6502 microprocessor, one of the most successful and popular processor chips of all time. The chip was used in all sorts of home computers and video game consoles, from the Apple II to the Atari 2600, the Commodore PET to the Nintendo Game Boy. Meanwhile, Commodore’s president and CEO, Irving Gould, wanted to get into the home computer business. He asked MOS Technology to design a new microprocessor for Commodore. The engineers at MOS Technology, who had been working on the 6502 chip, decided to design a computer around their own microprocessor—the Amiga. The Amiga was released in 1985 as the first home computer built around a microprocessor other than the 6502.

The Amiga was a highly advanced system for its time, and featured a high-resolution color graphics display, stereo sound output, a large selection of software titles, and a price tag that was roughly half that of its nearest competitor, the Apple Macintosh computer. The Amiga could even be used to control various home appliances and household items, thanks to its ability to send and receive data over a network (an unusual feat for a computer at the time). The Amiga computer was also extremely portable, fitting inside a computer carrying case that could be easily transported on an airplane with the rest of a user’s luggage. Amiga computers even came with a custom cord that allowed users to plug their computers directly into a standard household electrical outlet, without the need for an additional power source or adapter. Customers could also purchase an optional “kickstand” that enabled the computer to be placed upright on a table or desk.

Why Didn’t the Amiga Computer Catch On?

The Amiga computer ran into trouble shortly after its release, however, thanks to the US courts. In September of 1985, the US International Trade Commission issued a cease and desist order, ordering Commodore to stop production on the Amiga computer. The ITC believed that the Amiga computer infringed on a variety of patents owned by Honeywell, an early home computer manufacturer. Commodore was forced to halt Amiga production for about a year, until the company was able to design a computer that did not violate Honeywell’s patents. The Amiga was also undercut by its own manufacturer: Commodore. The company began to suffer financially, and in 1988 it was forced to discontinue the Amiga line.

Where are Amigas today?

Today, many people still use Amiga computers and software. Interest in the Amiga has increased as its vintage computers have become collector’s items. In fact, the Amiga computer is one of the most sought-after vintage computers among retro tech collectors. A number of Amiga computer clubs meet regularly, and there are even annual Amiga computer conventions. Amiga fans also gather online, where they share software, tips, and other information. You can also find a variety of Amiga computer emulators online, which allow you to run the old Amiga software on your computer.

The rise and fall of Commodore

The Commodore company began as a small family-run typewriter company in the early part of the 20th century. In the early 1980s, the company began selling personal computers, including the Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, and Commodore PET. The Commodore PET, introduced in 1977, was the first computer designed for business use, and was marketed as “the highest-performance complete business computer system.” The Commodore 64 (C64) is often called “The Computer That Time Forgot” because it was the highest-selling personal computer of all time, yet you don’t hear much about it these days. The C64 was purchased by an estimated 25 million people, earned a place in the Smithsonian Institution, and was even used by NASA as part of the Space Shuttle mission.

Final Words

The Amiga computer was a major breakthrough in the 1980s and 1990s, but it has largely faded into computer history. If you come across an Amiga computer or software, though, you can be sure that it’s a collectible item. With the retro computing trend making a major comeback, you can expect to see increased interest in the Amiga computer in the years to come.

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