Commodore Amiga

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Commodore-Amiga, Inc.
Former type Subsidiary
Industry Computer hardware
Founded 1985
Defunct 1994
Headquarters West Chester, PA, United States
Key people Irving Gould (Chairman),
Mehdi Ali (President)
Parent Commodore Business Machines


The Amiga was a series of computers from Commodore introduced in 1985.

History

Amiga was the first multimedia home computer, coupling a Motorola 16/32-bit MC680x0 CPU with a custom chipset that provided astounding graphics and sound capabilities for its time. In a world populated by paltry EGA-class graphics and a beeper running DOS, the Amiga 1000 arrived in 1985[1][2] to amaze the unexpecting crowds with 32-colour screens (from a mindboggling 4096-colour palette), 4 channels of 8-bit sound and a window based pre-emptive OS that could properly multitask with 256kB of RAM. Other revised models would follow, namely the Amiga 2000[3] and its derivatives, the Amiga 1500 and 2500[4]. However, it wouldn't be until the release of the Amiga 500[5][6] that Commodore would get its act together and give the product the advertising campaign it deserved, finally reaching a much larger audience and occupying a deserved place on the radar. Owing to its superior technical capabilities and more affordable price, the Amiga 500 soon became a dream games machine[7] , with all major games companies and their dog writing titles for the new cashcow and contributing to the Amiga 500 turning into the next best-selling computer for CBM right after the hugely successful Commodore 64 in the 8-bit era.

Other Amiga models were designed and marketed for the professional market, namely the Amiga 3000[8] and Amiga 4000[9], capitalizing on the inherent abilities in the Amiga Operating System and hardware to interface with video hardware. In the USA, the Amiga 2000 first, and the Amiga 4000 later would take a preminent place among broadcasting stations and video aficionados alike thanks to the Video Toaster[10][11], a piece of kit that combined custom hardware and software with an Amiga computer to produce all kind of video tricks for a fraction of the pricetag[12] that any comparable competing solution could offer at the time. Unfortunately, the days of glory for Commodore and its enthused user base were coming to an end.

The Commodore CDTV[13], an Amiga 500 in disguise built in a desktop CD player form factor was released in 1991 and targetted as an educative tool but didn't take long to become a flop as fans were waiting for a device offering the same capability as a expansion for their Amiga 500, which they did get in the end. A revised Amiga 500+[14] came about with an updated OS in ROM and later the Amiga 600[15] arrived to replace it in a down-sized form factor without numeric keyboard, but none made a relevant impact on the market either. Finally, Commodore released the Amiga 1200 in the 1992 edition of the Comdex show[16] as a "natural" replacement for the Amiga 500 as the new entry-level Amiga in the mass-market segment introducing the more advanced AGA or AA chipset[17] also built in the Amiga 4000, which provided up to 256 colours at once on screen from a 24 bit palette, or even more using special hardware tricks. This and the Amiga CD32[18][19], the first 32-bit CD-based console, were the last chapters of a story where one could only be amazed at how "too little, too late"[20] Commodore had come along since the heyday of the Amiga 500.

Contrary to the time the Amiga 1000 was introduced, the AGA chipset and the MC68020/030/040 CPUs in the most recent hardware were released at a time when (Super-)VGA and i486 or better were becoming ubiquitous on the IBM-PC market. With a dwindling market share, Wintel boxes looking better and better as games machines and on top of that a couple of shareholders that decided that sleeping on the success of the Amiga was a good idea[21], it is hardly surprising that despite the remarkable merits of the Amiga OS (the only asset still going for the Amiga when compared to similar offerings at the time) or the enthusiasm of a community loyal at almost religious levels still hoping for the release of new AAA (a new chipset codenamed Hombre[22]) based machines, CBM finally filed for bankruptcy in 1994[23][24].

The post-Commodore era

Much fight and double-crossing, but also admirable action have taken place since the demise of Commodore. A number of companies acquired the assets and trademarks to make a quick buck, sometimes openly promising the user base to lead them back to the promised land, only to go bust or just disappear without trace, one after another[25]. The lack of a solid, durable and clear leadership soon resulted in several community splits, with all bands considering theirs was the better way. People formed organizations pursuing to recover from the disaster, and key people in the formerly thriving Amiga market went ahead to try and continue where Commodore left even in the underground scene. The Internet played, and still plays a key role on this new stage. But that, dear reader, is another story...

Common features of Amiga keyboards

  • What makes the Amiga keyboard layout stand out the most are the two Amiga keys at each end of the space bar.
  • ANSI Amiga keyboards have a backwards-L ("Big-Ass") Return key and a small Back Space key, whereas ISO keyboards have not only one additional letter/symbol key but two: one next to left Shift and one next to a vertical Return key. The Amiga-ISO layout also has a small Back Space key.
  • The layout has both a Ctrl key and a Caps Lock key to the left of 'A' on the home row. Unlike Windows the (only) Ctrl key is seldom used in GUI based programs and is used mainly in terminal emulators, the command console and Micro Emacs which shipped with the OS.
  • All Amiga keyboards have a Caps Lock key with a LED in it to indicate Caps mode. This is the only LED used, so a dedicated LED panel is not necessary.
  • To the right of the main typing area are cursor keys. Above them are the Del and Help keys.
  • There are two Alt keys, both functioning as second-level Shift (like the Alt Gr key on PC, or the Option key on Macintosh), on the bottom left and bottom right corners of the main typing area.
  • Shift-arrow are used to move the cursor to beginning of line, end of line, page up and page down, so special navigation keys for these tasks are not needed. Text selection using the keyboard is typically modal, initiated with the key combination Amiga-B and ended with Amiga-C or Amiga-X.
  • Above the main typing area, there is an Esc key and ten function keys.
  • All Amiga keyboards except the one in the Amiga 600 have also a numeric keypad. Starting with the Amiga 2000, the numpad also has '+', '*', '/', as well as left and right parenthesis. The added keys, different layout and side printed legends make it more compatible with the layout in the common IBM Enhanced Keyboard, which was relevant for PC emulation.

Commodore Amiga models

In chronological order:

Amiga 1000

There is a storage area for the keyboard under the Amiga 1000's case where it could be stored when not in use.

The keyboard layouts were more compact than later full-sized Amiga keyboards. The cursor keys were in a star instead of an inverse-T.

Amiga 2000

Amiga 1500, Amiga 2500

Late models of the Amiga 2000. Mitsumi keyboards.

Amiga 500 (+)

Early Amiga 500 keyboard

The keyboard is built into the computer case, but the controller is on the keyboard. Like the Amiga 2000, the Amiga 500 has also come in different revisions.

Early models have Hi-Tek Series 725 "Space Invader" switches like the Amiga 2000 keyboard.[26]

Most Amiga 500s have Mitsumi hybrid switches. Unlike the Amiga 2000, these are linear with a coiled spring and a black slider with a somewhat mushy landing.

Amiga 3000 (T)

External. Tactile Mitsumi hybrid switches with a rubber sleeve like the latest Amiga 2000 keyboard but a more distinct landing like the Amiga 1200 keyboard. The keyboard case had been updated with stripes on top resembling the cooling vents on the Amiga 500.

The connector is the same DIN-plug as for the #Amiga 2000

Amiga CDTV

Basically a black version of the Amiga 3000 keyboard. The connector is special for the CDTV: a 5-pin mini-DIN with pinouts: 1:Ground, 2:Data, 3:Clock, 4:+5V, 5:Keyboard sense (connect to +5V).[27]

Amiga 1200

Built-in keyboard with controller on the motherboard. Linear Mitsumi hybrid switches with white sliders and a less mushy landing than on previous keyboards.

Amiga 600

Built-in keyboard with controller on the motherboard. Linear Mitsumi hybrid switches like the Amiga 1200.[28]

More compact layout that omitted the numeric keypad. The other keys on the right are laid out as on the Amiga 1000, except for cursor keys who are now laid out in an inverse T at the bottom right corner.

Amiga 4000 (T)

Similar to the Amiga 3000 keyboard. The case is white (not beige) and has (yet) another connector.

There have been reports of two different keyboards, with different feel.

The connector is a 6-pin mini-DIN with pin-out: 1:Data, 3:Ground, 4:+5V, 5:Clock. Pins 2 and 6 are not connected. [27]

Amiga CD32

Anthracite case and keys with black modifiers, plus the "Amiga CD32" logo.

The connector is the same 6-pin mini-DIN as for the Amiga 4000, except that the keyboard port also doubles as a serial port. Pins 2 and 6 are used for RS-232 transmit and receive, respectively.[27]

Other Amiga Keyboards

There were third-party kits for converting Amigas with built-in keyboards into towers.

AmigaOne

The AmigaOne platform used PS/2 keyboards and mice.

Amiga Infinitiv Keyboard

The Infinitiv kit from Micronik allowed an Amiga 1200 to be turned into a minitower system with an external keyboard enclosure.

Keyboard adapters

All Commodore Amiga keyboards use the same wire protocol, but there are different connectors and pinouts. Several third-party adapters between different Amiga connectors have been produced. Pin-outs are described under the heading for each particular keyboard above. Note that the CDTV keyboard's pinout is special, and not compatible with the Amiga 4000's even though both have mini-DIN.

The Amiga 500 has a serial cable connected to the motherboard and can be adapted or rebuilt to use an external keyboard. The Amiga 1200 and 600 have serial communication only between components on the motherboard, so any adapter would have to be a controller or emulate a matrix, respectively.

External keyboard to Amiga

  • The Lyra is a converter that allows a PS/2 keyboard to be connected to an Amiga. There is a version for the Amiga 1200 and a version for Amiga 2000/3000/4000/CDTV/CD32.
  • The PC-Key is an interface device for the Amiga 1200 and 600, allowing them to use an external Amiga keyboard or a PS/2 keyboard.

Amiga keyboards to USB

The options below require more or less hacking.

  • The Keyrah is a controller that replaces the motherboard in the Amiga 600 and 1200 (also the Vic 20, Vic 64 and 128). It has two digital joystick ports and USB out. Joysticks are emulated as key presses.
  • AMIGA 500/1000/2000 Keyboard Interface. Firmware for an Arduino Leonardo, allowing an external Amiga keyboard to be connected via USB to a modern computor.
  • [EzHID Amiga Keyboard Firmware http://ezhid.sourceforge.net/amikbd.html] for the Cypress' EZ-USB (AN2131) chip. The firmware has support for other input devices.

Mouse

All Amiga models came with a two-button ball mouse to be plugged into the first of two male DE-9 ports. Those two ports were also used for Atari-compatible joysticks and other peripherals.

If the right button is pressed a menu bar appears at the top of the screen. A menu item is selected by releasing the right button when hovering the pointer above it. Releasing the mouse button elsewhere cancels. Third-party utilities were available that replaced (or complimented) the menu bar with a pop-up menu underneath the mouse pointer.

An Amiga mouse can contain minimal logic - each sensor inside the mouse gets one or more direct wires inside the mouse cable, with +5 V and Ground shared between components. The same 9-pin D-sub ports can also used be for Atari-compatible digital joysticks, analogue paddles and light pens, but there is no identification protocol. An Amiga mouse does not work on the Atari ST, but building a passive adapter is straightforward: lines have to be crossed. Some third-party mice contain a switch to change between Amiga and Atari usage.

References

  1. The New York Times - Commodore introduces new Amiga - July, 1985
  2. The Chicago Tribune - Amiga seems great - But will it be enough?
  3. The New York Times - Commodore introducing Amiga (500 & 2000) - February, 1987
  4. Youtube - Amiga 2500 introduced at Computer Chronicles
  5. The New York Times - A look at Amiga 500
  6. The New York Times - Commodore introduces new Amiga - July, 1985
  7. The Washinton Post - Commodore Amiga 500 and 2000 fulfill original machine's promise - July, 1988
  8. Youtube - The Amiga 3000 at Computer Chronicles
  9. Philly.com - Carving a new notch in a computer niche Commodore is going after specialty markets with its Amiga 4000
  10. medium.com - The gadget we miss: the Video Toaster
  11. Startup Smart - The Amiga Video Toaster - Why superior technology doesn't always win the day
  12. Chicago Tribune - Video Toaster may be greatest thing since sliced bread
  13. tidbits.com - Commodore CDTV
  14. CASE Computer Museum - The Commodore Amiga 500+
  15. UK National Media Museum - Commodore Amiga 600 games console
  16. TechInsider.org - Original announcement on Usenet from CATS
  17. retrocommodore.eu - AGA Supplement from Commodore
  18. The Washington Post - Commodore's entertaining CD player
  19. Chicago Tribune - Amiga CD32 may survivor hardware wars
  20. Amiga Report - Is AAA already obsolete?
  21. Commodore.ca - Mehdi Ali - The end of Commodore
  22. thule.no - The Dave Haynie archives
  23. Byte Magazine - R.I.P. Commodore 1954-1994
  24. Philly.com - The decline and fall of Commodore Intl. It was a failure of marketing, not technology
  25. sites.google.com - Amiga documents
  26. Amibay — Help Key and white "space invaders" switch
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Amiga Keyboard Pinouts on l84.net. Retrieved on 2013-10-13
  28. Eski Bilgisayarlarım — Amiga 600