The Commodore Amiga was so ahead of its time that looking at one today is still impressive. What’s even more impressive is that one such machine, bought way back in the 80’s, is still controlling the vital heat and air conditioning at the 12 school-strong Grand Rapids Public school system in Michigan, USA. That machine has been in near constant operation for over three decades. This despite the fact that the Amiga was discontinued in 1991.
The maintenance supervisor, Tim Hopkins, was there when the machine was bought, and like that Amiga, he is also still ticking. Now the school system is hoping to take advantage of a bond offering to get money to invest in new school infrastructure but the old Amiga machine will still undoubtedly be remembered by Amiga aficionados such as Mr. Hopkins.
Amiga is still a special machine
The Amiga was a star when it debuted in 1984. It came with amazing color support, was compatible with the different TV frequencies – both NTSC in the US and PAL in Europe. It had CD quality sound, and could multitask.
It was also multiprocessor-based, with special chips to drive video, graphics and animation such as its bit blitter. Its marketing was also something special it was announced with the help of famed pop artist Andy Warhol.
I was lucky enough to be editor in chief of AmigaWorld magazine, and I was honored to have a star-studded readership. Everyone seemed to love Amiga, and why wouldn’t they? Back then Windows could not multitask and the Mac was just starting to understand color. If you were an artist, musician or videographer, the Amiga was the machine for you.
When the Video Toaster shipped, that message became all the more clear. This card was less than (US) $2,000 and could replace (US) $100,000 worth of dedicated video gear. The animation software it came with was good enough to drive many a TV shows.
Most noted users included Arthur C. Clarke, Penn & Teller, Todd Rundgren, Simpsons’ creator Matt Groenig, and Billy Idol.
With the introduction of the A500, which was a lot cheaper and retailed at around $700, the Amiga started the wonderful journey of a video gaming machine and to this day it is still remembered as a ‘legendary gaming machine.’
Trouble in paradise
The technical brilliance of the machine wasn’t enough to keep it going. PCs were getting cheaper and cheaper and there are only so many people that need a computer to support creative endeavors. Game developers started moving away from developing software for the machine and sales started to decline. Commodore declared bankruptcy in 1993, but many machines remained in use for years later driving TV stations, editing video, and rendering high end animations.
Amiga would have turned 30
If you’re still a big Amiga fan and feeling a little lonely, well you don’t have to be. You can join other likeminded people on this Amiga subreddit and if you want to geek out even further you can also tune in to a newly setup podcast.