The Almost Forgotten Story of the Amiga 2000

27th Jul 2014 12:00



Steve Jobs was quoted that he wanted to" Make a dent in the Universe", and now,everyone (other than Amiga users) wants to change the history books and erase Commodore and the Amiga from history but, there actually was one Amiga that truly changed the world.

Unfortunately, The Amiga 2000 is one of the least favorite or collectible Amiga's . Even today, with the most "die hard" Amiga fans, the A2000 often is ignored and shunned as a "big, ugly, tank" tank of a machine. One look at Ebay (Canada or USA), on any given day, and you can see that the A2000 often doesn't sell at all, and most times goes for a lot cheaper than all the other Amiga's- even cheaper than an A500.
,br>But, because of this, one can find awesome deals. Most of the time, the seller has no clue of what Zorro cards are inside, and for next to nothing, you can pick up a fully loaded A2000 with an '030 or above for peanuts (the shipping is the killer here). This is the "North American" market I speak of, I have no idea what the European market is for the A2000. In Fact, I get a lot of A2000 dumped at my door, because it is almost next to impossible to give them away here in Canada. Also, like all big box Amiga's, the A2000 has a "barrel" battery, that can and will eventually leak. The acid can eat into and through the motherboard, so, if you are looking for one always ask to see the battery area.


So, what made the A2000, "world changing"?

To understand fully, we must go back to the original Amiga, the Amiga 1000.

Enter Dave

The original Amiga was too expensive for Commodore and for Consumers. At a $1000 price point, there was little profit for Commodore, and consumers were really confused on its placing in the market. Was it a professional workstation computer or a home computer?

Commodore needed a solution and decided to split it into two separate computers, A "cost-reduced" home computer (the low end model), and a high-end work station for offices and the professional market. The powers that be assigned the low end Amiga (what would later be known as the A500) to a team lead by George Robbins, and the high end machines were started by the German Engineering team, but they could never get anywhere with it.

At this time, a brilliant young (23 year old) engineer at Commodore had finished building the C128. Dave Haynie had found himself looking for another project and was approached to work on the Amiga. At first, he was supposed to "take over" for George, and George was supposed to "fix" the German A2000 - they had by this time decided on the names of the machines.

Within a few weeks, it was apparent to Dave that George would never give up the low end machine, and Dave was put in charge of the A2000.

Dave followed George's lead, and soon threw out most of what the Germans did and modelled the A2000 mostly on what the A500 was. The Germans did create the "Zorro Bus" based on the original A1000's specifications, but Dave improved on it, calling it the "Zorro 2". Because he was left mostly alone, Dave also put in a CPU slot and a video card slot to take full advantage of the Amiga's video circuitry capability. There were a whole list of things that Dave stuck in because nobody was telling him not to, and in the end, we got the beast known as the A2000. It was only at management's insistance that it got inactive AT slots, because management thought that they should create an "AT bridge" card to make the Amiga IBM PC/AT-compatible (which Dave thought was stupid and crazy, but he did it).

Dave put a CPU slot in there, because he knew that Motorola were soon releasing the 68020. Soon after the completion of the A2000, Dave got to work on making it faster with accelerator cards. When he got wind of Motorola releasing the '030 chip, Dave already had a card ready for it. He had actually made the card weeks before the chip was released, but the pinouts he got were actually backwards, so instead of redoing the card from scratch, he stuck the CPU on the opposite side of the board, and it worked!

Dave ended up doing a lot for the Amiga. One could argue that he did more for the Amiga than anyone else in history! He then took what he learned from the Amiga 2000 and went on to make the Amiga 3000 and more.

So many Amiga models


Commodore Marketing also decided to work their "Magic" on the machine, creating "new" models from the base 2000 and adding names like "HD" and "2500" on them. Ultimately, they were all 2000's with stickers. To make some sense of the Models, The Big Book of Amiga Hardware says:

"A2000HD was supplied with the Commodore A2091 SCSI card and a SCSI Hard Drive, usually manufactured by Quantum (52MB). It is unclear exactly why some A2000's were labelled with "A2000HD" and some were just labelled as "A2000" because often those without the "HD" designation were also sold with Commodore A2091 SCSI cards and hard drives. One possibility is that A2000's with the HD designation were pre-fitted with a SCSI Controller and hard drive by Commodore whilst the others were pre-fitted by the actual dealer.

The Amiga 2500 is really just an A2000 which was supplied with either a Commodore A2620 or a Commodore A2630 processor card, and a hard drive controller which was the Commodore A2090 or A2091. A variant of the A2500 called the A2500UX was also available which was supplied with Commodore Amiga UNIX by default, although Commodore certainly shipped some A2500s without the UX designation with UNIX as there is no hardware difference between to two models. To make matters worse, In the UK they also had the A1500, which was just an A2000 with dual floppy drives.

Changing The World

Ironically, this workstation would go on to change the world, but most people would never know it, for the game changer was not built by Commodore, but an "add-on" piece of hardware from a little known [at the time] Topeka, KA based company called Newtek. Now, they are based in Texas.
NewTek was started by 2 guys named Tim Jenison and Paul Montgomery. Tim was no stranger to selling computer hardware, as before Newtek, he invented and sold hardware for the TRS-80 Color Computer. Newtek started selling a video digitizer for all Amiga's called Digi View, then went on to sell Digi Paint.
In what some would gather as a bizarre twist of fate with a chance meeting in a video store, a friend of Tim's met with Engineer Brad Carvey (brother of SNL Comedian Dana Carvey) and told Tim they had to meet.

They then invented the Video Toaster Card.


With the Video Toaster card, it was now possible to do video editing and special effects. What before took literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to do, major movie studios down to minor TV stations now had an affordable tool to do cheap in-house video effects. TV shows like "Home Improvement" to the Pilot of Babylon 5, to Seaquest DSV took full advantage not only of the A2000 with a Video Toaster, but of the 3D animation software that came with the VT called "Light Wave". LightWave also made movies like Jurrasic Park possible, because without test animations for it, it would have ended up as "stop motion" dinosaurs (it was originally planned as stop motion and miniatures like the old Harry Hausen movies).

Almost overnight, small local TV stations could now put "bumpers" up, logo's etc. But, sadly, this was in North America only as Newtek never released a PAL Video Toaster. As a direct result, sales of the Amiga 2000 skyrocketed in Canada and the USA. It is probably safe to say the A2000 probably outsold all the other Amiga models by a long shot. Because of this, almost every TV viewer in North America over the age of 30 has actually seen the result of what a Amiga 2000 can do. Sadly, the general public is very unaware of just how much it had an impact on their lives, and how many TV shows used it.

Today, Newtek is still around and sells the Amazing "Tricaster". Also, as of 2009, they still honour the Lifetime warranty on the Video Toaster, although this author does not know if that is still the case. Lightwave 3D has been ported a long time ago to PCs and is still in use today.

Pre-vue Guide

Many Cable companies in the USA and Canada also had a "Pre-vue Guide", an Amiga 2000 that had software to run an electronic TV listing. These Amigas were generally in service until the late 1990's.

NASA

NASA also made use of the Amiga 2000, and went on to use all the models. They even had a "secret bunker" full of Amigas. You see, with all the Zorro slots on the A2000, and the fact, that it was upgradeable, NASA chose the Amiga over the Apple, because they could make and develop their own custom hardware. When they asked Commodore for documentation, Commodore sent them palettes full of books, schematics and software. In fact, some Amiga's were being still used at NASA up until 2003. If you do a search, you can find articles on the "secret bunkers of NASA". There used to be a video (up on YouTube, I believe) but, I have not been able to find it for a few years now.

UPDATE: Thanks to a slash dot reader (thanks Genstein), the video can be seen here (I don't have permission to embed the video) https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=39211744315 and the article can be seen here: http://www.amiworld.it/interviste/green/HalInterview-eng.html again, I do not have any permission or claim any rights to the links and video, so if asked, I will pull them at any time.

There are so many other stories around the A2000, but I think I will stop there. So, if someone asks you if you can name a computer that really changed the way we look at the world, you can tell them that all this CGI and stuff started because of the Amiga 2000 and the Video Toaster card.