- Computers & Software
Commodore Amiga 1200
The Commodore Amiga 1200
It was launched more than twenty years ago on October 21st of 1992, at a base price of £399.00 in the United Kingdom and $599.00 in the United States.
The machine had also been code-named 'Channel Z' prior to release, I have absolutely no idea why though. It's impossible to tell what the marketing department at Commodore were up to when you think how badly things were handled back then and how badly things would go onto unfold for them...
The Amiga 1200 was put out there to revive the flagging brand of Commodore, and if the machine had been a little more powerful it may well have succeeded.
So let's have a look at Commodore's final home computer (which still fills me with sadness when I think back) aimed at the home market before they unfortunately succumbed to bankruptcy in 1994...
Commodore Amiga 1200
A1200 Machine Overview
Like its predecessor the Amiga 500, the A1200 was an 'all-in-one' design incorporating the central processor, keyboard, and disk drives (which also included the option of an internal 2.5" hard disk) inside one unit.
The A1200 shared hardware similarities with Commodore's attempt to corner a sector of the console market, the Amiga CD 32
At first (surprisingly) only around 30,000 Amiga 1200's were available at the UK launch, which was probably nowhere near enough units.
During the first year of its life (late 1992 through 1993) the system sold well, but Commodore ran into cash flow problems and filed for bankruptcy.
World wide sales figures for the A1200 are unknown but 95,000 systems were sold in Germany alone prior to Commodore's demise.
An Amiga 1200 Demo
The Brief Escom Disaster
After Commodore’s demise during 1994 the A1200 almost disappeared off the market but was later re-launched by the computer company Escom in 1995.
The new Escom A1200 was priced at £399 (back to the original price) and it came bundled with two games, seven applications and Amiga OS 3.1.
It was initially criticized (and rightly so) for being priced £150 higher than the Commodore variant which had come down in price by 1994.
It also came fitted with a modified PC floppy disk drive that was incomptible with some Amiga software titles, making many owners existing library of software useless.
The A1200 was finally discontinued in 1996 as Escom went the way of Commodore.
The Famous 'Amiga Ball' And Browser Window
Amiga 1200 Improvements over previous machines
The A1200 offered a number of advantages over earlier budget Amiga's (such as the A500 and A600).
It was a fully 32-bit design and the 68EC020 CPU was faster than the 68000 of previous models and the default RAM installed in the machine was increased to 2 Megabytes.
The AGA chipset used in the A1200 was also a significant improvement.
AGA increased the color palette dramatically from 4096 colours (in the Amiga 500) to a massive 16.8 million colours.
It also allowed up to 256 on-screen colours and an improved HAM mode allowed a magnificent 262,144 on-screen colours.
The graphics hardware also included improved sprite capacity and faster graphics performance over the previous Amiga home models.
The machine was also more expandable allowing enthusiasts to install hard drives, extra floppy drives, extra RAM and faster processors.
A lot of A1200 machines ended up being 'modded' a great deal by a lot of users.
Despite The Criticism It Was Still A Fine Machine
Knights Of The Sky - Amiga 1200
How The A1200 Was Received By Users
Although it was a significant upgrade on the Amiga 500, 500+ and 600 models, the A1200 did not sell as well as these earlier machines, the A500 in particular.
This was partly down to the fact that the A1200 failed to repeat the technological advances of the first Amiga systems and was no longer the leader of the pack.
It is fair to say that the A1200 was merely in with 'the crowd' matching up to other machines of the era nicely, whereas previously the Amiga had outstripped the competition with ease.
The AGA chipset was also something of a disappointment to keen Amiga users.
Commodore had initially been working on a much improved version of the original Amiga chipset, (codenamed the 'AAA'), but when development of this hardware fell behind schedule they rushed out the less improved AGA. A real shame.
While the AGA chipset was not less capable than competing hardware, when compared to VGA (and its emerging extensions), crucially the Amiga no longer commanded the lead it had in previous years.
Additionally the Amiga's custom chips cost more to produce than the commodity chips used in the manufacture of PC hardware, making the A1200 more expensive to produce than it should have been.
Some experts also felt the 68020 CPU was already a little outdated and sluggish, and that the new system should have been fitted with a 68030 CPU to be more competitive.
I have to say that this would have helped a great deal if a faster CPU had been fitted as standard. User's could always upgrade their machine (with CPU's available up to a speed of 60Mhz) but of course this incurred an extra cost.
The gaming market, which had been a major factor (perhaps THE major factor) in the A500's popularity (Amiga Games ruled for a good number of years and we far better technically than what was on offer on rival systems) was becoming ever more competitive.
The emergence of more advanced and less expensive console gaming systems coupled with cheaper PC machines complete with SVGA graphics meant that the Amiga no longer commanded the home gaming market - by 1993 the other technology had really caught up.
The A1200 also received (a little unfairly) bad press for being incompatible with a number of Amiga 500 game titles, although this was mostly with older titles and the A500+ had suffered similar incompatibilty problems.
To combat this Relokick was quickly brought out to allow you to 'boot' your A1200 into A500 mode as it emulated an earlier set of ROMS - effectively making an A1200 compatible with pretty much every piece of previous Amiga software.
Further criticism was directed towards the A1200's power supply which was often lacking the necessary oomph in expanded systems which required a higher wattage to simply power up, but this is a problem that has afflicted PC's time and again.
I am speaking from experience here too!
Again - these were problems that could be overcome (as I have said PC's suffer from the same problem) and a lot of the bad press was unfair in my opinion.
The Motorola Chip Used In The Amiga 1200
Amiga 1200 Technical Overview
The A1200 was equipped with the Motorola MC68EC020 Central Processing Unit.
It is noteworthy that the 68EC020 had a 24-Bit address space which allowed for a theoretical maximum of 16MB of memory.
As previously stated the machine shipped with 2MB of RAM.
This chip RAM could not be expanded beyond those 2 megs, but an additional 8 Megs of 'Fast RAM' could be installed through use of the snazzy sounding trapdoor expansion slot.
Adding Fast RAM doubled the speed of the A1200 and was a significant and noticeable upgrade.
As time went by, various hardware accelerators featuring 68020, 68030, 68040, 68060 and even PowerPC processors were made available for the machine by third party vendors. Again fitting any of these accelerators gave a notable boost in performance keeping the tech heads happy.
These accelerators did not only have faster CPUs but also more and faster memory (on the most expensive boards 256 MB on two 128 MB SIMMs), real time clocks, IDE, SCSI ports and video cards.
The A1200's new sound chipset allowed for higher sampling rates for sound playback, but the increase in sound technology was minimal; the basic sound hardware was not upgraded in any way at all and remained identical to the original Amiga 1000.
This was a downside as the Amiga had always been noted for quality sound and music - again it no longer commanded the lead it once had.
The Famous Amiga Start Up Sceen
Amiga 1200 Operating System
The first models of the Amiga 1200 shipped with Workbench 3.0 (and Kickstart 3.0).
Amiga users had come to know that Workbench was a reliable and stable operating system which booted up in no time - and the latest version was very good.
Workbench 3.0 provided standard single-user operating system functionality and support for the built-in hardware.
The later Amiga Technologies/Escom models of the machine shipped with Workbench 3.1 and Kickstart 3.1 (AmigaOS 3.1), though earlier A1200 models could be upgraded by installing compatible Kickstart 3.1 ROM chips if so desired.
The later AmigaOS 3.5 and 3.9 releases were A1200 compatible and were available as pure software updates requiring Kickstart 3.1 to run.
It should be noted that variants of platform-independent operating systems such as Linux can also be used with the A1200 if you fancy a more modern look and feel.
The Famous A1200 Startup Screen
Doom Clones - GLOOM
The famous game DOOM really helped to put the final nail in the Amiga's coffin.
They said that DOOM could not be done on an Amiga, so up stepped developers to prove them wrong. DOOM type games such as GLOOM (gotta love that title!) gave die-hard Amiga users their fix for 1st person arcade action.
To be honest trying to run a game such as GLOOM on a standard A1200 turned out to be a thankless task. You needed fast RAM and a faster CPU to get the most out of the game.
Alien Breed 3D
DOOM Clones - Alien Breed 3D
The famous Alien Breed games were given the 3D treatment in attempt to keep the A1200 alive.
Alien Breed 3D was released in 1995 and was met with a positive reception. To be fair by 1995 the Amiga's star was fading and the next generation of consoles and PC's was taking over.
Having said that, this game was a decent 1st person shooter (at the time) and proved just what talented coders could achieve with the Amiga hardware.
Not a bad game overall.
Formula One Grand Prix On An A1200
Formula One Grand Prix
Geoff Crammonds famous racing game is a benchmark in racing simulation.
Even today the game still plays very well and the physics are superb.
An A1200 version was never officially created, but running this classic game on an A1200 reaped immediate rewards. The increased framerate gave rise to smoother gameplay and you could almost feel the wind in your face. Almost.
A great game that ran great on an A500, superbly on an A1200. Classic stuff.
Pinball Mania AGA
Steve Benway Plays Super Skidmarks AGA
Steve Benway Plays Zool 2 AGA
Some games were re-released and enhanced to take advantage of the AGA capabilities of the A1200.
A lot of classic games were modified and the result was a cleaner, crisper look when compared to the original A500 versions.
Some notable games that were given the AGA treatment include:
- Alien Breed II
- Body Blows
- Dangerous Streets
- James Pond 2: Robocod
- Jungle Strike
- Pacman 96 (Yes Pacman was AGA'd!)
- Pinball Mania
- Rise Of The Robots (It was still lamentable though)
- Super Skid Marks
- The Chaos Engine
- Zombie Apocalypse
- Zool 2 (The Amiga's answer to Sonic)
The gameplay usually remained essentially the same as the A500 versions, but it was still nice to see something that looked a little better.
If the differenence had been greater (AGA was not a vast improvement) then the A1200 would have been more of a power in the home market.
A Game To Surpass The Mighty 'DOOM' on the Amiga
One game that was released for the A1200 that really was something special was the 1st person shooter 'Breathless'.
This game was developed by Fields Of Vision and was released in 1996. By 1996 the Amiga scene was almost dead and it was now down to real die-hard Amiga fans to keep the scene alive.
Games like this proved that there was still a little life left in the Amiga (The A1200 anyway) as long as you had a machine that had been upgraded.
If you had a faster processor installed and extra RAM the game could be played smoothly (and if you had a 68060 CPU you were laughing!), but on a standard A1200 the game did not perform all that well.
Still, it had some great lighting effects and atmosphere and proved that a modded A1200 was capable of creating a good 3D game.
For me this is what a standard A1200 machine should have been capable of, and not just one that had been upgraded at an extra cost.
Breathless On A Modded A1200
Dewy Eyed Nostalgia...
Other Retro Computer Links
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Grab Yourself An A1200
If you are a fan of computers you could do a lot worse than picking up an A1200.
They are available to buy as new 'old stock' from http://amigakit.leamancomputing.com/
Ebay also provides many Amiga computers, many of which have already been upgraded with fast RAM, better CPU's and so on.
They are worth a look for a fantastic slice of computing history...