The readers speak out!

Amiga: Expensive Expansion?

Hi! Can someone explain, in layman's terms, why graphics cards for the Amiga are so costly? Most graphics cards for an IBM machine are in the $250 range. Does the Amiga require some special chips that the IBM does not use?

On another note, I would be interested in a comparison between the current 68060 accelerators on the market. I could also ask someone to explain the high cost of these boards also. I have looked into purchasing a BeBox lately since the Amiga seems stalled. I can buy a base BeBox with TWO 603e chips at 66 MHz for $1200. Why does an accelerator board for the amiga with one 68060 running at 50 MHZ or so run $1000? Thanks for your time. I really like the magazine in HTML format. It is a great idea!

JALon Anderson

Here's the long and short of why Amiga graphics cards are more expensive than cards for the PC. There are fewer Amiga owners. Remember, a card made to fit into an Amigas ZORRO expansion slot will only work in an Amiga, and there are far fewer of us than there are PC owners; therefore, fewer potential sales. Always remember, there is more to any card than just the components. There is a payroll for the company to meet, plus development costs. With fewer potential sales, the Amiga developer must charge a higher price per unit to recoup these costs and still be able to stay in business. This is a big reason for the current movement in the Amiga community to drop the Amiga's ZORRO design and move to a standard PC expansion slot (called PCI) and the inclusion of the standard PCMCIA slot on the Amiga 600 and 1200.

Why did Amiga and Commodore choose to use these non-standard expansion slots? Because they were ahead of their time. PC's were using 16-bit ISA slots at the time Amigas were developed. These slots are slow and have no built-in autoconfiguration capabilities. ZORRO, starting as the Amiga 1000's left-hand-side expansion slot was designed with these capabilities built-in. This was carried over to the 500 and became the 16-bit ZORROII slots in the Amiga 2000 and finally the 32bit ZORROIII slots of the Amiga 3000 and 4000.

The high cost of Amiga accelerators is due to the same reason, plus the CPU can be very expensive. Also, many accelerators are practically complete computers, with support for RAM and Hard Drive controllers built onto the board along with all the hardware to make it all work. In computers, the CPU is the single most expensive standard component.

Anthony Becker
Executive Editor

On VIScorpse, in response to The Sam Report

Well, you were so right, weren't you? I just gazed in horror at the Oct. 30th financial statement via the AWD link.

I guess some people like Phase 5 have known or guessed this all along, which is why they went ahead with their plans in defiance of VIScorpse's threat of legal action. So now we're a few months away from PowerUp boards and A\Boxes.

To me, the most amazing thing in all this is that Motorola, Apple or IBM could buy Amiga out of pocket change. Or Sony, or Phillips, or Panasonic, or......

Let's just hope that whoever does buy it is smart enough to let Phase 5 take charge.

Steve Duff

The truth of the matter is yet to be seen to its full extent, but it now does appear that VIScorp's prospects in acquiring the Amiga may be far less than we previously thought, and their motives may not be what we might have hoped. After all, Sassenrath and Compton were the Amiga voices of VIScorp...without them, who remains? Don't totally rule them out, however.

We will not at this time actively endorse or attack a specific company here (besides Commodore, perhaps), but Phase 5 does appear to be a viable possibility. But then again, so could VIScorp; it's really impossible to tell right now, and I would caution the Amiga community to not be overly anxious to embrace any given trend. We've been fooled enough times in the past by doing so.

On the other hand, don't take anything for granted.

Michael Webb
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief


I totally disagree with your assertion that the first new machines should have 680x0 processors. We already have machines using these processors; any new machine should be a step up. We have to compete with the Pentium PC`s and even the 68060 isn`t really up to that job.

However the PowerPC processors can compete and they are not that expensive (just look at Phase 5 proposed prices for their accelerators ). Bringing out a mediocre machine based on old technology will not save the Amiga, we need a revolutionary design to wow people into submission.

Gavin Kinsey

We've been through this before, but I'll say it again.

The PowerPC is a great line of processors, and I am all for having the Amiga use it in the future, as Motorola has (not out of necessity, mind you) stopped development of the 680x0 series. My main reason for not wanting to do so now is because of the Amiga's current predicament: we have been waiting almost five years now for some semblance of new development. Five years! That's an eternity in the computer industry, and the only reason the Amiga has survived it at all is because of the dedication of the users and 3rd-party developers. Prospects grow more bleak with each passing day that the Amiga has no owner, and no new development occurs. Whoever emerges victorious must hit the ground running, not sit there for a year pouring resources into porting the OS to PPC code. As I've said before, you can always do a quick & dirty port in which much of the OS is still running in 680x0 emulation, but the result would be a machine slower than the current generation. I don't call that a good "upgrade" policy.

You say the 68060 isn't up to competing with the pentium; I urge you to recheck the number, and weigh the evidence. In existing systems, right off the bat, a 50Mhz 68060 is more or less comparable to a 90Mhz Pentium. Also consider that it is available in a 66Mhz version with at least one more even faster one to come, and that it hasn't even been overclocked yet. Theoretically, right now, you could have a 68060 running at at least 132Mhz. Also consider that the Pentium still bears some of the burden of the screwy Intel architecture that dates back to the 8088. Furthermore, most current Amiga software has not in any way been optimized to take advantage of the 68060's advanced architecture and instruction set. Finally, consider the inherent advantage fostered by it's Mohammed Ali OS (float like butterfly, sting like bee and efficient, yet powerful) as compared to all PC OS's except perhaps DOS (masters of inefficiency, masked only by faster and faster elegant structure built on a rotten foundation). Don't forget to consider the possibilty of a multi-processor 680x0 system. All in all, the 680x0 series, and the 68060 in particular, still have a lot to offer the Amiga.

Another reason this is true is because the CPU isn't really the big limitation on Amiga performance right now; more than anything else, it's the old chipset. I have been in this boat myself for some time, using a 68030 with the ECS. This is why we need the AAA chipset; that, coupled with the 68060, 68040, or even the 68030, would serve many computer users' current needs (again, I cite the efficiency of the Amiga OS...Amiga OS on 68060 vs. Windows 95/NT on Pentium truly is apples and oranges).

Finally, I might point out that it's all well and good to introduce something "revolutionary," but the realities of business and life force us to consider that you must have some revenue and development funds before going out on such a limb...and the only way to get out of a rut is to build upon what you already have, and what already works. Besides, I still think the Amiga is rather revolutionary. Multitasking in less than 512k? Well I must be nuts, of course you can't do that! That is, if you subscribe to the Microsoft philosophy.

I'll let another reader further explain these ideas, and some others, from his own point of view, in the next letter.

Michael Webb
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

680x0 is Alive and Well, Thank You & PC Pricing (Excerpt)

...I completely agree with you. At first I was going to wait for a Power Amiga, but the thing is, I want to make movies, so I need a Toaster system in the near (not distant) future. I can't wait forever for this thing, so I'm getting the A4000T 060. I do so without fear, because when Power Amigas are available, I'll just get an accelerator card. It's seems so easy to me -- just get an Amiga now and upgrade it the way you'd have to do anyway if you bought a Mac or PC at the store tomorrow. They all get obsolete, usually in a big hurry. Who cares if getting a PC means you can buy some silly software about how to improve your golf swing? That vast treasure trove of PC software is mostly junk, junk you can run rapidly on a 200Mhz Pentium, but junk it still is. There's nothing wrong with 68K Amigas. I've seen them in action and I've been impressed. Okay, they can't raytrace an image as fast as a PowerMac, but since you can prioritize CPU allotment and multitask, you can still use your computer while raytracing. With a Mac, you'd better have a second computer, because once you start the raytrace, that baby's gone until the job is done.

Well, at least for now -- the latest wrinkle in Apple's adventure seems to be an effort at merging MacOS with BeOS by summer of '97. Basically, it would be mostly BeOS with a Mac appearance package and a few functionalities. It would be geared for power users the way Windows NT is on the PC side. Be Inc., however, vehemently denies that such talks are underway. So, yes, 68K Amigas NOW, with overclocked processors for those who need it. I anticipate being very happy with my 68K Amiga (once I figure out how to use it!).

...From what I've heard about Phase 5's PowerUp card, it sounds perfect. A socket for your old 68K chip, and a PowerPC for, basically, running ShapeShifter. So you end up with a fast 68K Amiga and a 'virtual PowerMac' for an extremely reasonable price, and to top it off you can get a cheap PC Tower and Siamese it in. That's the best multi-platform option I know of today. Right now I'm looking to get an Eagle 4000TE with 'Shuttle Express PCI.' The price is good, and the expansion possibilities and versatility are amazing. This would be an outstanding system to have while waiting for AmigaDOS to be ported to PowerPC. I'm sure, however, that you're thinking of the less expensive end as well, such as low-cost '060 1200's, perhaps in towers for improved expansion. An A1200 minitower with an 060/50 for about $1,200-$1,500 would be a fine system for people who don't need a Toaster box. I think people would be surprised at how fast these things really are. Also, I suppose the main point of my first letter was to debunk the idea that PC's really are so cheap -- I just sent a letter to MacUser to disabuse people of the notion that PCs 'with all the same stuff' as a Mac can be had for '$2,000 less.' It's a crock -- SCSI PCs are expensive. A Micron Millennia Plus Pentium 200 machine with 32MB EDO, a 17-inch monitor and the other standard features in the 'B' listing is $3,737. A Mac clone like a PowerBase 240 (240Mhz/603e) with a nearly identical configuration, is $4,152 if you add the secondary 4MB video card on top of the 2MB VRAM with 3D acceleration that comes with the system. So, it's silly to me, and it burns me up, when people say you can get a top-line PC for $1,500. Well, maybe, if you build it yourself and have a spare monitor. Otherwise, this is pure garbage. It's still garbage if you want a big SCSI hard drive, however, and other SCSI peripherals.

So long as people know there's a logical upgrade path, new 68K Amigas (with generous software bundles) would do much more to rekindle Amiga excitement than waiting yet another year for a port of AmigaDOS to PowerPC. I guess it's always an inner struggle for the buyer -- wait for the perfect computer, or buy one now that the world at large considers already obsolete? Well, here we have to question the world at large, because this is precisely the attitude that does so much to help Wintel. People back Wintel, because they're seen as the winners. They develop an attitude of technological elitism, disdaining all other options. Prospective users see all the PCs in stores and all the Wintel software, and they feel safe. If they've never used a computer before, they don't realize that you can get most of the software you actually need for any platform right off the Internet. These prospective users are the biggest losers of all, because they're likely to be disappointed by their Wintel machine. They'll find that it's frail, that it crashes a lot, and can crash real badly, and unless they stick to playing games or using business apps, they'll probably find it more hassle than it's worth. They'll find that Windows 95 is a horribly slow OS even on a very powerful Pentium system with lots of RAM. They'll find a horrible file system and a very inconsistent interface. Drag and drop? What drag and drop? Oh, you mean 'copy and paste' sometimes and 'shortcuts' sometimes and sometimes even real drag and drop. You need ESP to figure it out. I can't tell you how much I hate this OS. Forget about easy and intuitive configuration -- the Win95 control panels are mostly numb. No wonder so many game producers are still writing for DOS -- it's the best way to save your ass on these machines.

So, Michael, I really do agree with you. It seems so clear to me. 68K Amigas and AAA chipsets now. You want a 3D accelerator? Get the CyberVision64/3D or another of your choice when they become available. Don't worry that it uses DRAM -- lots of PC 3D accelerators use DRAM or SGRAM instead of VRAM. It's nothing to worry about. I really wish more people saw it your way, because a true Power Amiga running AmigaDOS native is probably a year away. But when it comes, it comes full force. The other areas where Amigas are technologically behind the power curve will probably disappear at the same time. Some may disappear before then, and others will come along. The important thing is to have a range of 68K Amigas from low to high end that people can afford, and which can be easily upgraded, and which attract the interest of software developers by convincing them that the platform is still viable, even if it is basically a smaller sector of the market.

I guess the really unfortunate thing is that people don't look at computers the way they look at cars. The overall attitude of the computer world seems to be 'all or nothing.' It's winners and losers. It's not like the car world where it's no big deal to shop at Ford, Chrysler and Toyota, to mention a few, before you figure out which one you like. The computer world seems to live in an atmosphere of terror. Terror that your machine will become obsolete. That it won't run Microsoft apps. That it won't read your files from work. That a silly way to look at things. Most computer buyers seem to be unimaginative and afraid of going against the prevailing trend. They're sheep. In the final analysis, a computer is just a computer, the way a car is just a car. It's terribly sad that buyers, not looking at things this way, are perpetuating a growing monopoly and letting good things die. And because they're flat-out afraid to take a gamble, they'll end up with PC's that fall over if you breath on them hard and will cause them endless headaches. But, by golly, they saved a few hundred bucks! Oh, isn't that impressive reasoning? Myself, I want a computer that fits my needs, and I really don't care who makes the machine or what it's called. I think the Amiga will fit the bill, just the way the PowerMac has. To paraphrase an Amiga sig, "They'll have to pry this PowerMac from my cold dead fingers" before I switch to PC. The PC just doesn't do it for me. After all, I'm a Chrysler guy, not a Ford guy. :>

Steve Duff

You bring up a lot of points, and it basically serves to reveal some things that many people don't seem to realize. Mainly that yes, it will take time before PPC code will run properly on an Amiga, and on a somewhat related note, that PC pricing isn't all it's cracked up to be. They run the gamut of prices from $500 to $5000, depending on just how good they are. Any people who think PC's have won the price war on Macs or Amigas are fooling themselves. Yes, the Amigas are overpriced, but you get a lot for the money, and a $4000 price tag for a top-of-the-line (now A4000T with 68060!) model is far from unprecedented.

The main point of my argument is, as you point out, that we have an untapped world of possibilty left in the upper reaches of the 680x0 series. Otherwise, we will have to wait...and wait...and wait...and finally, PowerAmigas may exist. But will there be a market left to return to?

Michael Webb
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

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