Upgrading Fun?

Updating and expanding an Amiga system, and the interesting things that happen along the way

By Paul Somerfeldt, Contributing Writer, p.somerfeldt@genie.com

This is a one man's story about upgrading his Amiga.

I have an Amiga 2000, and have been slowly upgrading it through the years. I bought the machine used from a friend, and he loaned me a ram card for a while. So when I first bought it, it came with a 68000, 1 floppy drive, 2 megs of ram, and 1/2 meg of chip ram. Life was so simple then.

The first upgrade I performed was to add a floppy drive. Easy as all get out to put in the 2000. I wish some of the later ones were that easy (I wish it was easier the second time I had to mess with the very same floppy drives). 6 months later I bought a hard drive, and amazingly enough, that too was an easy install. After that, I took a few years off from buying hardware for the computer, and concentrated on software.

When the prices came down on CD-ROM drives, I took the plunge and purchased a single speed drive. That was a fun toy, but the pesky thing couldn't do Photo CD's. It also didn't have a passthrough connection. Although I got plenty of use out of it, I kind of wish I had waited to buy a faster one.

Against many people's recommendations, I enhanced my machine to an ECS system. I really don't remember the reasoning being not wanting to install the Super Denise, but I did it anyway. Still not a problem. Mainly because it was one of the few installation procedures I let the dealer do, as I didn't have one of those PLCC removal/installation tools to change the Agnus chip.

During the summer of '95 I bought one of those ZIP drives instead of buying a bigger harddrive. Boy, that thing is nice, but for some reason I still can't get the dang thing to work quite right. It works well enough, but I hope to eventually get the thing to work flawlessly. After all, I have all those ZIP disks to use.

A few months later I upgraded to a RENO CD-ROM drive. That was probably the biggest waste of money I have made with this machine. The thing worked fine for a while, but when I changed a few things in the hardware 6 months later, the thing was rendered useless. I am almost to the point of offering the RENO free to a good home, but I wouldn't wish that thing on anyone. Enough said.

Then I was made an offer I couldn't refuse: a relatively inexpensive accelerator card. With a second card, capable of being expanded to over 100 meg of ram. Seems this CBM card didn't like talking to the GVP SCSI & ram card that I had in my machine. So I eventually swapped out the GVP, and added a CBM 2091 controller card. The machine wasn't as stable as it was before the accelerator card was dropped in. But it did work. The ZIP drive didn't work quite the same way as it did before, but it did work.

Since the ZIP drive performance was less than satisfactory, I decided to drop a larger hard drive into my Amiga. A 52-megabyte harddrive isn't quite what it used to be. So I dropped in a 520 megabyte harddrive, and finally replaced the RENO with a real CD-ROM drive. And since one of my floppy drives seemed to have succumbed to old age, I decided to make the df1: drive the df0: drive. Easier said than done. I ended up frying the df1: drive (the smoke was a nice touch), and fixed the previously broken df0: drive while in a bit of a panic. And I successfully made sure that the ZIP drive would not work at all. I also managed to get the video display to act a little funny.

I took the computer to the dealer to get the thing repaired. The video problem was easily fixed by removing the chips and reinstalling them. Dodged a bullet there. The fate of the former df1: was also confirmed. When I got the computer back (didn't make a fuss about the ZIP, as I figured I was going to have time to mess with it while on vacation), the computer worked fine, but the df0: floppy drive stopped working. It never rains but it pours.

I returned from vacation, and started testing things in earnest. The df0: drive wouldn't function at all. The ZIP drive was rendered useless, and the computer would not boot at least one third of the time. Tolerable, but not a happy circumstance. I tried everything I could with the ZIP, and it would never work.

I was rapidly closing in on another vacation, and another chance to drop the computer off at the dealer for repairs, but I got a bit impatient. I bought a new floppy drive to install on the machine so I would have at least one working. I bought the ram card for the 2630 accelerator card, some ram, and finally upgraded to 3.1. The ram card wouldn't work because the A2630 was apparently manufactured incorrectly, and basically meant that I couldn't expand beyond 8 meg of 16-bit ram, and 4 meg of 32-bit ram. Doh! I had to return the ram card. The new OS worked fine, too.

As I sent back the ram card, I decided to buy a new accelerator card, a GVP-M 2060 card. Installation went well, but I was in a bit of a rush. I installed the software before I had the card set up correctly. This made the computer repeatedly guru on boot up. Panic time again. Thank goodness 3.1 has the feature that allows you to boot without a Startup-Sequence. I narrowed the problem down to AsimCDFS. That piece of software seems to be a bit temperamental. By removing that reference from the Startup-Sequence, I no longer guru'd. I reseated the new accelerator card, and then the card worked. Quickly. I reinstalled the software, and everything worked fine. But it would fail to boot properly about 60 percent of the time. Ouch.

I took the computer back to the dealer, and they got the floppy drive to work, and got the ZIP drive to work. At the dealer. When I took the computer home, the thing would never boot. And when I inserted the 3.1 Install disk, the boot would complete, but nothing on the SCSI chain would show up. Panic yet again. After an hour, I decided to isolate the hard drive on the chain, so I pulled the GVP card out of storage, and pulled the ribbon cable off of it to install on the 2091. Sudden flash of insight: if the GVP wouldn't work with the CBM accelerator, and the A2091 wouldn't work with the GVP-M accelerator, why not try the GVP SCSI card with the GVP-M accelerator? Result: my computer hasn't been this stable in 8 months. I have not failed to boot in 4 days. The ZIP drive works well, so far. In fact, I haven't been this happy with my system in a long time.

Is there a moral to this story? I haven't a clue. It seems care must be spent when choosing how to upgrade your system. I know others who have a GVP/CBM mix on their systems, and they work flawlessly. It seems one must tread carefully when upgrading one's system. It would be nice to know what works with what when choosing options for upgrading one's system, especially in these days when finding a dealer who is capable of troubleshooting any difficulty that arises is easier said than done. I am lucky that I have a dealer that still exists, or rather, a former dealer that is still willing to do repairs for customers that have dealt with him for years. For those of you who are not as lucky as I am, choose wisely and carefully when selecting your upgrade paths. And when connecting the power connector to the floppy drives, take care to connect it correctly, as the smell from the smoke is rather potent.