The Amiga 4000 Tower -- First Impressions: What's Good

Positive aspects that revealed themselves through initial setup and use

By Michael Webb, Editor-in-Chief, MikeWebb@CompuServe.COM

When the box arrived by way of UPS, there was no mistaking what was inside. The gigantic cardboard container housed a number of components as well as the tower itself, which also struck me as being very big. In fact, I have come to refer to it simply as 'The Monolith.' This is a tower the way it was meant to be -- large, impressive-looking, and plenty of room inside.

Included, of course, were a keyboard and mouse. The keyboard appears to be the same as the one used with the A3000(T) and A4000; the layout and feel seem the same as those of any recent Amiga keyboard (only my oldest A500 really differs from the rest that I have, with more solid key action). For as long as I had had Amigas, I had used only the old standard-design Amiga mouse. I liked it quite a bit, but the new one is far superior. The more rounded, ergonomic shape is a nice touch, but everything about it is much improved; the button action is much lighter and quieter (I never really liked the old "CLICK! CLICK!," especially late at night when I'm trying to get "one last thing" done before drifting off to sleep). Note that just like the old mouse, the new one lets you know when it has picked up dirt. I.e., the motion is very easily affected by caked-on gunk on the rollers, much more so than most other mice I have used. It's no big deal if you're like me and like clean mouse motion, and don't mind cleaning it every few days. The one annoying tendency is that the buttons have sometimes been hesitant to work without additional pressure; I can usually resolve this by sharply blowing a blast of air into an opening in the mouse, which clears things up for a while. It hasn't been a problem lately.

Software Hut included not one, but two sets of tower stands (just pieces of plastic that fit the bottom of the case, and sit atop rubber pads, allowing greater latitude in placing the unit, and increased stability). The documentation in the box included AmigaOS 3.1 DOS, Workbench, ARexx, and Hard Disk, an AGA Supplement (basically monitor-related concerns), an AmigaDOS Quick Reference sheet, and an A4000T manual. Overall, these were very good, with the exceptions of the ARexx manual (this manual never was very beginner-friendly with any OS revision) and a few glitches. The most notable example is the following paragraph from the A4000T Manual:

"The A4000T can accommodate up to seven devices internally. The five front bays (one already filled by the internal floppy drive) have external access; the one in the rear position is suitable for a full-height hard drive that does not require external access."

Unless I'm missing something obvious (or not so obvious?), or five plus one has suddenly begun to equal seven, there appears to be a discrepancy here. From my observations, there really are six bays.

Also in the box was the manual for the phase 5 CyberStorm processor card (full of funny German-to-English translations, which I found more amusing than annoying), the Ariadne card (still in its box), AmiTCP/IP, and Distant Suns. There also were a few other assorted items, like a power cord, 23-to-15-pin video port adapter, etc.

I was in a hurry to try it out, so I put together a makeshift setup including my existing CD-1401 (a multiscan monitor). So, with everything ready to go, I hit the power button. Blank screen. Oops! That's right, I remembered, the monitor cable really does have to plug into the computer... Oh well, I missed my new Amiga's first bootup, other than anything they did at Software Hut. Within a minute, things were back on track, and I turned it on again.

I think the first thing I noticed was how quickly it booted, but with a 32-bit SCSI-2 bus (versus the 16-bit SCSI of the A530), this was no surprise. Most of what I found was also no surprise: AmigaOS 3.1, along with the preinstalled CyberStorm software and the so-called "Magic Pack" (see the "Not So Good" section of the review). The one unexpected thing was a preinstalled JPEG datatype.

At this point, I noticed something unique about the "New Amiga Experience," but it's probably not what you would expect. The thing is, every new Amiga has always presented you with the same NTSC/PAL 640x200/256 4-color screen when first started, and any system from 68000/OCS/256kB to 68060/AGA/146MB can handle those modes fairly easily. It was noticeably snappier than my 68030/ECS machine, but nothing mind-blowing at first. In fact, if you are used to Amigas, a new one probably isn't terribly impressive right off the bat. This isn't a bad thing; we don't have to buy the latest machines just to make the OS's run in a tolerably fast manner. That's what I like about the Amiga: it's the applications you run that determine your hardware requirements. The AmigaOS itself is not a determining factor. Note that even as features are added in the future, the base hardware requirements need not go sky-high, as long as it is done in a modular and optionally-used manner. But, that's for another article...

Well, I was in a hurry to see what this beast could do, but unfortunately, I didn't have the right adapter to plug in my SyQuest EZDrive and transfer some applications over. The A4000T has the high-density SCSI port type. So that level of experimentation had to wait until the next day (which was "good," because I had to have the machine ready to go in two days!). But I quickly loaded Scenery Animator from floppy, and [quickly!] rendered a high-resolution 256-color image of Yosemite National Park. Very nice! Well, the colors of the CD-1401 are pretty awful (see the "Monitor" section of the review), but other than that, it was impressive, both in terms of the display and the rendering time.

So that was the start of things. And almost five months later, though I have gotten somewhat used to the performance, I am still just as impressed.