The Amiga 4000 Tower: Introduction

About this Amiga, why we have it for review, and why we are featuring it in this way

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

Welcome to the beginning of The Amiga Monitor's first review of an actual Amiga computer system. Though the Amiga 4000 Tower is in many ways the big brother of the old desktop A4000, based on 1993 technology, in other ways, it is an entirely new machine, and a symbol of the commitment of the various companies involved with the Amiga for the future.

But it's not every month an online magazine gets to review something like this. Actually, like most of the things you'll see reviewed in The Amiga Monitor, the A4000T review is being written by somebody who actually owns one. That person, in this case, is me.

Yes, I started out with Amigas with an acquaintance's A500 in 1987, and had my own machine by 1988. It was an AmigaOS 1.2, 1-MB floppy-only system, and I could do all sorts of things with it. Beginning with a GVP A530 Turbo in 1994, and continuing with a long string of enhancements (including a new A500!), I turned it into a monster A500 system. Still, though, it was an A500, and starting to show its age. The 68030 was without a doubt fast enough for my purposes, but I could find no way to link an A500 into the networked environment in which my system would soon be running (that is, a 10Base-T Ethernet device for parallel port, floppy port, SCSI chain, anything -- it just doesn't seem to exist), and the maximum ten megabytes of memory were starting to feel a bit confined for Macintosh emulation, which I was starting to do more for serious use than hobbyist curiosity.

I have a fairly modern PC, but had no intention of leaving the Amiga platform behind. It was around the beginning of 1997 that I started to seriously consider buying a new Amiga.

The thoughts of used A2000/3000(T)/4000's came, but soon went. I similarly wasn't interested in moving to an A1200, because without slots, it would eventually leave me in more or less the same predicament. You see, my normal approach to such things is to buy new the very best available at any given time, and then keep it for quite a long time. This involves larger initial expenditures, but I believe it is most cost-effective in the long run, because I shelve and replace my belongings, whatever they may be, very infrequently, and in the case of computers, upgrade them along the way (after all, I was an A500 user for almost a decade). So it became clear that there was only one viable course of action (drum roll): The Amiga 4000 Tower.

I knew about the A4000T's impressive specifications, but for a long time, it was an out-of-reach dream. Memory seems to insist that Amiga Technologies's A4000T, when introduced a couple of years ago, had a REALLY HIGH COST. Something like $4000, depending on the configuration, and that doesn't even include peripherals like a monitor. My "buy the best" philosophy does not apply when the best is tremendously overpriced.

The price was coming down, however. By the time QuikPak was marketing the A4000T line in Amazing Computing, it was under $2000 for the base 68040 model, and $2700 for the 68060 machine. Only larger hard disk, memory, and CD-ROM configurations could bring the price up to around $4000 at this point. I wasn't taking this lightly, mind you -- I'm not overly wealthy, and $2000-$2700 is a hefty chunk of cash. But I decided the time was right.

I waited some time, however, before making a move. But finally, in August of 1997, I made the call to Software Hut, and "built" my new Amiga over the phone.

I was thinking, "I'm going for the top-of-the-line, so let's give it equally top-of-the-line processing power." It had to be the 68060 model. There is an interesting note at this juncture, because I assumed Software Hut would send me the A4000T with the QuikPak 68060 processor board. On the contrary, they told me I would be better off with the phase 5 CyberStorm MKII 68060 board, and I now believe they were right, for reasons I will cover in greater depth in another segment of this feature review.

I thought I would throw in a few extras while I was at it. Memory being exceedingly cheap these days, I asked for 16 MB of RAM to fill the motherboard SIMM sockets. Because I would be connecting the machine to a network, I threw in Village Tronic's Ariadne card, a nice 10Base-2/10Base-T board with a couple of parallel ports to boot (it was expensive too, at several hundred dollars, but what Amiga board isn't relatively expensive?). To use the Ariadne, I added AmiTCP/IP 4.3 (the commercial release). On the subject of floppy drives: if memory serves, in the A3000 days, Commodore started building Amigas with high-density floppy drives, with a very nice 1.76-MB Amiga-formatted capacity and greater data exchange potential through CrossDOS. Somehow, we have taken a step backwards; today's Amigas just come with the old 880-kB drives. Grudgingly aware of this, I asked Software Hut to add a high-density floppy drive, so they gave me an AmTrade. The non-sequitur of the group was Distant Suns 5.01 on CD. I always did like version 3 of that neat program, so I decided the A4000T would take an initial interest in astronomy.

Within a few days, the A4000T arrived in a very large box. The fun was only beginning.

As I mentioned, the A4000T is somewhat a rehashing of 1993 technology, but in other ways, it is a powerful new machine. For this reason, but more for the fact that it is simply the current flagship of the Amiga fleet, I decided to dedicate a large portion of this issue to a comprehensive, multi-part review. Also, as new Amigas may not be that far away, and Amigas as we know them may change drastically (while on the other hand they may very well remain largely the same without constraint on their future capability), this could prove a pivotal time for users of current Amiga technology. I have been using the A4000T for a few months now, and I have a great deal to say on a variety of topics. Therefore, I'm breaking it down into parts, all accessible from the Table of Contents, somewhat of a departure from our usual format.

Without "giving away the whole story," I will conclude this introduction by saying that having the A4000T has been an overwhelmingly positive experience so far, all things considered, and that I feel very confident in my purchase, and also in not only its use, but expandability, in the future, for, who knows, maybe a decade to come.

But there are many details to examine, along with plenty of high and low points which I will explore in the remainder of this feature review.

Oh, and not to imply that I have abandoned my faithful digital companion of many years; the A500 system is still in regular service, and I may one day network the Amigas and PC together (although I couldn't find a 10Base-T Ethernet device for the A500, various peer-to-peer networking solutions are known to exist). Once again, if the name on the case and the topaz font weren't enough for you, you can tell it's not an IBM PC, because here is an essentially 13-year-old (based on and expanded from A1000-like technology) computer system that is still useful for running modern software, even when it has been superceded for primary use by a brand new machine.