Commodore Amiga 500
The Amiga 500 was the first Amiga computer to be targeted at the home computing market. During the four years it was manufactured, it became the biggest-selling Amiga of all time and played a pivotal role in establishing the platform as a recognisable brand.
The A500 was launched in October 1987, a few months after the Amiga 2000, as part of a second wave of Amiga hardware. The machine formed a key component of Commodore's new strategy to develop the Amiga platform into a system that could be targeted at different markets. Whereas the A2000 was aimed at the high-end professional market, the A500 was designed for home use. The different emphasis can be seen by simply looking at the case - the A1000's desktop is abandoned in favour of an all-in-one case design, similar to the Commodore 64 and 128. In doing so, it established a clear upgrade path for existing Commodore 8-bit users and others who were considering purchase of an Atari ST 520.
The machine was not an overnight success; the Commodore 64 and Atari ST 520 had established a foothold in the market and were cheaper to buy. In a 1993 Amiga Format article, it was reported that 40,000 machines were sold by Commodore UK in the first 8 months - a respectable number, but not exactly a huge success. However, through a combination of aggressive price cuts and regional efforts to tailor software bundles, it slowly began to dominate the home computer market. Commodore UK report 160,000 unit sales for the 12 months between July 1988 and June 1989, 200,000 in July 1989 - June 1990, reaching a peak of 250,000 sales for July 1990 - June 1991. Its reputation as a games machine certainly helped to sell it to a younger audience, but it was the home computer aspect that appealed to parents. It was a games machine that you could use to do your homework!
In the final months of its manufacture, the A500 was voted "Home Computer of the Year" for 1991 by a selection of Greek and Italian publications.
The A500 was sold with the following specifications:
- Processor: Motorola 68000 at 7.15909 MHz (NTSC) or 7.09379 MHz (PAL)
- Amiga Chipset: OCS (1.2 & 1.3 models) or ECS (1.3 and 500+ 2.04 models)
- ROM: 256 KB
- Memory: 512 kB of Chip RAM
- Storage: An internal 3.5-inch double-sided disk drive
- Expansion: a 16-bit Zorro II bus expansion; a "trapdoor" expansion slot
- Official support for AmigaOS 1.2, 1.3 (A2000-A & C), AmigaOS 2.04 (A2000-C)
- Later versions of the Amiga OS can be used through a Kickstart ROM adaptor or software hack (Relokick)
Development and launch
Development of the low-end Amiga was assigned to a team led by George Robbins at Commodore US in 1986. Codenamed "Rock Lobster" (a reference to the B52 song) by the team, it was intended to be a "Cost Reduced" version of the Amiga 1000 that would be less expensive to manufacture and could fit into a C64 single unit case. Expansion was considered a low priority, due to the limited space available and potential costs. However, the team were able to provide limited expansion. The A1000's expansion port was added to the left of the motherboard and a "trapdoor" expansion on the machine's underside. In addition, the A500's CPU and Amiga custom chips were placed in sockets, rather than directly soldered to the machine, enabling replacements to be made (to repair defects or add the later ECS custom chips). The latter was unexpected, given the machine's status as a low-cost machine, but made it easier for users to upgrade their OCS Amiga to run ECS software.
As a side-note, the A500 is sometimes described as a low-cost version of the A2000. However, to some extent, the A2000 should be described as a scaled-up A500. When Dave Haynie was working on the A2000-B, he took advantage of much of the work performed by the Robbin team and grafted it into the A2000-B design.
Commodore announced the A500 at the winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 1987, demonstrating a working system in March at acomputer trade show in Hanover, West Germany. In an interview, Thomas Rattigan, Commodore International's President and Chief Executive Office, described the machine:
"The 500 will be sort of like the Commodore 64 was… It gives Commodore the opportunity to haul the big tonnage and profit."
(Source: March 3rd 1987)
The Amiga 500 was planned to ship in June/July 1987, but various delays meant that it only began to appear in October. The delay only helped to build demand for the machine, leading to a number of magazine excitedly promoting the latest rumours. At launch, it cost £499 in the UK and $699 USD in the US.
Commodore International stated the Amiga 500 was their most successful machine, but never published worldwide sales figures. Figures released by Commodore Frankfurt's marketing department indicate that 1,081,000 A500s were bought in Germany up to December 31st, 1993. Commodore UK sales figures, published in Amiga Format magazine, indicate that approximately 650,000 machines were purchased between July 1987- June 1992 (Source: Amiga History Guide).
End of the Road
The Amiga 500 was discontinued in mid-1991 when production lines were switched to the ECS-based Amiga 500+.
Should you buy one?
It runs most early Amiga games published up to 1990.
- The machine requires an A520 modulator to connect to the TV, which requires extra space at the back of the machine.
- The small amount of memory is limiting - try to get a 1MB or 2 MB Chip RAM upgrade.
- It's difficult to purchase an original hard disk nowadays. New hardware allows the use of solid state devices, however.
To promote the A500, Commodore introduced American viewers to Stevie Palmer, a disturbed individual who uses his Amiga in a series of low-budget adventures. It was 'hilarious'.
Best New Rock Performer: Stevie breaks into his neighbour's house to connect a TV cable and films a fake TV award ceremony in an attempt to get a date.
Computer for the Creative mind: Buzz Aldrin, Tommy Lasorda and the Pointer Sisters are brainwashed to believe Stevie can help them
Big Book of Amiga Hardware: Amiga 500
Old Computers: Amiga 500
Obsolete Computing Museum: Commodore Amiga 500
Retro Computing: Amiga 500 teardown
A500 Case- Front (43.6k) |
A500 Case- Top (35.1k) | Amiga 500 Motherboard (37k) | A500 Computer of the Year (73K)
A500 Addendum- Page 1 (78.1k) |
A500 Addendum- Page 2 (85.1k)
Amiga 500 logo (16k)
Amiga 500 Technical
The Amiga Chronology
Last Update: 28/08/2016