Amiga Lorraine: finally, the "next generation Atari"? John J. Anderson.
As the 1984 Winter CES drew to a close, people began to ask me, "Well, what was the hit of the show?"
Hard to say. Overall, the show was short on blockbusters, at least in the realm of microcomputers. Commodore introducedd its new machine, the 264 (see the related sidebar and "Commodore's Port" for more information on this development). Atari and Apple were playing their cards close to the vest, and had little to report this time around. New software was in abundance, but with the possible exception of Relax from Synapse (about which you will read more in an upcoming issue), nothing really knocked me off my feet.
If there was a "hit" of the show for me, it had to be my first glimpse of the supermicro code-named Lorraine by Amiga. There was no hint of the machine anywhere in evidence at the Amiga booth. But, with an invitation to step behind the secret panel, my jaw finally got a change to drop. As far as I'm concerned, the Lorraine demo was reason enough to have made the trip to Las Vegas.
Yes, Amiga. The people who brought you the Joyboard--a foot-controlled joystick. Hard for me to believe too. To hear it from Dave Morse, president of Amiga, the joysticks and peripheral accessory products we have seen from the company up until now have served well to bankroll the Lorraine--the real project front and center on the drawing board.
About six months ago, Dave stopped by the lab to describe Lorraine to us. We were excited, but have heard terrific pitches before. We wished him the very best, posted our own suggestions, and told him to keep in touch.
Well, in the secret room in the center of West Hall, he made good on his promises. What we saw of Lorraine was provided by a landscape of breadboards--PROMs to be in hand by April or May. The software boys, easily identifiable by their well-worn Adidas and gleeful smiles, had spent a little over a week devising demos for Lorraine, further hampered by a diskless I/O system. They still managed in a series of short programs to convey enough of Lorraine's powers to floorr me. Amazing Graphics And Sound
I promised Dave not to say very much about Lorraine. Suffice for now to say it is the most amazing graphics and sound machine that will ever have been offered to the consumer market. Just what kind of technical foundation does Amiga have? Well the VLSI chip set was designed by Jay Minor, the man who designed the super chip set of the original Atari machines.
Although the Lorraine will sport an NTSC output, to get the best of it you will want an RGB monitor. Lorraine is capable of providing multi-color real-time animated images on a par with (and probably superior to) Saturday morning cartoons. Its four-voice, stereo sound output is designed to go directly into your existing sound system, and can pump out sound comparable to a dedicated synthesizer, as well as sound effects and intoned speech.
Lorraine is small, handsome, and has a keyboard much like that of the TI Professional--in a word, delicious. It will incorporate, in addition to a ROM cartridge slot, a high-density 5-1/4" disk drive and will sport 128K of RAM. And it is fast--really fast. That is what makes Lorraine's bit-mapped and sprite animation absolutely the most powerful I have ever seen for a home system.
Although Mr. Morse will not state flat out what processor the Lorraine is based upon, it is fair to guess from the demos that it is no less than a 68000. The Lorraine can support all 16-bit operating systems and will cost less than a fully-configured IBM PCjr. PCjr Compatible?
I have tried to emphasize to Amiga, to the very best of my ability, how important it is that the basic Lorraine system be PCjr compatible. In terms of marketing a hybrid machine, it is of paramount important to be able to say "yes, it runs everything that will run on the jr. And, running software specially designed for it, it does all these incredibly fantastic things, too."
As it stands, IBM-compatibility will require an add-on processor ROM cartridge. If Amiga is smart, they will build that circuitry into the production model Lorraine. Then they will have out-of-the-box compatibility. For, regardless of the fact that the IBM standard is a dedidedly mediocre one, the jr. is bound to become the home standard. I am skittish about computers with "special capabilities," no matter how impressive those capabilities may be. We have watched powerful machines (e.g., the Atari) go by the wayside despite their impressive powers. Amiga, please don't join the sorrowful ranks that have wasted technological superiority through marketing muck-ups.
Amiga is also like Atari in another respect--it must overcome its current reputation before it can be taken seriously. Okay, fellas. Let's put the Joyboard behind us and get credible. The Lorraine just may be the machine that hundreds of thousands of graphics and sound enthusiasts have been waiting for since the introduction of the Atari. With jr-compability and the right marketing, the Amiga Lorraine may turn out to be the big success story of the mid-1980s.
I, for one, would be extremely pleased at such a turn of events. I can see the Creative Computing monthly column now: Starship Amiga, Let's keep our fingers crossed!