More of everything. (expanding Amiga computers)
by Mark R. Brown
When you unpack an Amiga--or any personal computer, for that matter--the first thing you find out is that you need more. More RAM. More storage. More display resolution. More speed. More of just about everything. Oh, you can get by if you have to, of course. It's just that life would be so much easier if you just had a little bit more--of everything. Which brings up this knotty problem: What do you buy first?
Memory. Everyone who's played with an Amiga for very long knows that, right out of the box, it lets you do lots of incredible things that would take many bucks and lots of expansion on any other platform. The custom chip set gives you great stereo sound and superfast animation on even the least expensive Amiga. The Amiga operating system gives you speedy multitasking and a quick windowing environment with as little as 256K of RAM. These features all require faster processors, more storage, and more RAM on other computer systems. Almost nobody runs Windows on a PC without at least a 386SX, 2MB of RAM, and a 30MB hard drive, and even then it's painful to watch.
But multitasking, windows, graphics, and animation all take up system resources, even on the Amiga. This means that the most useful thing you can get for your Amiga is more RAM. If you own an Amiga 500 with 5 12K, upgrade immediately to 1MB. There are some great programs out there that won't even run in 5 12K. Better yet, upgrade to 3MB. That's rapidly becoming the standard amount of memory for anyone who does more than just play games. It's plenty of RAM to multitask several very demanding programs, and it will let you create big animations. With 3MB, you can even allocate 880K as a recoverable RAM disk, which you can use for copying floppies or even booting your machine! If you're running more demanding programs--ASDG's Art Department Professional, for example--buy even more RAM. Sometimes even 9MB is not enough, but to expand beyond that, you'll need an accelerator.
Hard Driving. A hard drive is the second most useful add-on you can buy for your Amiga. Graphics and sound make for lots of big files, and floppies rapidly prove inadequate to the task. Most Amiga users buy a second floppy drive when they purchase their Amiga, and that's a good idea. But you need more. Lots more. It used to be that a 20MB hard drive was considered big. Now, I wouldn't even think of buying one; 40MB is the minimum you need, 50MB is better, and 100MB+ is best. If you're going to be doing lots of video work, ray tracing, or animation, it might even be advisable to invest in a removable media drive, like a Syquest. Think ahead, and make sure that what you get is big enough for your needs.
You can kill two birds with one big rock by buying a SCSI controller card with space on the board for additional system RAM. This saves space and money. If you know you want both, wait a little longer and get them in one shot. It'll cost less in the long run.
Speed Violations. An accelerator with a math coprocessor is nice to have, but is it essential? Not if you're just playing games, word processing, or chatting online. But almost anything else will get a real boost from an accelerator. Don't even try ray tracing without an accelerator; you might as well wait for Godot while you're at it. Accelerators are also good for image processing, spreadsheet calculations, database management--any activity that processes a lot of information. But shopping for an accelerator is a difficult and costly procedure, so read up on the subject before you go for your checkbook.
Resolutions. Some people like lots of graphics resolution, but you should remember that bigger screens are slower and can become unwieldy. Still, if hi res is your bag, you'll want to invest eventually in a deinterlacer and a multiscan monitor. For desktop publishers, this investment is almost a necessity. But if you're into video, forget it. You need interlaced and lower-resolution screens to remain compatible with broadcast TV, so don't waste your money.
SuperAgnus. If you're doing heavy-duty graphics work or animation, you'll definitely want to get a 1MB Agnus chip, also known as the SuperAgnus. This replacement chip allows you to access a full megabyte of Chip RAM, memory that's important for graphics work. It's almost a necessity if you do much work in hi-res modes.
If you own a late-model A500, you may already have a SuperAgnus chip and not know it. For the last year or more, A500s have shipped with the SuperAgnus chip installed but disabled. Check with your dealer or other Amiga users for the modifications needed to enable it.
Workbench 2. Productive Amigans will definitely want to invest in Workbench 2, and the sooner, the better. Many programs are now available which take advantage of special features available only in Workbench 2. At under $100 it's a good deal.