The Amiga computer was a legend in its time. Back when the Macintosh had only a monochrome 9-inch screen, and the PC managed just four colors and monotone beeps, the Amiga boasted a 32-bit graphical operating system in full color with stereo-sampled sound and preemptive multitasking. It was like a machine from the future. But the Amiga’s parent company, Commodore, suffered from terminal mismanagement and folded in 1994, just as PCs and Macintoshes were catching up technologically. The platform, like many others before it, seemed to be at an end.
So when a brand new Amiga computer arrived at my doorstep in 2017, you can imagine it was quite a surprise. Accordingly, the Amiga X5000 is a curious beast. In some respects, it’s more closely related to its predecessors than either modern PCs or Macintoshes. Yet this is a fully current machine capable of taking on modern workloads. How such a device came to be is a fascinating story, but that’s not our goal today—let’s dive into what the experience of using the X5000 is like.
The X5000 was developed by A-EON, a company formed by Trevor Dickinson in 2009 to develop new PowerPC-based Amiga computers. It is powered by a custom PowerPC motherboard, supporting a dual-core Freescale CPU at various clock speeds up to 2.5GHz. The Amiga has a long history of PowerPC support, starting with add-on accelerator cards released in 1997 using the old Motorola 603 and 604 chips. And since the release of Amiga OS 4.0 in 2007, the operating system itself was recompiled to be PowerPC-native, and many Amiga applications have been rewritten to support this architecture.
The motherboard features a PCI-Express video card slot, up to 64GB RAM, dual gigabit Ethernet ports, built-in sound, and a very curious custom chip. The “Xena” is an XMOS 16-core programmable 32-bit 500 MHz coprocessor that can be configured by software to act as any type of custom chip imaginable. It is connected to a special “Xorro” slot that has the same physical connection as a PCIe x8 expansion card, but it is dedicated to adding more Xena chips as desired. On the back of the motherboard are six USB ports, two Ethernet jacks, and a serial port for debugging. The system was equipped with an ATI Radeon R9 270X video card, a PCI Ethernet card (the drivers for the on-board dual Ethernet are still being finalized), and a sound card.
The motherboard came enclosed in an attractive black tower case, with a power and reset button and two USB ports on the top for easy access. The model I received was a pre-production version, so it did not have a silkscreened Amiga Boing Ball logo on the outside, but I was assured by Aaron Smith of the independent reseller Amiga On The Lake that the final versions would be properly adorned. It did come with a USB mouse that proudly sports the iconic Boing Ball. A keyboard, with the Windows key replaced with a more historically accurate Amiga “A” symbol, is also in development.
Specs at a glance: A-EON Amiga X5000OSAmigaOS 4.1CPUDual-core Freescale CPU up to 2.5GHzRAMUp to 64GB RAMHDDKingston 2.5-inch, 250GB SSD drivePorts6 USB ports, 2 Ethernet jacks, serial port for debuggingStarting price$1,598Price as reviewed$1,840Other perksATI Radeon R9 270X video card, DVD-Rom drive, full-screen Neuromancer
The X5000 is very quiet in operation. The CPU has only a small fan that runs at a low speed, and the video card’s fans rarely spin up. There are two SATA ports on the motherboard: one is connected to a DVD-ROM drive and the other to a Kingston 2.5-inch, 250GB SSD drive.
Overall, the hardware is a mix between custom Amiga parts and standard PC hardware, but the marriage is a happy one. Gone are the days when Commodore would design its own unique cases for each Amiga, but the ability to use off-the-shelf PC cases and components is a worthwhile tradeoff.
The AmigaOne X5000 can be purchased as a bare motherboard for $1,598 or as a completely assembled system. The system I received for review has a suggested retail price of $1,840.
When you first boot up the X5000, you see an attractive image of the red-and-white Boing Ball logo with the words “AmigaOne X5000.” After the motherboard has finished its power-on checks, the Boing Ball starts a spinning animation. At this point you can hit the Enter key to get to the boot menu.
The X5000 uses U-Boot as its BIOS. Unlike previous AmigaOnes, there is now a friendly boot menu that lets you select an operating system (the menu offered choices for AmigaOS, MorphOS, and Linux, but only AmigaOS was installed on my SSD), show system information, or enter the U-Boot command line.
Booting to AmigaOS 4.1 takes only a few seconds. Unlike with Windows, as soon as you can see the desktop everything is ready to go. If you have speakers hooked up, the OS will welcome you with a pleasant chime.
The operating system
The Amiga operating system has a long and interesting history. Unlike its contemporaries in the 1980s—the character-mode, single-tasking 640k-limited DOS and the monochromatic MacOS—it was already a fully 32-bit, pre-emptive multitasking operating system at its inception. As such, it had fewer technological leaps necessary to bring it up to date.
AmigaOS 4.0 and 4.1 were developed by Hyperion Entertainment, who were originally contracted by Amiga Incorporated to take the OS 3.1 source code (the last version released by Commodore International) and update it for PowerPC-based systems. Hyperion has gone above and beyond this original remit, adding many new features to the operating system.
The biggest improvement was adding memory protection, which was done in version 4.0. This new version of 4.1 (it could easily have been called 4.2, but instead is called “AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition”) adds a bunch of features, including a new “NG” file system that supports drives over 2TB, a new unified “Retargetable graphics” (RTG) display system that now completely replaces the old Picasso96 libraries, support for memory beyond 2GB, a new installer, various improvements to the Workbench graphical user interface, and even small quality-of-life improvements such as a tabbed interface for the command shell.
Operating AmigaOS 4.1 will be instantly familiar to veteran Amiga users but may be initially confusing to those coming from Windows, MacOS, or Linux platforms. In the upper-left corner of each window is a close box, but in the upper right are three icons: the first is “Iconify,” which reduces the current window to an icon on the desktop (the application, of course, continues to run in the background), the second will toggle between the last two user-selected window sizes, and the last one is a toggle that moves the window to either the front or the back of the stack, like layers in Photoshop.
Some applications that use the “MagicWorkbench” GUI development library add additional options in a pulldown menu where the “Iconify” button would normally be.
In addition to manipulating these windows on the main Workbench screen, most Amiga applications can be run full-screen at any resolution you choose, much like games allow under Windows. You can toggle between these screens by pressing the Amiga key plus “M,” but you can also use the right mouse button to pull down any screen vertically to see what is happening on the screen behind it. The classic Amiga achieved this by using clever tricks with the custom hardware—modern Amigas can simply use fast video cards to do the same thing. One small thing has been lost, however: the classic Amiga could display screens of different resolution and color depth on top of each other, but no modern video card has this ability.
The operating system comes with a bunch of bundled software, including music and video players, disk partitioning and formatting software, a PDF reader, a screenshot tool, and a default Web browser (just as on Windows, the primary use of this Web browser is to download other Web browsers). The OS is extremely configurable: many aspects of the GUI can be altered, including setting custom image backgrounds for each folder. File management is similar to Classic MacOS in that each folder appears as a separate window by default, and the operating system can remember window placement and icon display type. AmigaOS has always supported variable-sized icons, and each icon can have a separate image for its unselected and selected states.
Listing image by Jeremy Reimer
More Info: arstechnica.com