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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
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Commodore Chicken LipsCommodore International

Commodore were the second Amiga owners, buying the Amiga from the ailing Amiga Inc. in 1984. This was the company that made the Amiga what it is today. Although many Amiga users disliked Commodore because of their questionable business sense and the sale of the Amiga as a game machine it was a time of unparalleled success that made the Amiga one of the most popular computers in the world. This article examines what Commodore were planning to release just before they went bust during 1994.

It is hard to imagine what the Amiga would be now if Commodore had released any of the systems that were in development. The last of the Amiga custom chipsets, AGA was only intended as a stop gap solution to move developers away from software that "banged the metal" and onto more OS friendly routines. Until 1993 the AAA chipset was on the cards for launch as the next generation, but was then cancelled in favour of the Hombre project. The reason given for this sudden change of plan was it did not provide a significant advancement in technology to compete. The Hombre chipset, developed by  Ed Hepler, was based upon a PA-RISC processor and used Dave Haynie's Acutiator system architecture. The design used two chips- the PA-RISC core, blitter, copper, etc. was part of a "system control" chip, roughly analogous to Agnus/Alice/Andrea. The other was the actual video display chip, similar to Denise/Lisa/Monica.

At first the chipset would be used in a low-end system. There were plans for the first project to be a CD32 replacement game machine with no software compatibility with previous Amigas. This would have taken 18 months to develop (it would have been released sometime during 1995/6). At the time there was no intention of porting the AmigaOS or using HP Unix on the machine. Whilst the engineering team were in favour of such a move it was always presumed that AAA would see the light of day and would run AmigaOS. Commodore were also feeling pressure around them, so there was no money to do this. The Hombre chipset may also have been used later as a graphics card in high-end Amigas.

Along with the development of the Hombre chipset there were plans to improve the AGA technology and upgrade low-end Amigas such as the A1200 and CD32. There is very little information about the fabled AA+  chipset, only that it would have "tidied up some bugs in AGA" and may have some kind of fast Chunky pixel mode for improved 3D graphics. A new Amiga using the 68030 processor and likely to have AA+ as standard was promised at the World of Commodore '93. As part of their plans to upgrade the current Amiga line, Commodore were planning to introduce A1200 and A4000 CD-ROM drives. The A1200 model was demonstrated but never released, the A4000 version was even further behind schedule. According to unconfirmed reports at the time, the A4000 CD-ROM sported MPEG on a Zorro III card, as well as Akiko. It was also planned to work on the A3000, although some games probably won't work since they require AGA.

Commodore stated at the World of Commodore show 1993, the next Amiga would also feature an upgraded sound chip, possibly DSP that was capable of better than CD quality sound. This would add support for voice recognition (they were having problems with multi-lingual support), support for up to 16MB of memory and finally, allowing the user to define if it was chip or fast ram. The memory capacity may not sound much nowadays but remember that in 1993 4MB was considered more than anyone would ever need. ReTargetable Graphics were also promised with the next Workbench release (4.0). All of this was to be released late 1994.

Conclusion

Was Commodore's death the Amigas loss? Many people are glad that Commodore were out of the picture at last. However, the timing of the liquidation was unfortunate, if the Hombre had been released it would have radically altered the Amiga market. It looked as if Commodore were finally breaking away from the past and would actually create an Amiga for the 1990's rather than remain on the 1985 design. There were also plans to rewrite the OS from scratch, an effort that would have made AmigaOS much faster and portable to other processors. According to former Commodore employees, the company may have been on the virge of abandoning the entire US market and move to Europe where they were more successful. This may have been a wise decision to cut operating costs (Commodore UK and Germany were better organised and had people working for them that understood the computer). However, in the long run it may have led to the Amigas demise in the US, which would have shrunk its market to the size of the current Acorn niche.

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