Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeSMzMCXtOg
An Atari ST Guy’s First Experiences With The Amiga - Recap, Sunbright, Workbench & Games!
As an Atari ST guy, I’ve never actually used an Amiga before… Yup, you heard me right!
So join me as I explore the Amiga 600 “The Wild, Weird & The Wicked” pack from 1992, do some repairs, and then see what the Amiga was all about!
A version of this video was streamed as part of Amigathon 2021, an annual charity event supporting
Children’s Miracle Network, a network of 170 non-profit hospitals supporting seriously ill children across the US and Canada: https://childrensmiraclenetworkhospitals.org
Hey everyone, Rees here and welcome to a rather different episode of ctrl-alt-rees. Now many of you will know me as a lover and collector of all things Atari, something that mostly stems from me growing up with the Atari STE. So I was a little bit surprised - but honoured nonetheless - when Boat from Amigos Retro Gaming reached out and asked me if I wanted to get involved in a day of festivities celebrating my beloved machine’s arch rival - the Amiga.
So welcome to my Amigathon 2021 video!
Now, when I was a kid, one of my best friends had an Amiga, I and a couple of others had the ST, and a few others in my circle of friends had various consoles and even an older Amstrad CPC. But one thing I don’t remember is this big rivalry that often seems to rear its ugly head when talking about this system, and to be honest, my overwhelming memory is a bunch of kids going around each others’ houses, playing games after school and having a good time, and it’s with that attitude that I’m going to approach this project.
In fact, between you and me, ever since this lovely Amiga 600 Wild, Weird and Wicked pack was very kindly donated to me by a friend a couple of years ago, I’ve been itching for an excuse to get my hands on it. And as I’ve covered the PC, the Archimedes, the Oric Atmos and even the Dragon32 on my channel - to name but a few - I don’t think an Amiga is all that far out of my comfort zone.
So lets have a look at what we get in the box.
This The Wild, The Weird and The Wicked pack was released in 1992 for £349, which adjusted for inflation, would be around £740 today - or pretty much bang on $1000. So I’m expecting great things.
So the first thing we have in here is actually a SCART cable, which is something I bought back when I first got this thing. It’s from Retro Computer Shack here in the UK, and I have their cables for pretty much all of my systems. The Amiga’s video output uses a proprietary DB23 connector with some nice touches, like support for both digital TTL and analog RGB, separate horizontal and vertical sync signals, external video clock and even a genlock overlay, which made the Amiga a popular machine for video production back in its day.
This cable uses a modified DB25 connector with the end cut off, but I should mention that nowadays there are brand new DB23s available thanks to the efforts of Jeff from the YouTube channel Hey Birt!, who has started having them manufactured to Commodore’s original spec again as of last year.
Next up I have a capacitor kit from Amiga Kit, and that’s the main thing that I want to address in this video. The Amiga 600 uses a lot of surface mount electrolytic capacitors, and as these age, the liquid electrolyte leaks out. Not only does this alter their electrical characteristics, leading to faults, but it’s also corrosive and can damage other components and even destroy the copper traces on the motherboard. So if you have one of these sat around in storage, get those caps out before they do any major damage!
Here’s the RF cable for connection to a TV, which I won’t be needing as it’s pretty much obsolete now.
This is just an Ocean Software game catalogue, it looks like this potentially came with a game which was pretty common back in the day.
Deluxe Paint 3, a very impressive art package for the Amiga which came bundled with this pack. I’ll be taking a closer look at this later on in the video.
The Workbench manual. Workbench is the operating system and graphical user interface that runs on the Amiga machines, of course. As someone who’s never even used Workbench, this should come in handy later on, although I’m sure it’s pretty intuitive. The manual certainly seems well put together at least.
A mouse, obviously not an original Commodore one. The Amiga and Atari ST both used their own respective quadrature mouse protocols, and they weren’t physically compatible with each other or indeed with the PC’s serial mouse despite using the same connector, so this is handy to have.
The Amiga’s external power supply - I know from previous testing that this one works fine so that’s what I’ll be using. Of course having this as an external unit helped to keep the size and weight of the computer itself down, as well as moving a source of heat away from sensitive components.
And speaking of that computer, here it is, the Amiga 600. The 600 was released in 1992, 5 years after the original 500, and added some pretty nifty features to Commodore’s lower end offering, like support for internal 2.5” hard drives, a PCMCIA slot, and an internal RF modulator. On the graphics side, the composite video output is now in colour unlike the original 500’s black and white, and there are some new higher resolution graphics modes, what with it being built around Commodore’s Amiga Enhanced Chipset from the earlier 500+ and 3000 models.
It’s a really nice compact machine, although that does come at the price of the numeric keypad, which has been removed. That said, despite all the fun gadgets I gather it wasn’t a popular machine at the time due to its high price and the fact that the new chipset broke compatibility with some games.
Anyway, here are two more of the games included in this pack. There’s Pushover, an awesome puzzle game that I’ve played a lot over the years, but never the Amiga version, so that’ll be fun to check out, and Putty, which I have to admit I haven’t even heard of.
There’s also a box with a couple of blank disks in it, nothing too exciting there, and of course the mandatory disk box full of disks with hand written labels.
Just flicking through we have Sensible World of Soccer… more Sensible World of Soccer… World Cup Year 94, some kind of Manchester United game. I’m sensing a theme here.
Oh, and Microprose Grand Prix, which is the other game from the pack. More football, the Workbench disks which is good to see as I’m not really sure I have the kit to write Amiga disks, unlike the ST which uses a PC compatible FAT filesystem, the Amiga has its own filesystem which can’t easily be written on a PC.
Oh, and more football, of course!
Or should that be soccer?
Anyway, the last time I tested this machine there was a fault with the video output, which is why it went back into the box and into storage.
The composite video output on this machine is broken. It’s definitely doing something, but it seems like the sync signal just isn’t there, or isn’t quite right. Thankfully, the RGB signal is coming through nice and sharp and clear thanks to that new SCART cable, and it loads and runs games just fine, so I’m hoping there isn’t any major internal damage from those leaking caps.
So without further ado, lets take this thing apart and see what we can see inside.
So, as with most of these old computers, getting into it is just a case of removing all of the screws and lifting off the top cover. The 600 has some fragile clips along the back edge and by the floppy drive, so be careful not to break those.
It turns out that, despite Commodore designing these to have a top RF shield, they actually didn’t bother fitting them in most cases, at least in the European market. So that saves a job.
I have a trick up my sleeve for these little nuts either side of the ports - an old tyre spanner from a radio controlled car is exactly the right size and makes short work of them.
The keyboard clips into the top case, so removing that is just a case of applying light pressure to the clips and gently wriggling it free.
Then just a blast of compressed air and a dust over with a paintbrush, and that’s pretty much all of the dust removed from the motherboard and keyboard. I’ll also give the keyboard a once over with some decorators wipes to take any old dirt and grease off.
Now, this keyboard has some very obvious and uneven yellowing - as you can see, the “9” and “K” keys are darker than the others, and we’re currently enjoying a heatwave here, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to try some of this sunbrighting I keep hearing about.
Unlike retrobrighting, which involves using peroxide to whiten those yellowed parts, sunbrighting is just a case of leaving them in the sun for a few hours. I have to admit I’ve been sceptical about this process in the past so it’ll be interesting to finally try this for myself. We’ll check back at the end of the day.
Here are some of the tools I’ll be using for the recap - a hot air gun, a desoldering station and a bog standard soldering iron. An ideal choice of activity for the hottest day of the year so far. The cap kit includes all of the surface mount and through hole electrolytic capacitors and a handy list of what goes where.
Now this isn’t a tutorial, in fact it was my very first time doing this particular job and my very first time soldering surface mount components. And this is the point where I have to thank my friend Chris - AKA Pillock - from Pure Amiga, who not only refurbishes all things Amiga professionally but was also incredibly helpful with general advice on this video as well as fact checking some of the script for me. So thanks!
The process that I used for the surface mount capacitors basically involved liberally applying flux and then blowing hot air at the caps with the heat gun while applying very light upward pressure with some tweezers until they let go. I don’t own any proper antistatic tweezers so these hot pink eyebrow tweezers will have to do.
These caps are soldered to tiny copper pads, and if they’ve leaked at all - as some of these had - those pads might not be firmly attached to the motherboard anymore, and we don’t want to rip them off.
In areas where there were sensitive components or plastic connectors that could have been melted with the heat gun, I covered them with some kitchen foil to help deflect and dissipate the heat.
Through hole caps I’ve done plenty of times before, and the desoldering gun makes short work of those as always.
There are two audio capacitors at the back of the board that are nestled between the audio output jacks and the keyboard connector. It’s very difficult to change them without inadvertently melting one or all of these, so I opted to remove the audio jacks. These are soldered to a large groundplane which will wick away the heat, so the heatgun comes in handy here to get the old solder up to temperature - not to mention the usual tricks of applying some new solder and plenty of flux.
Then it’s a case of using some more kitchen foil to protect the keyboard connector while quickly heatguning those audio caps.
If the leakage was bad, it would now be a case of neutralising any of that fishy smelling electrolyte with vinegar, but as it was 1000 degrees in here by this point and I didn’t want the whole house to end up smelling like a chip shop, I opted to just give everything a thorough cleaning with IPA instead.
Re-soldering the through hole caps is the same process as usual, and while there are a few ways to tackle the SMD components, I decided my best bet was once again lots of flux, and then a soldering iron. The first few weren’t very tidy, but I quickly got into the flow of things and had the rest refitted in short order.
Finally, just before giving the newly repaired Amiga 600 a test run, I’ll blast as much dust as I can out of the floppy drive and top case with the air compressor and give them a wipe down.
So with all 19 capacitors replaced, let’s fire this up for a quick test!
Pushover loads fine, the sound sounds great, the floppy drive and joystick input are all working great so I’d call that a success! Hopefully that means this machine will live for at least another 30 years.
I removed the RF modulator to get easier access to some of the caps, so I’ll refit that just for originality, although it’ll probably never get used again anyway.
Then its just a case of refitting the bottom RF shield and putting everything back as it was.
The keyboard has been outside in the bright sunlight for around 10 hours now, so let’s take a look at that too - and wow! I think it’s come up really nicely. Not the drastic difference I would have had with retrobright, but it seems a shade lighter and those darker keys have definitely evened out. It also hasn’t damaged the print on the keys, which is always a risk with peroxide.
So with the recap a success and everything else ready to go, it’s finally time to put this 600 back together and see what it’s all about!
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the video, and something that might come as a bit of a shock to the Amiga crowd - I’ve never actually used Workbench. I’ve seen screenshots of it but that’s it! Apparently this thing comes with Workbench 2.00, so let’s see what it’s all about!
So the first thing that strikes me is that unlike the ST - where the whole OS and GUI runs from ROM, this has an element that boots from disk. I’m told that the underlying OS does indeed still live in ROM, but you need the disk to boot into the desktop environment.
It makes me wonder why Atari didn’t do something similar and give us a more enhanced experience on a floppy - there’s no technical reason the ST couldn’t have run something like this. But anyway.
The colour scheme could perhaps use some improvement… Oh yes, much better.
There’s a built in speech synthesizer which is hours of fun. You know full well that as a kid I would’ve spent more time making this say rude words than doing my homework - or maybe even playing games.
Overall I have to say that Workbench is nice! It’s very modern and intuitive and seems to have plenty of useful built-in functionality.
And on the subject of games, I thought I’d check out some of the games that I got with this machine - and where else to start than with one of my all time favourites - Pushover.
Pushover is a puzzle platforming game that was tied in with the Colin Curly advertising campaign for Quavers back in the early 90s. Not heard of Quavers? Well, they’re your typical deep fried potato starch snack, covered in loads of lovely dusty cheesy flavouring.
Just make sure you wash your hands before you pick up the joystick, alright?
Anyway, your job is to rescue Colin’s lost quavers by… Well, pushing dominoes over. The dominoes have different special abilities depending on the markings on them. That’s pretty much all there is to it - but it does get very tricky in the later levels.
I’ve never played the ST version of this - I discovered it a bit later on when we’d already moved on to a PC at home. But it seems like a very faithful conversion of the DOS version that I know and love.
The second of the Wild, Weird and Wicked pack-in games was Putty.
Now this is one I hadn’t come across as it’s basically an Amiga and SNES exclusive, two systems I never owned. But apparently it’s considered a classic - and I can see why.
Manoeuvre around the platforms by stretching, bending and bouncing your little putty dude in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. Absorb your enemies by squishing yourself into a blob on the floor. It’s a lot of fun and one that I’ll definitely be revisiting in future.
The next game I want to check out is one that I know very well - Microprose Formula One Grand Prix. Or is it Geoff Crammond’s Formula One Grand Prix?
Anyway, a game perhaps known as much for its epic animated intro - complete with Fleetwood Mac knockoff title music - as it is for it’s gameplay and 3D rendered graphics, F1 Grand Prix was revolutionary in its day.
Sadly, it seems the second disk is corrupted, so I can’t get past the intro. Fair enough, these floppies are 30 years old after all, I’ll have to see if giving them a clean helps.
Anyway, as I couldn’t get into the game, here’s some emulated footage in case you’re not familiar with it.
I always wondered how big this game would’ve been if it were not for that intro - perhaps the whole thing would’ve fit on one floppy.
The next game… isn’t a game at all. It’s Deluxe Paint III!
Deluxe Paint III is a very nice art package with some great features, including support for multiple resolutions (my capture device didn’t like the highest one very much), animation and… er… alien appendages.
It was so easy to use that I thought I’d knock up a quick picture of Tutankhamun for you to enjoy, followed by a space scene and a lovely waterfall.
Alright, fine, I didn’t actually draw those. But I did draw this!
One thing I wanted to add was how easy I found it to navigate Deluxe Paint’s menus and the file browser, which I presume is part of Workbench. It’s all very modern and very logical.
And finally, I thought it was only fair to use this machine just as its original owner intended - to play football.
No! Not like that. I’m talking about Sensible World of Soccer 95/96 Euro Championship Edition. I think that’s what it’s called anyway.
The game starts off in true Amiga fashion with a banging intro tune and lots of cool samples. Nice!
Of course, SWOS itself I’m already familiar with - the classic top down ball kicking extravaganza that we all know and love, and it shows off the hardware scrolling capabilities of the Amiga nicely.
And so my time with the Amiga 600 comes to a close - at least for now. I had to put this video together pretty quickly and ended up spending the bulk of my time on the capacitor replacement, so I’ll definitely be spending some more time getting to know this machine.
I have to say my first impressions of the Amiga as a whole have been very good - but good enough to trade in my ST?
Well… What I will say is this. I like to judge everything on its own merits on my channel, and when it comes to nostalgia, I don’t think there’s much to be gained by comparing your own childhood experience to anyone else’s.
That said, personally I think the Atari is the best machine.
For me. Just like the Commodore 64, or Archimedes, or PC, or Amstrad, or Oric, or Spectrum, or even the Amiga - is the best machine for you. Because at least in my case, it’s all about the nostalgia. But keep an open mind, and check out all the other stuff that’s out there because you never know, you might be missing out on something fun.
So big thanks once again to my friend Ryan for his very kind donation of his childhood Amiga - once I’ve had a bit more of a play with it I’ll see if he wants it back for his kids to enjoy.
Also thanks to the Amigos for hosting me - they always give up their time to put on a great event every year and raise lots of money for charity and it’s been an honour to be asked to be a part of it.
So I hope you enjoy the rest of Amigathon, don’t forget to donate, thank you very much for joining me and I’ll hopefully see you again soon.
Pure Amiga: https://www.pureamiga.co.uk
Amigos Retro Gaming: https://www.youtube.com/c/amigosretrogaming
Amiga Kit (Capacitor Kit): http://amigakit.amiga.store/a600-capacitor-pack-professional-recapping-p-12643.html?currency=GBP
Retro Computer Shack (SCART Cable): https://www.retrocomputershack.com/
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