This month's Amiga column overflows with tidings of new goodies, software upgrades and price cuts. Paul Austin reveals all.
The release of the long awaited mid-range Amiga has been the event many a serious muso has been longing for since the terrifyingly expensive A4000/040 hit the streets.
Although the A1200 has great potential as a first step, the lack of Zorro slots presents a real flexibility problem which only an ageing 1500 can really provide a cure for. On the other side of the coin is the aforementioned A4000/040, a machine with all the flexibility and speed you could ask for but slapped with a price tag that simply doesn't justify the investment if your exploits are primarily musical.
Enter the new A4000/030, housed in exactly the same box as its bigger brother but boasting an 030 CPU as opposed to an 040. For most musical endeavours the effect of a slower CPU will be negligible, while the expansion slots offered by the desktop design mean that you won't be left out as technology progresses. Apart from the infinitely more attractive price tag and easy expansion, the new machine also boasts a potentially limitless upgrade path — at least as far as the CPU is concerned.
Like the A4000, the existing CPU sits astride a daughter board which, when you decide to upgrade, could be popped out and swapped with an 040 or perhaps even an 060 replacement, when available. However, even with its advantages, this apparent dream machine isn't without its problems, most notable of which is the lack of a monitor as part of the £1,000 asking price.
To add insult to injury there's no FPU provided, which means that heavy number crunching applications such as ray tracing suffer quite badly. On top of that, you only get 2MB of RAM as standard, which isn't much considering the potential of the machine. There is a silver lining, though, in the form of an 80MB harddisk as standard.
After the rumours surrounding the release of a DSP — digital signal processor — within the A4000, and the subsequent disappointment as it failed to appear, I've become very sceptical about the entire subject. However, according to a privileged source, the aforesaid chip is finally ready to rock — a factor which was confirmed by the announcement of an official Commodore press day which, alas, was dropped at the last moment. No official reason was provided, but the current upheaval in the Commodore camp — see below — could well be tossing a spanner or two into the Amiga's musical evolution. As yet it's still unclear how existing machines will be upgraded, but the most likely option will be to add the chip to the existing CPU daughter board, perhaps through a trade-in offer.
BLUE RIBBON BUG FIX: With the profusion of hardware and software releases in recent months, the inevitable barrage of upgrades is well on the way, with perhaps the most notable being an array of add-ons and updates to Bars & Pipes Pro2. Although still in the pipeline, the first update has already arrived, offering an assortment of minor bug fixes. The update will not be sent out automatically, so if you're a user and would like it, contact the new Blue Ribbon technical support on (Contact Details). All upgrades and postage are free of charge. In addition to the bug fix, Blue Ribbon are also releasing a new collection of tools designed directly for Media Madness, as well as additional standard tools for the program's MIDI exploits.
On the harder side of life, rumour has it that SunRize are in the process of developing a cheap and cheerful variation on their rather pricey 16-bit hard disk sampling system. Although nothing is confirmed, the plan seems to revolve around removing some features of the original, such as SMPTE support, and almost certainly the built-in DSP, resulting in a basic but affective product which should retail at around £300.
Things may change dramatically as time passes, but if you're in the market for an affordable system it may be worth contacting Meridian Distribution for more details. As existing users may be aware, HB Marketing — the original suppliers of the SunRize range — are now no more. As a result Meridian ((Contact Details)) and SofTel ((Contact Details)) have taken on distribution of both the 12- and 16-bit samplers and, no doubt, the new cut-down 16-bit system when available.
Although a new player in the hard disk recording market, SofTel are making strenuous efforts to gain a foothold in the market, and according to Blue Ribbon spokesman Andy Bishop, are planning to retail the 16-bit board at around £1000 — thereby undercutting their counterparts at Meridian by roughly £400.
At the other end of the musical spectrum comes yet another upgrade — but this time it's for the most popular music package ever to hit the Amiga. Although now titled OctaMED Professional, at heart it's still good old MED to most of us.
Now in its fifth revision, OctaMED Pro is just shipping in the UK for the rather hefty figure of £30. Although far from extortionate in comparison to other commercial packages, it's still rather pricey for an ex-PD release. However, there is a financial ray of hope for would-be upgraders from v4 in the form of a £23 upgrade offer. It must be stressed that these figures are not hard and fast, as the new release has barely left the sticky mitts of Teijo Kinnunen, the program's creator. As a result, don't be surprised if there's been a pricing change after the magazine has gone to print. If you fancy an upgrade or simply want to try your hand with the Amiga's internal sounds, send an SAE and the appropriate cash to: Amiganuts United, (Contact Details).
Although strenuously denied at a recent Commodore press day, it's now been confirmed that the big 'C' have an ambitious plan to use the next generation of Amiga graphics to springboard the firm into the mass business market. According to the manufacturer's joint general manager David Pleasance, the first product using the technology is due in 12 months and will combine an Amiga and a PC inside a single case. He says the 'A5000' will build on existing technology with graphics ten times more powerful than the AGA chips found in the A1200 and A4000. The firm had already announced that future high-end graphics will include four custom chips, a true colour resolution of 1,000 x 1,000 pixels and multiple blitter support. RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Chip) processing will make the machine five times faster than current models and PC compatibility will come through Windows NT. The new version of this popular front-end software can be run without DOS and be taken onto platforms other than traditional 80x86-based PCs.
Marketing details are yet to be fixed, but according to David, its price will be competitive with Pentium (586) PCs and it will target the mass business market. He added that the machine will be all things to all men and, unlike many development projects he has seen before, this one looks certain for release. Asked whether the machine would include a DSP and SCSI-II, David said: "It's unlikely that we will leave out any spec that is currently available. We would never go backwards"
Thanks to a dramatic third quarter loss of more than $177.6 million, Commodore have embarked on a massive restructuring plan aimed at slashing the company's overheads. The latest loss includes a $65 million write-down on inventory and a provision of $70 million for special pricing and promotional allowances, restructuring costs and asset writedown. But at $42 million, the firm's operating shortfall was more than expected for the second quarter running, and the total loss for the nine months ending March 31 was $273.6 million — ouch...
The manufacturer blames the disappointing figures on prevailing economic softness in all their major markets, especially Germany, and significant price erosion on older Amigas and PCs. During the quarter, Amiga sales were down 25 per cent, and combined with price-cutting, the computer gave a revenue drop of more than 45 per cent. "We are extremely disappointed with our results for the first nine months of this fiscal year," said Commodore chairman and chief executive Irving Gould.
"We believe that Commodore's technology, brand name and distribution network continue to have significant value and we are exerting all of our efforts to restructure the company." As part of the cost-cutting, Commodore UK will shed up to eight after-sales staff, but facing up to economic realities will hurt much more in other countries. Several offices will be shut, including Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. "We could have reported a $42 million loss," said Commodore UK's David Pleasance. "But we've made the right provisions for a company of our size — we are not a $1 billion firm." The firm's major investor have offered a vote of confidence in the plan. David Pleasance observed "We are predicting a further loss for the next quarter but expect to be back into the black by Christmas."
Feature by Paul Austin
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