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Amiga Notes

...and Paul Austin stays friends with his Amiga.


Although ideal for MIDI and multimedia applications, the Amiga has long been the ugly sister in the eyes of the music business. However, all that's set to change thanks to the Amiga 4000, a machine which, according to the specs, looks to be years ahead of its time. The machine itself is still a few months away from release, but according to a reliable source the hardware will be in the hands of the major developers around Autumn, and should see general release in early Spring '93.

Before I start dishing out the good news, I'm afraid there's a price to be paid for its unrivalled power. The retail price of the new machine is expected to be between three and four thousand pounds. Nevertheless, if the specs are to be believed it will be worth every penny. As the name suggests the new machine will boast a 68040 processor, putting it on a par with the fastest 486 PCs. In real terms, this means speeds 35 to 40 times faster than a standard A500.

Although often raved about by Amiga journalists, serious multitasking does need more than a standard A500 can offer. With the introduction of a standard 040-based machine, its real potential will soon be exploited to the full, with countless applications all running in concert to provide the ultimate platform for MIDI, video, and multimedia.

Like its predecessor the A3000, the new machine has a 32-bit architecture throughout. To take full advantage of this, and the 040 CPU, Commodore have produced a completely new AA chipset which holds some very unpleasant surprises for the opposition. For we musos, the most exciting addition is the AT&T 3202 Digital Sound Processor. This all-new chip has a small amount of its own fast RAM on-board, but perhaps more importantly it holds a very fast maths co-processor which makes it ideal for all manner of audio processing.

The chip has been designed to usher in a new era in audio-related computing, and should allow the A4000 to become the first home-based machine to employ voice recognition. Who knows; in 12 months you may be able to speak to your sequencer rather than spend half your time rummaging around for your rodent.

Of course, talking to the machine might be handy, but it's not the sort of feature that the average muso would kill for. Fortunately the power of the new chip doesn't stop there, with perhaps the most interesting development being the addition of 16-bit sound as standard. Although the Amiga's current 8-bit sound is fine for games, it's unlikely you'd find a dry seat in the studio if you attempted to use it commercially. All that may change with 16-bit quality straight from the machine.

Depending on the additional hardware, we could soon be looking at a near state-of-the-art sampler thrown in as part of the basic system. In short, it promises to demonstrate almost unlimited musical potential, while retaining total downward compatibility with existing software.

I'll be returning to drool over the potential of this new Amiga in a later column, but for now we'll return to the present with a look at what's required to get the best from any Amiga-based direct-to-disk system.



"The new Amiga A4000 will boast a 68040 processor, putting it on a par with the fastest 486 PCs. In real terms, this means speeds 35 to 40 times faster than a standard A500."


BACK TO THE FUTURE



There's a common misconception amongst many musical computer users that the main problem with direct-to-disk recording is simply that of storage. This, I'm afraid, simply isn't the case. Although sufficient storage is vital, speed of data transfer is equally important.

For example, you could build a system around a standard Amiga by adding an external 200MB hard disk drive. If we assume that we get one minute of (stereo) recording time per 10MB, in theory you'll have 20 minutes of digital audio ready and waiting. Unfortunately there's more to it than this. What happens when your next 20 minute classic comes along? If you were to back up that amount of data onto floppies on a regular basis, you'd need an aircraft hangar to keep them in.

A possible solution is to use removable hard drives or optical drives; the latter are much cheaper in the long term, but unfortunately they usually have an access time of between 50 and 60ms, much slower than the 30ms or so that most direct-to-disk systems require.

Still, there are problems beyond storage capacity. The CPU on a standard Amiga is unlikely to be fast enough to cope with the volume of incoming data required for digital audio applications while running simultaneously running a sequencer, so you'll need to upgrade to an 030 accelerator, as well as invest in an optical or removable hard drive. Unfortunately we're still not out of the woods. If you upgrade to a 32-bit processor, things will indeed get a lot quicker, but if the data is being imported into a standard machine via the original 16-bit bus there's still a chance of the occasional log-jam as the information queues to enter the processor — especially if you're running your sequencer on the same machine.

The answer is to either run the sequencer separately or to invest in a self-contained 32-bit accelerator, such as GVP's Combo card, which has 32-bit memory, a hard disk, and an accelerator, all linked on the same card via a 32-bit bus.

Now you can record direct to your hard disk and run your sequencer without a care in the world, and when your classic is complete, you can save everything to an optical drive for safekeeping. Alternatively you could invest in an Amiga 3000, which has an 030 and 32-bit architecture as standard.

If you're slightly confused by the foregoing techno-jargon, don't worry — the ins and outs of direct-to-disk will be covered in more detail another day. Until next month...


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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Jun 1992

Topic:

Computing


Feature by Paul Austin

Previous article in this issue:

> PC Notes

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