There’s a new kid on the block! Well not exactly new, it’s the Commodore Amiga 500 making a comeback…
Individual Computers have recently released their highly anticipated ACA500 Accelerator for the Amiga 500 range of computers giving this popular 80’s computer a new lease of life.
The Amiga 500 released in 1987 was a truly remarkable Computer for it’s time, sadly I never owned one back then but I used to enjoy using my friends A500 as it was leaps and bounds ahead of my Spectrum 128k!
With Floppy Disks becoming bit rotten and price of external expansions rising a new expansion for our beloved A500 is truly welcomed. Currently the options to expand your Amiga 500 are limited to expensive and unreliable SCSI drives and hard to find/expensive memory. Not to mention the huge external side cars they are housed in! There are also internal options that can be very rare/expensive or tricky to install.
The ACA500 replaces this with a small PCB including 2 CF Card slots for your storage/transferring files, 2mb Ram and an interface to connect an A1200 Accelerator Card to further expand. The ACA500 has 1.3 and 3.1 Rom on board so this will save you spending extra money upgrading the Rom. There is a 68EC000-10 processor on board clocked to 14mhz (twice the speed of the A500’s on board 68000 CPU) and 512k flash Rom for the menu system/firmware/Kickstart Roms.
Lets take a look at the ACA500:
Specifications & Features:
- 68EC000-10 clocked at 14 MHz (i.e. double A500 clock)
- 2 MB of physical RAM, entirely available for applications (minus 512 KB if MapROM is used)
- External expansion, no need to open the A500
- Two Compact Flash card slots (each one of them bootable and able to read/write Amiga or PC formatted cards)
- Trapdoor memory expansions up to 1.8 MB FastMem still work (including RTC)
- ChipMem expansions still work
- Custom expansion port for local hardware (14 MHz 16-bit, double Zorro speed)
- Clock port for hardware expansions, e.g. Subway USB.
- Optionally expandable by adding an A1200 Accelerator card such as the ACA1220/1232.
- Licensed Kickstart ROM images 1.3 and 3.1 included in Flash-ROM
- FAT95 file system also included in Flash-ROM
- 64-bit device drivers allow you to use cards with capacities of more than 4GB (file system limitations still apply, so you may need to partition accordingly)
- Full WHDload compatibility incl. Quit key!
Installation of the hardware is easy, you do not have to open your Amiga as the ACA500 connects the the side expansion slot and as mentioned before due to licensed Kickstarts being available in the firmware you don’t even need to update the physical Rom, in fact it will even work without any Rom in the socket!
Once connected to your A500 it will look like this:
The ACA500 has been criticised for not having a case but I quite like the fact it’s a bare PCB as it’s a very sleek design and nice to look at, you of course have easy access to the CF slots and expansion ports. I would be happy with a simple dust cover from molded plastic or acrylic. I imagine we will see a plethora of custom cases and enclosures in the near future.
Amiga 1200 Accelerators are connected face side up, I will cover compatibility later in my review.
When you power you A500 on for the first time with the ACA500 connected you will see the boot menu as below:
You can configure the settings to your requirements in the ‘Expert Menu’ or boot your A500 with the basic settings with 3.1Rom or 1.3 Rom (F1 or F2)
It’s recommended the first time you use your ACA500 to make a backup (recovery Disk) to Floppy Disk of the firmware/flash in case at any time you need to restore the flash. New features will be brought to the ACA500 with Flash updates which are easy to apply, you simply put the update file in the root of a FAT formatted CF card and place it in the AUX CF slot and run the flash update from the main menu (F)
For my first tests I connected my ACA1220 and used the CF card from my A600 booting the standard 3.1Rom configuration, I was pleased to see Workbench booted up with no drama.
I would recommend preparing your Workbench setup in advance via WinUAE, I normally use the Classic Workbench packs and highly recommend these if you’re dusting your Amiga off for the first time in years as they come pre-installed with many tools and utilities that will make your return to the scene much smoother. You can see my tutorial here if you need guidance on setting up your CF HDD.
For a stand alone ACA500 I would recommend Classic Workbench 68k as this is a very light pack based on Workbench 3.1/ECS machines. It will save you valuable Ram that you will need for applications and Games. If you have an ACA12xx card attached you can use the heavier packs but remember to disable the copper background as this requires an AGA chipset.
Screenshots and benchmarks: (Note taken with ACA1220/26.7mhz connected)
As I am using an A500+ with 1mb upgrade I already have the full 2mb Chip Ram, the ACA500 has an advanced feature whereby if you have an A500 (Rev6+) you can map your trapdoor 512k upgrade to give you a full 1mb Chip Ram.
Here are some system information screens and benchmarks:
What can I do now I have an ACA500?
Usage will entirely depend on your own interests but the ACA500 will open many doors for you! If you just like to play Games you have access to Amiga and FAT storage devices (CF Cards) making transferring Games to your A500 a doddle. Even as a stand alone unit there is a new version of WHDLoad that is less memory hungry which includes full quit key support so you can jump right into playing games from the huge WHDLoad library.
The larger Multi Disk Games will need some more memory so if you’re an avid gamer you should consider adding an A1200 Accelerator Card to boost your Ram.
If you like to run applications, watch Demos or create/listen to modules then the ease of transferring data will be advantageous as well as 1.3Rom fallback which still has full Amiga/FAT file system support giving you modern flexibility but still compatibility with older software.
For me I enjoy pushing the boundaries with my Amiga’s, getting the most out of them that is possible for the hardware level. I have taken a short Video running some 3D Games which previously wouldn’t have been possible on such a machine at least not without the expensive and rare GVP530 or ultra rare Viper530.
This test was made using my ACA1232 which has a 33mhz 68030 processor and 128mb Ram.
As promised I will now talk about compatibility, I have been collating information from various forums on users tests as well as my own with the ACA500. The ACA500 is designed for use with the A500 and A500+, there will be a special version for the A1000 which will give your A1000 a full 2mb Chip Ram, this will require some internal installation as it has a connector to the Agnus socket.
There is also an A2000 version planned which will connect to the internal CPU slot, you can follow news on these at this thread over at the English Amiga Board (EAB.) You will also find discussion on other forums such as Amibay. Jens Schoenfeld also posts news at A1k.org however this is mainly a German speaking forum.
CF Cards tested.
I have tested the following CF cards with the ACA500:
- Sandisk – Working
- Transcend 133x – Working
- Kingston(flower) – Working
- Generic (Chinese unbranded) – Working
- Verbatim 133x – Not Working
The Verbatim CF cards stop the A500 from booting at all.
Other users CF cards tested:
- Integral – Working
A1200 Turbo Boards tested.
I have compiled the following information based on reports from fellow Amiga users, please note there is no official support for Accelerators other then the ACA12xx from Individual Computers but some boards such as the Blizzard 1230MkIV are known to work with the ACA500.
- ACA1220 – Working but cards bought before Sept 5th 2013 will need a fix (contact Individual Computers at icomp.de)
- ACA1232 – Working
- ACA1230 – Working (might need to update your ACA500 Firmware to a beta release, some A500’s might cause issues)
- Blizzard 1220 – Not Working (Black screen)
- Blizzard 1230MkIV – Working (Update Firmware to Beta version) *Might not work on some A500’s
- Blizzard 1240 – Possibly working (need conformation) (Update Firmware to Beta version) *Might not work on some A500’s
- Blizzard 1260 – Working(with hacked 060 libs) (Update Firmware to Beta version) *Might not work on some A500’s
- GVP Jaws II 1230 – Not Working (Black screen)
- DCE Typhoon 1230 MK II – Not Working (Black screen)
- MTec 1230/28 – Not Working (Black screen)
- Viper 1230/28 – Not Working (Black screen)
- Apollo 1240/1260 – Booting but without any Ram
- 4mb/8mb Trapdoor Upgrades – Not Working (These cannot work with the ACA500 as they do not have their own CPU)
As stated this information is compiled from other users and my own tests, your own results might be different, I’d be interested to hear of any other tests made. Of course if you connect any unsupported hardware to your ACA500 it is at your own risk!
Although the manual states the ACA500 should not be connected to an A1000 some users have reported that it works with theirs although others have said it doesn’t, my advice is to wait for the official ACA1000 🙂
I am really pleased with my ACA500, the build quality seems very good. The CF slots feel a little bit delicate when inserting CF cards so I would advise to be careful but I’ve not had any issues and have inserted and removed my CF cards dozens of times.
If you are intending to use the ACA500 as a stand alone solution you might find 2mb Ram isn’t enough for your needs, if you use Maprom to load in 1.3/3.1 Rom you will loose 512k of this leaving you just 1.5mb Fast Ram. My opinion though is that even with the little Ram the features and benefits it brings to a standard A500 are excellent value for money and I highly recommend one to any A500 user!
Whilst there are the traditional side car expansions on the market and the rare internal expansions I mentioned before there are a couple of other upgrades for the A500 on the market or coming to the market such as Kipper2k’s combined 8mb and IDE board, this installs internally and offers a slightly cheaper upgrade path if you just want memory and storage.
A new accelerator (TurboFlyer 530) has also been announced by Elbox which will have an 030 processor, 16mb Ram and a FastATA built in, it is due to hit their Web store in February 2014 although I’m a little skeptical given the previous announced hardware from Elbox which has failed to materialise, we shall see!
A final consideration is Zeus68k, I have been watching updates on this via EAB which is another internal CPU/IDE solution with some other features. You can read about it over at EAB. I am very excited by the new hardware options coming to the Amiga at the moment, there is certainly still a lot of interest in the Amiga community for our beloved machines.
That’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed the article, I will bring you more news and updates as I have them.
Thanks for reading,