The A500 is back! (Review) Individual Computers ACA500 19

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.

A common Amiga 500 setup with Monitor and external Disk drive

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:

ACA500 Top

ACA500 Bottom

ACA500 with ACA1220 connected (bottom)

ACA500 with ACA1220 connected (top)

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:

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:

 

ACA500 installed on A500 expansion slot

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.

ACA500 tested:

When you power you A500 on for the first time with the ACA500 connected you will see the boot menu as below:

ACA500 Main Menu

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)

ACA500 Advanced Configuration Menu

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.

ACA1220/ACA500 connected to A500+

A500+ with ACA500/ACA1220

 

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)

 

Classic Workbench FULL (Custom Icons)

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:

WhichAmiga Evaluation

 

SysSpeed Info and Mips Benchmark

 

SysInfo Benchmark

SysInfo IDE Speed test

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.

Compatibility:

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 🙂

Verdict/Conclusions:

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!

Other options:

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,

-Fitzsteve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “The A500 is back! (Review) Individual Computers ACA500

  1. Steve Dec 28,2013 7:35 pm

    Nice little review here Steve.

    I like the sound of the Turboflyer 530 but any idea if that will have its own chassis / cover ?

    Its great to see this new hardware but without a case, Im not sure I’d want to risk possible breakage by having an uncovered/unprotected expansion card plugged in.

    • fitzsteve Jan 4,2014 12:51 pm

      Hi! Thanks for the kind words. Sorry for the late reply for some reason all my replied go to Spam even though I mark as safe :S Damn Micro$oft lol… If I understand correct the Turbo Flyer 500 will be internal so no case required but could be tricky to install for the novice as it will require removal of the CPU.

      There are a few cases in design for the ACA500 although they’re a bit pricy (circa £40) I might make a small clear perspex box like cover for mine just to protect it from the elements when not in use.

  2. Steve Dec 28,2013 7:37 pm

    I’m also liking the reported disk speeds there 😀

  3. Colin Dec 29,2013 11:04 am

    Nice review Steve,

    The ACA1231/42 works fine with the ACA500 and isn’t to far away speed wise as in my A1200.

    The AUX CF slot is even working with cards that my A1200 refuses to recognise (came in very handy for creating the Putty Squad floppies).

    • fitzsteve Jan 4,2014 12:48 pm

      Hi Colin, I’m glad you enjoyed the review. The ACA500 is a dream come true for A500 users 🙂

  4. Benny Jan 10,2014 10:19 am

    Great review and thank you for the CF card suggestions.

  5. Reini Feb 11,2014 1:19 pm

    Hi, very nice and great review of the ACA500. I enjoyed reading it ver much.
    In the case you don’t knew it. You can also use cheap SD cards (even SDHC cards) with the ACA500! All you need is a CF-SD(HC) adapter and you must loose thighten the screws for the Plexi glass plate a little bit because those adapters are a little bit thicker than a normal CF card.
    Take a look here:
    http://www.a1k.org/forum/showthread.php?t=41442&page=18
    http://youtu.be/aTqQguJHoBA (in german, in very low resolution and only viewable from a pc like computer or android with opera browser)
    I will shortly show some SD cards (tested up to 16GB SDHC) I have successfully tested in this thread.

    Kind regards,
    Reinhold Schertler

    • fitzsteve Mar 2,2014 12:31 pm

      Hi Reinhold,

      Thanks for your post, apologies for the late reply.

      Thanks for the info, I’m sure that will be useful for other ACA500 users.

      I must also find the time to update the compatibility list and some of the info as there have been many developments such as Blizzard PPC accelerators now working with the ACA500 since the latest updated to the Flash Software.

      Steve.

  6. Stefan Harnesk May 7,2014 11:53 am

    Hi Steve

    Did you have any trouble using this card ?
    Cause I’m trying mine right now with a cf-card prepared in winuae and for some reason I don’t get a boot menu or anything. Is the card perhaps sensitive to being exactly pushed correctly in the expansion slot ?

  7. AmigaOldSkooler Aug 20,2014 6:47 am

    Hi there! Many thanks for the helpful information. Great article! 🙂 Makes me want to go the Amiga 500 upgrade path again!

  8. Comp1962 Sep 27,2014 3:08 pm

    This is very interesting and since the A500 BUS is compatible with the A2000 BUS it should be easy enough to retrofit into an A2000. Much like the old DataFlier cards which provided an two sided edge connector for connecting their products to the A1000 and A500 but if you did not use the two sided edge connector you could connect your DataFlyer Cards to an A2000. I started with an A1000, moved to an A500 and then an A2000HD which I still own today and what I see here looks like a viable way to upgrade my A2000 just need to get a 2 sided edge connector that will work properly in the A2000 Zorro Slot.

    Nice write up!

    • fitzsteve Oct 24,2014 9:57 am

      Hi!

      Thanks for your comment. There is talk of an ACA2000 and ACA1000 the 2000 would install on the internal CPU slot and the 1000 would give 2mb chip ram by way of an adapter.

      No further news from Individual at this stage but I will do a write up if these come along.

  9. John McDermott Jul 15,2015 4:18 pm

    Hiya mate – just read through this as my mate just found his old A500 and have to say – loved the write up buddy 🙂 I’ve sent him the link to your blog 🙂

    Take care

    John

    • fitzsteve Aug 19,2015 7:09 am

      Hi Mate, sorry I haven’t read the comments in ages as they all have to be approved (99% spam lol) thanks for the kind words 🙂

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