One of the side effects of forming NAG that I didn’t anticipate was how much cold, hard cash I’d end up splurging on hardware. For many years I’d got by on a sole A1200 (albeit one that’s a long way removed from a stock model). In the early days of the group, I managed to acquire a CD32; nothing special, just a standard example that had been recapped, but I’d been after one for some time and a promotion at work gave me a welcome financial boost to help get my hands on one. That meant I had to fork out a little over £200 – not too bad in the context of the current market.
Fast forward over 18 months to May 2019 and a week loitering at the Norwich Games Festival. I was used to carting the CD32 everywhere at this point – to all our meets and for NAG’s two days being part of the Festival (where the drive unhelpfully popped its clogs). It was great and everything, but I never dared move my 1200 – it had too much expensive kit in it, for starters. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to own a ‘proper’ Amiga for exactly this purpose? It’s more versatile than a CD32 and I could use it to backup all my old coding and writing projects too. An A600 would do the trick – it’s compact, easy to transport and with all the lovely modern upgrades available, I could get the satisfaction of building a machine to my liking.
Fate was – for once – to deal me a kind hand. What should I stumble across on Ebay but said 600? And not only was it clean and in perfect working order, it already had the capacitors replaced, boasted a 1MB Chip RAM upgrade, a 4Gb internal CF card, Kickstart 3.1… and the real clincher: a Furia 68020 accelerator, running at a cool 33Mhz with 9.5Mb of Fast RAM. This ticked every single box I could hope for – but what about the price? Let’s face it, Amiga gear is so pricey nowadays, the impact on the bank balance would be enough to make even Prince Andrew sweat (Allegedly – Legal Dept). This came in at about £205 all in, astonishingly enough, as nobody else apparently thought to bid on the thing. Okay, so it wouldn’t arrive at my flat until after the Festival had ended, but that didn’t matter – I’d got my new toy and I could customise it to my heart’s content.
Still… 200-odd quid is a decent chunk of dosh. Let’s think about this for a second. I essentially decided I wanted another Amiga so other people could play around with it once a month at our group meets. That’s erring dangerously on the side of crazy, isn’t it? If NAG didn’t exist, it would never have crossed my mind for a second to buy another one. Of all the things I have inescapably gained from this community, a healthier bank account isn’t one of them. I blame the idiot who started it, personally. No, hang on…
Anyway, one Sunday afternoon in early June, the doorbell went (not a common occurrence, let me assure you). It was a friendly delivery person clutching a suspiciously Amiga-shaped cardboard box with my name on it. Hurrah – it had arrived. Time to excitedly get it all set up and switched on (although it didn’t come with its own PSU or SCART lead so I casually swiped them from the 1200 at this stage). Double hurrah – the Workbench screen popped up… but then, disaster. The title bar informed me that although 2MB of graphics memory was present and correct, ‘other mem’ was out for a duck. There was nothing. Zilch. And for all the computer knew, it was running a boring old 68000. Worse still, parts (but by no means all) of the keyboard weren’t registering with the system.
What’s going on? Surely I wasn’t misled? Had I received what was advertised pretty clearly mere days before? I had no choice but to open the Amiga up (not a natural talent of mine – the D in DIY stands for ‘Destroy’ as far as I am concerned) and sure enough, the Furia was there in body, if not spirit – it didn’t look like it had been securely connected and had come loose in transit. With any luck, as long as it had not taken any damage, that would be an easy remedy. The keyboard was harder to explain, and just to put the tin lid on proceedings, the wires powering the drive and, er, power LEDs had parted company with the board as I opened the case, so no reassuring indicators of activity for me any more.
There was only one thing for it – to unceremoniously show up at the front door of my good friend Luke (he Who Knows Things and runs the brilliant Retro Ready website, just waiting for you to purchase all kinds of lovely Amiga hardware and accessories) and let him cast his eye over my troubled new acquisition. Happily (and most simply), seating the Furia correctly resulted in it being recognised by the machine and working as nature intended – a point restored on my trusty hurrah-o-meter. The keyboard, however, didn’t get off so lightly. A closer examination of the membrane had showed the ribbon had a small tear in it, presumably as a result of the Furia rattling around in transit. A shiny new membrane was required, but not before a polite email to the seller explaining this predicament.
While I was at it, however, I willingly let Luke raid what was left of my month’s wages as I purchased a PCMCIA CF/SD adapter (including a driver disk and a 16Gb card), a new, more secure internal IDE to CF adapter (which would eliminate the risk of the existing one shorting anything), some bright, oh-my-beautiful-eyes LEDs… all with a lovely new dust cover chucked in too. Given that by this stage I’d already ordered a brand new power supply from Poland, a SCART cable from Retro Computer Shack and an optical mouse (complete with built-in adapter and a pair of port extenders to enable wider connectors to fit the A600’s rather snug mouse and joystick ports), I’d concluded that, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d have been better off throwing money at something less addictive such as Class A drugs (Alleged… no, spot on, actually – Legal Dept).
Oh yes, about that email… the chap who had (you remember) sold me the A600 in the first place was certainly apologetic but blamed the courier for being on the careless side handling the precious goods. Whether this was the entire story (he had definitely packaged the computer well – it seemed more like he just hadn’t double-checked the Furia was installed properly) or not, he offered to pay half the cost of a replacement membrane. Having found a green one (taking care to ensure it matched the original colour, of course) for £25, he was true to his word and topped up my PayPal account by £12.50 within minutes. When that arrived a few days later, I fitted it with some difficulty, mostly involving a damaged screw on the backplate and some extremely inventive swearing after a nuclear missile struggled to separate them, but finally – finally – we were in business. True, my so-called ‘bargain’ Amiga 600 had cost me almost another £150 on top of the original £205 to repair the unnecessary faults and add some other convenient peripherals, but I tried not to give that too much thought. It was now operating perfectly and only needed for me to put my own stamp on the setup, ready for everybody to use except me at future NAG meets.
Tune in again at an unspecified point in the near future (so not that unspecified, then) to find out what happened next.