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REVIEW: Commodore Amiga 4000

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From: [email protected] (Steve Koren)
Subject: REVIEW: Commodore Amiga 4000
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Followup-To: comp.sys.amiga.hardware
Keywords: Amiga, computer, hot topic, commercial
Sender: [email protected] (comp.sys.amiga.reviews moderator)
Nntp-Posting-Host: karazm.math.uh.edu
Reply-To: [email protected] (Steve Koren)
Organization: The Amiga Online Review Column - ed. Daniel Barrett
Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1992 17:36:22 GMT


PRODUCT NAME:

  Amiga 4000


BRIEF DESCRIPTION:

  This is a review of the Amiga 4000, the latest machine in the Amiga line
  of personal computers from Commodore.

  The machine as reviewed is:

    Amiga 4000
    Commodore 1960 Multisync Monitor
    6 Mb RAM
    68040 CPU/25 MHz
    120 Mb HD
    1.76 Mb floppy drive
    "AGA" chipset

  This particular machine was apparently one of the first 200 produced.


LIST PRICE:

  Check with your dealer.  The original MSLP is US$3699, but the street
  price seems to be quite a bit cheaper.  Prices certainly vary
  geographically as well.


COMPANY INFORMATION:

  Commodore Business Machines, Inc.
  1200 Wilson Drive
  West Chester, PA 19380 USA

  (The machine is produced in England, and the keyboard and mouse are
  produced in Malaysia).


OBTAINING THE MACHINE:

  I had a very difficult time hunting down a place to buy a 4000.  Four
  successive calls to the "Commodore Dealer Locator" got me phone numbers
  of supposed dealers, but in all cases the dealers either had gone out of
  business, or no longer sold Amigas when I called.  This was a bit
  frustrating.  After two weeks of searching, I eventually found a dealer
  about 75 miles away by talking to someone who had bought an Amiga there
  a while ago.  The chore of finding the computer in the first place was
  one of the few bad things I have to say about this machine.  I don't
  think most people would go through the trouble I did in order to buy the
  system.  I believe it would be beneficial for Commodore to 1) vastly
  increase its dealer base in the US, and 2) keep its dealer database up
  to date, since calling 8 non-existent dealers does not give a very
  professional image of the company.


HARDWARE:

  The 4000 comes in a desktop style case, a bit smaller than an Amiga
  2000.  The keyboard is essentially identical to the 2000's keyboard, but
  mouse is a more rounded "beetle" style mouse, instead of the more
  angular 2000 mouse.  The 4000 has a key and lock which can be used to
  shut off all keyboard and mouse input to the machine (including the
  C-A-A reboot combination, but not including the power switch).  The
  power switch is on the front, along with LEDs for power and the internal
  HD.


UNPACKING AND SETTING UP:

  This task went very quickly and painlessly.  The system as shipped is
  essentially ready to plug in and go - the operating system is already
  installed on the hard drive, and the hard drive is configured for
  booting.  There was just one small glitch on my machine - on some early
  4000s, the hard drive was formatted in the OFS ("Old FileSystem")
  format, which is substantially slower than the newer FFS ("Fast
  FileSystem").  From what I hear, Commodore has since corrected this
  problem.  It was not much trouble for me to reformat the hard drive and
  reinstall the operating system.  Although this isn't a recommended
  approach, I got through it with no trouble without reading the
  documentation, just by booting the install disk and clicking on things.
  The OS install utility is quite user friendly and intuitive, and you can
  pick what parts of the operating system you do and do not wish to
  install.
  
  One thing I noticed immediately is that the 4000 is a quiet machine.  My
  old 2000 is fairly loud, and the 4000 seems to be only about half as
  loud when running.  The hard drive is essentially silent, and only the
  fan can be heard, but it is quieter than the 2000's fan.


INITIAL SYSTEM CONFIGURATION:

  The operating system originally boots in 640x200 mode, similar to a 2000
  or 500.  However, the AGA ("Advanced Graphic Architecture") chipset in
  the 4000 supports many other higher resolution modes.  There are monitor
  configuration files that control the resolution and scan rate of the
  various graphic modes supported by the 4000.  The Workbench screen can
  be run on any of these and changed by a tool in the preferences drawer.
  After some amount of fiddling, I settled upon the "SUPER72 Super High
  Res Interlace" mode.  On my system, this mode gives a solid display of
  896x628 pixels (which I'll round to 900x630 for simplicity, although it
  is a 4x2 pixels short of that in reality).  The scan rate in this mode
  is 25 KHz, which is enough faster than the 15 KHz interlace modes in the
  2000 that it seems to eliminate flicker.  However, this might depend a
  little on lighting conditions.  When I booted the system in this mode at
  the dealer, I could detect a bit of interlace flicker, but when I tried
  this mode at home, the display appears quite solid.  With my anti-glare
  screen on the monitor, I cannot detect any flicker in this mode at all,
  unless I look very closely for it.  It certainly seems to be a genuinely
  usable mode, quite unlike 640x400 on non-flicker-fixed A2000's.  In
  order to display it, I had to adjust the vertical size knob on the
  monitor.


WORKBENCH 3.0

  The Amiga 4000 includes a new release of the Amiga operating system.
  Release 3.0 includes support for the AGA chipset of the 4000.  The AGA
  chipset can support up to 256 directly accessible colors in any
  resolution mode from a 24 bit palette, and up to 252,208 simultaneous
  colors in "HAM8" mode.  (HAM8 mode is excellenct for graphics
  applications, but isn't suitable for word processing or textual
  applications).
  
  The Workbench 3.0 screen can be configured to any depth from 1 to 8
  planes.  Depending on your resolution mode and tolerance to update
  rates, you may find that anywhere from 4 to 8 planes provides a suitably
  fast environment.  In my 900x630 workbench (actually a 1024x768 virtual
  workbench displayed in a 900x630 physical display), I find the update
  rate adequate at 5 or 6 planes (32 or 64 colors).  Seven and 8 plane
  displays can get slow at this high resolution, but they do better at
  lower resolutions such as 640x400.  In fact, when I was playing with
  this system at the store, I compared the interactive performance of the
  4000 to a nearby 386/33 machine running windows 3.1.  Both machines were
  running 8 plane displays at an identical resolution, and the Amiga was
  quite a bit faster than the 386 for window updates.  Although I didn't
  time either one, here is my subjective impression of the speed of the
  4000 user interface compared to several other systems I have used a
  reasonable amount.  The rating factor is "snappiness", whatever that
  means.  Remember, this is subjective, and compares things like moving
  windows, scrolling scroll lists (which depends less on resolution), the
  speed with which windows pop up, etc.  So graphics performance isn't
  directly correlated with this, and "tricks" of the OS, such as AmigaDos
  3.0's method of only scrolling needed bitplanes for CLI windows, can
  affect things:
  
      System & UI                  approx system cost  "snappiness" of UI
      -------------------------------------------------------------------
      Amiga 3000, 1 plane WB, 640x400          $1K-3K     2.0
      Amiga 3000, 2 plane WB, 640x400          $1K-3K     1.0
      Amiga 3000, 3 plane WB, 640x400          $1K-3K     0.7
      Amiga 4000, 4 plane WB, 640x400          $3K-4K     2.5
      Amiga 4000, 4 plane WB, 900x630          $3K-4K     1.5
      Amiga 4000, 5 plane WB, 900x630          $3K-4K     0.8
      Amiga 4000, 8 plane WB, 900x630          $3K-4K     0.6
      80386/33 clone, Windows 3.1, 800x600x8   $1K-2K     0.3
      HP 720 workstation, 8 plane, 1280x1024   $8K-12K    3.0
  
  Workbench 3.0 supports the use of IFF images as backgrounds for both
  the workbench screen, and workbench windows.  I currently have a
  640x400 image of a bicycle in the background of my workbench (which is
  a backdrop window), and have a smaller 320x200 image in the background
  of my workbench windows.  Although this doesn't provide any real
  "functionality", it does look very nice and provides an easy way to
  visually distinguish windows.  The effect is quite pleasing.  All
  workbench windows share a common image, but since the edges of the
  windows will tend to use many different colors, it is easy to see
  where one window stops and another starts.
  
  Workbench running on a 900x630 screen looks very nice.  The extra
  resolution allows the use of higher resolution fonts on screen, which
  makes for a much more professional look.  I am using a 20 point
  Compu-Graphic Times font for my window titles, which is a readable size
  on this display, a 15 point font as the system default, and a 15 point
  proportional font for icons.  The 15 point font takes about as much
  screen real-estate as a 9 point font did on the 2000's 640x400 interlace
  screen, but provides much more resolution for nice looking characters.
  In addition, the display is much sharper and easier to read.
  
  The display quality of the 4000's output is very high.  Although my old
  2000's display was inferior, I feel the 4000's output, when sent to a
  suitably good monitor, is truly of workstation quality.  I use a
  1280x1024 Sony display attached to an HP workstation every day at my
  job, and while it gives more resolution than the 4000 does, I don't
  think the 4000 lacks anything in sharpness or clarity in comparison.  In
  fact, since most people with 4000s will probably use a 14" monitor,
  900x630 is about as much resolution as is practical at this size.  In
  order to move to 1024x768, I believe that at _least_ a 16" monitor is
  needed.  Since there is a minimum physical size of text that is
  comfortable to read, having more resolution on a small monitor meets
  diminishing returns after a point.  Larger monitors than 14" are quite
  expensive.
  
  At any rate, the 4000's display in 900x630 mode is, in a word,
  beautiful.  The only potential problem is that some people need a 10% or
  so faster refresh in order to no be bothered by the interlace, but I
  don't think this will be a problem for most people under most lighting
  conditions.
  
  AmigaDos 3.0 and the AGA chipset support HAM8 in any resolution mode.
  This means that it is possible to have a 900x630 display in up to 252000
  simultaneous colors from a 24 bit pallete, for near 24-bit quality
  graphics.  Further, it is possible to animate HAM8 graphics in any
  resolution mode (although the practical limit is probably 640x400 due to
  bandwidth restrictions in this generation of graphics chips).  As far as
  I know, there are no animation players yet which support HAM8 animation,
  but that should change fairly soon.  The few HAM8 still-frame images I
  have seen look wonderful.


HARDWARE EXPANSION:

  The 4000 has 4 card slots, one 5.25" drive bay, and two 3.5" drive bays.
  The 3.5" bays can accept either two 1" tall devices each (for a total of
  four 3.5" devices), or one larger device.  Commodore ships the machine
  with 1.5" tall devices, so you will need to replace one or both of them if
  you wish to install 2 devices in each bay.  Further expansion will need an
  external case and power supply (which costs US$40-$85).  The 4000 can use
  Amiga 3000 Zorro-III cards, which gives it a good supply of expansion
  devices already on the market, such as 64 Mb RAM cards.  It can also use
  Amiga 2000 Zorro-II cards, although these will not take advantage of the
  4000's superior bus speed.  The 4000's CPU is on a daughterboard and can be
  upgraded when faster versions come out.  There have been rumors of future
  CPU boards with an on-board DSP.  It is not yet known whether the 4000 is
  upgradable to the next generation of AGA chips.  I hope the answer is
  "yes".


SOFTWARE COMPATIBILITY:

  Most properly written applications seem to work fine under AmigaDos 3.0.
  Immediately after powering up my 4000, I transferred my bare minimum
  "working set" of software, which consists of the following:
  
      SKsh 2.1 beta
      GNU Emacs 18.58 (port by David Gay)
      ISpell 3.1ljr (port by Loren Rittle)
      Half a dozen commodities
  
  All of the above installed and worked without any trouble at all, and in
  fact, I am currently using GNU emacs and ISpell to type this review.
  Emacs is talking to ISpell through ARexx without any trouble at all, in
  exactly the same manner as on my 2000.
  
  I have only tried a few software packages so far other than the above.
  These I have found to work:
  
      DPaint IV
      Excellence!
      A-10 Tank Killer 1.5
      Most 2.0 freeware Commodities or utilities
  
  I have tried a few PD "screen hacks" and such which failed on the 4000:
  
     Oing! (a screen hack with bouncing ball sprites)
     World (puts a 3d rotating globe in a workspace)

  On the other hand, a few other screen hacks ("Wavebench") seem to work.
  It seems a fair assessment that compatibility for properly written
  software is very high, but games or utilities which break the rules
  stand a good chance of not running under AmigaDos 3.0.
  
  A number of popular AmigaDos software suppliers have already announced
  AGA versions of their products, and a few are already on the market.

  Since 2.0, software which opens custom screens should allow the user to
  choose the monitor file for the screen resolution to be used.  Such
  software, even if written under 2.0, will run with the higher resolution
  modes under 3.0 with no changes.  However, some software which is not
  that smart will still use old modes.  If several screens each have
  different scan rates, the multisync monitor will have to re-sync when
  the user changes screens on the Amiga, which adds a slight delay of
  about 0.5 sec.  If a screen of one resolution is dragged partially down
  over a screen of another, the front-most screen sets the scan rate of
  the output.


OS 3.0 FEATURES & BUGS:

  AmigaDos 3.0 supports object classes.  I haven't had a chance to play
  with these too much yet, but I can describe the basic concept.  If, for
  example, a desk top publishing program wants to load in an image for
  inclusion in a document, it previously had to understand the format of
  the image.  I.e., it had to call the IFF shared library to read in IFF
  images, or include code to read jpeg or GIF images if it wanted to read
  those formats.  If a new format came along, the program had to be
  re-shipped.  With AmigaDos 3.0 file classes, all that changes.  A
  program can read an image class, and AmigaDos will call the appropriate
  handler to extract information from the image itself without the program
  having to even know what type of image it is.  Thus, if a new image type
  called "zpeg" comes along, all that needs to be done is install a new
  object class for zpeg images, and all the old software will be able to
  suddenly understand the new image type.  The same applies for sounds,
  text, animations, and any other type of object.  This is a powerful new
  feature in AmigaDos 3.0 that has not been developed much yet, but has
  great potential.
  
  CLI windows in AmigaDos 3.0 seem to be smarter than they were in 2.0.
  The console device, apparently, only scrolls the bitplanes that
  absolutely need to be scrolled.  This means that if you are just
  displaying text in the standard color, the console device may only have
  to scroll one or two bitplanes instead of the 5 or 6 there may be in
  your screen.  This makes using CLI windows fast even on deep workbench
  screens.  (Disclaimer: I don't know for sure that this is what is
  happening but I suspect it quite strongly.)
  
  There are some bugs in AmigaDos 3.0 yet.  The "multiview" object viewer
  crashes easily, and occasionally the palette preference tool does odd and
  unexpected things to your palette.  But overall, I have not yet found any
  critical bugs which would prevent me from using the system.  Most of the
  ones I have found are just minor inconveniences which I'm sure will be
  fixed for future versions of 3.0.


BENCHMARKS:

  The following benchmarks compare the Amiga 4000 to:
  
      - An Amiga 500,  68000/ 8 MHz, no fast RAM
      - An Amiga 2000, 68000/ 8 MHz, fast RAM
      - An Amiga 2500, 68020/20 MHz, fast RAM
      - An Amiga 3000, 68030/25 MHz, fast RAM
  
  The tests were all performed with AIBB_4.65, ("Amiga Intuition Based
  Benchmarks", by LaMonte Koop).  In all cases, the 3000/25 is used as a
  comparison base:
  
    Machine:     500/00    2000/00    2500/020   3000/030   4000/040
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Integer tests:
      WritePixel   0.25       0.26       0.68       1.00        2.81
      Sieve        0.11       0.11       0.56       1.00        1.11
      Dhrystone    0.18       0.18       0.48       1.00        3.43
      Sort         0.13       0.14       0.45       1.00        2.68
      Matrix       0.10       0.11       0.52       1.00        1.52
      IMath        0.05       0.05       0.51       1.00        2.29
      Memtest      0.16       0.17       0.61       1.00        1.20
      TGTest       0.50       0.52       0.82       1.00        1.44
      InstTest     0.17       0.17       0.44       1.00        1.78
    Float/Double:
      Savage       0.01       0.01       0.51       1.00        1.19
      FMath        0.05       0.05       0.40       1.00        4.72
      FMatrix      0.14       0.14       0.46       1.00        1.04
      Beachball    0.01       0.03       0.39       1.00        6.50 (!!)
      SWhetstone   0.02       0.03       0.38       1.00        0.56
      DWhetstone   0.02       0.02       0.37       1.00        3.40
      FTrace       0.01       0.01       0.42       1.00        3.10
      CplxTest     0.04       0.04       0.47       1.00        3.25
  
  Generally, it can be seen that the 4000 averages about 2 to 2.5 times
  faster than the 3000 for integer operations, and about 3 to 3.5 times
  faster than the 3000 for floating point operations.  For the Beachball
  test (which ray traces a beachball on the screen), the 4000 is a
  staggering 650 times as fast as an unexpanded Amiga 500, and about 215
  times faster than an Amiga 2000 with fast ram.  Most of the CPU bound
  tests of the 4000 come out about 5 to 10% slower than my PP&S 68040 card
  on my 2000, which runs at 28 MHz instead of 25.  However, the 4000 feels
  snappier in actual operation due to the AGA chipset.  CPU board upgrades
  to 33 and 40 MHz 68040s promise even more speed from the machine.  The
  CPU performance of the 68040, coupled with the AGA chipset's enhanced
  color modes, make this essentially the perfect 3D rendering platform for
  those who can't afford a Silicon Graphics workstation.
  
  The following is a performance test of the 4000's internal disk drive
  using DiskSpeed 4.1:
  
     CPU: 68040  OS Version: 39.106  Normal Video DMA
     Device:  sys:    Buffers: 128
     Comments: Amiga 4000 internal disk
     
     CPU Speed Rating: 3097
     
     Testing with a 512 byte, MEMF_FAST, LONG-aligned buffer.
     Create file:        26184 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 84%
     Write to file:      26462 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 85%
     Read from file:    158488 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 50%
     
     Testing with a 4096 byte, MEMF_FAST, LONG-aligned buffer.
     Create file:       157322 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 78%
     Write to file:     163083 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 79%
     Read from file:    213989 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 74%
     
     Testing with a 32768 byte, MEMF_FAST, LONG-aligned buffer.
     Create file:       329347 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 72%
     Write to file:     375143 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 71%
     Read from file:    559055 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 54%
     
     Testing with a 262144 byte, MEMF_FAST, LONG-aligned buffer.
     Create file:       429040 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 69%
     Write to file:     550858 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 64%
     Read from file:    909545 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 33%
     
     Average CPU Available: 68%  |  CPU Availability index: 2106
  
  Those needing more disk speed than this can get it when fast Zorro-III
  SCSI cards become available.  (Actually, Zorro-II cards can be used now
  at some cost in speed).  The speed of the internal IDE drive is
  acceptable, although the CPU utilization gets a bit high during high
  speed transfers.  However, I doubt many people will notice this, and
  SCSI is always available for those who need the high end.


WARRANTY:

  The machine and monitor come with a "Commodore Gold Service" warranty.  If
  the machine breaks in a period of one year, they will pick it up for free,
  fix it, and send it back also for free, by overnight express mail.
  On-site service is available for a small, annual fee ($49 or $79).


PROBLEMS:

  Aside from my initial difficulty in finding an Amiga dealer within a 3
  hour drive of my house, I have had few problems with the 4000.  Although
  I have yet to try most of my old software, most of what I have tried has
  worked.  The only exception is that some games and a few "screen hacks"
  have failed, but I expected that, and it isn't the fault of the 3.0
  operating system, but rather the fault of the games themselves.

  The 4000 could really use more than 2 Mb of chip ram.  4 Mb would be
  appropriate.
  
  There is really just one significant problem I have run into.  The 4000
  has a feature called "mode promotion", which does two things.  First, it
  attempts to force application screens that would have opened in 15 KHz
  interlace mode to open at a higher scan rate to avoid flicker.  Second,
  it attempts to force application screens with a resolution of 200
  vertically to "scan-double" their output and eliminate visible scan
  lines.  This effect is very pleasing - all those old 640x200 screens
  suddenly are a lot more pleasant to look at.  However, on my 4000, scan
  promotion seems to force screens far to the right of the monitor, such
  that there is no way to see the whole screen.  Neither fidding with my
  monitor or the overscan preferences was able to help.  I'm not sure what
  the problem is, but for now I've kept scan conversion off so that the
  application screens are reasonably centered and visible.


CONCLUSIONS:

  The A4000 presents a significant expansion in the capabilities of Amiga
  computers.  The original Amiga's graphics, while fantastic by the
  standards of 1985 when they were introduced, have recently begun to show
  their age.  The AGA chipset gives the Amiga a true 24 bit palette and
  the ability to use hundreds of thousands of colors in any resolution
  mode.  The potential improvements of future Amigas now lie primarily in
  graphics speed, and to a lesser extent, increased resolution.
  
  I bought my first Amiga 1000 in 1985, with 256 Kb of memory and later
  upgraded to an accelerated 2000.  When I became interested in the Amiga
  4000, I was at first unsure whether the abilities it provided were
  significant enough to warrant upgrading from my current system.  Now
  that I have worked with the 4000, I am confident the answer is "yes".
  The 4000 takes a large step towards making the Amiga into a workstation
  class computer system.


COMMENTS:

  I can be reached electronically at:
      [email protected]
  
  or via phone:
      303-226-4985 (USA)


---

   Daniel Barrett, Moderator, comp.sys.amiga.reviews
   Send reviews to:	[email protected]
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   General discussion:	[email protected]