A history of the Amiga, part 1: Genesis

Prologue?the last day

April 24, 1994

The last day of Commodore

The flag was flying at half-mast when Dave Haynie drove up to the headquarters of Commodore International for what would be the last time.

Dave had worked for Commodore at its West Chester, Pennsylvania, headquarters for eleven years as a hardware engineer. His job was to work on advanced products, like the revolutionary AAA chipset that would have again made the Amiga computer the fastest and most powerful multimedia machine available. But AAA, like most of the projects underway at Commodore, had been canceled in a series of cost-cutting measures, the most recent of which had reduced the staff of over one thousand people at the factory to less than thirty.

"Bringing your camera on the last day, eh Dave?" the receptionist asked in a resigned voice.

"Yeah, well, they can't yell at me for spreading secrets any more, can they?" he replied.

Dave took his camera on a tour of the factory, his low voice echoing through the empty hallways. "I just thought about it this morning," he said, referring to his idea to film the last moments of the company for which he had given so much of his life. "I didn't plan this."

The air conditioners droned loudly as he passed warehouse after warehouse. Two years ago these giant rooms had been filled with products. Commodore had sold $1 billion worth of computers and computer accessories that year. Today, the warehouses stood completely empty.

Dave walked upstairs and continued the tour. "This is where the chip guys worked," he said as the camera panned over empty desks. The "chip guys" were engineers designing VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) custom microchips on advanced CAD workstations. These chips had always formed the heart of the Amiga computer. Five years later, most personal computers would include custom chips to speed up the delivery of graphics, sound, and video, but the Amiga had done so since its introduction in 1985.

"Wow, one guy is still here!" Dave said, zooming in on the workstation of Brian Rosier. "And he's actually working!" The workstation screen showed a complex line graph, the result of a simulation of a new chip design. "This is for my next job," the engineer said, smiling. Most of the technical people would not be out of work for very long.

Dave passed his own office. The camera zoomed up to an empty bottle of ale displayed proudly on a shelf. "This was for the birth of my son," he said, then panned around the rest of the desk, filled with papers and technical manuals. "I felt I had to do something," he said before he left.

"This was my workbench," he explained as the tour continued. On the desk were various Amiga computers, a Macintosh IIsi, tons of test equipment, and a large prototype circuit board.

"And this... this is Triple-A," he said, with a mixture of pride and bitterness. "I read on the 'Net that AAA didn't exist. Well, here it is!" He pointed out the memory slots, the expansion bus, and various other features.

Many of the Commodore engineers were on the Internet, back before the World Wide Web existed, when the 'Net was just text and was the exclusive domain of academics, researchers, and a few dedicated hobbyists. AAA had been the subject of hundreds of rumors, from its announcement to a series of delays and its final cancellation. While there were those who believed it had never existed, there were also others who went the other way, who endowed AAA with mythical properties, perpetually waiting in the wings for its revival and subsequent domination of the computer industry. These people would keep the faith for years, in the subsequent trying times for the Amiga after the death of its parent company. They refused to let go of the dream.

Others were more pragmatic. "Here's Dr. Mo!" Dave exclaimed, finding Greg Berlin, manager of high-end systems at Commodore International, crouched down on the floor, pulling chips out of a personal computer and placing them, one at a time, on top of the large tower case.

"Dr. Mo in pilfer mode," he said, looking up from his task. His face registered laughter, guilt, sadness, and resignation all at the same time. He sighed. "Well, I've been waiting all these years, I finally broke down and I'm doing it. I finally decided, I've been here long enough that I deserved something." He looked at the tiny, pathetic little pile, as if the supreme inequity of this trade was suddenly hitting him. "So I'm taking a couple of RAM chips," he said.


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