Tuesday, April 18, 2023

New Amiga 500 build

Lately I have been working on a new Amiga 500 build. I decided to pick up a second hand Amiga 500 locally to use for the build, and upgraded it with a bunch of updates which I will cover in this blog post.

So, why would I do this? After all, I already have an Amiga 500 which I have put into a Checkmate 1500 Plus case.

The problem is that I play around with this machine a lot, upgrading it with Vampire 500 V2, Pistorm and other projects I want to try out.

I realise people are all excited about this new Pistorm hardware and I am too, but the issue is compatibility. Specifically, a lot of game and demos straight up don't work with Pistorm installed. It is VERY beta.

I stripped the computer back to a base 68000 Amiga 500 earlier this year so I could enjoy the latest release Amiga 500 demos, as they don't work with Pistorm and other upgrades like ACE2 installed.

But I don't want to have to keep this machine in this base configuration when it can do so much more, and has many more expandability options being in this cool case. Seems a waste to have it permanently a base Amiga 500.

So I decided to buy another Amiga 500 I can run in a simplified configuration for demo and game compatibility, and keep the Checkmate 1500 plus cased Amiga 500 for projects like Pistorm.

The price of Amiga systems is getting more and more expensive in 2023. Long gone are the days of cheap Amigas. I was able to get an Amiga 500 system for a reasonably fair price of AUD$400 (given the current market value) from Ebay locally, and soon enough it arrived, in it's original box.

The box is not in good shape, with plenty of masking tape in evidence, but fortunately the all important contents survived the couriers best attempts to destroy it, in the apparently deceptively simple task of carefully moving a box 2 metres to and from a truck to deliver it.

This Amiga 500 was well packaged inside, and came with a joystick, mouse and external floppy disk drive.

This Amiga 500 has the "springy keys" that I remember on friends Amigas back in the day - our family Amiga 500 and the one from my Checkmate 1500 system didn't have keys like that, they had a more solid mechanical feel. No yellowing I can see.

Flipping it over, I can see this Amiga 500 has been opened before. I guess they all have by now. 

I saw online that you can buy remakes of the original warranty stickers, which sadly means I guess that people can attach them and lie when selling these systems that they have never been opened to get more money for them. 

I suppose it isn't any worse than the people selling remake Moonstone Amiga game boxes for crazy prices, which is also happening now.  Caveat Emptor.

The ports on the back look in good condition too, albeit with a bit of markings evident on the backing plate internally:

As an aside I was always curious why Commodore insisted on labelling both the A500 joystick ports as Joystick when one of them is in reality the full time mouse port. For new users it is confusing as hell.

The case is in good condition - time to hook it up and see if it works. Given there is no scan doubler, I used my Microbee scan doubler solution I use for the Amiga 1000 system to connect it to a modern TFT screen. I am pleased to report the system worked first time.

The Insert disk screen appears, showing a 1.3 kickstart rom is installed internally.

I loaded up Clubisque, a 2023 demo for the Amiga 500 to confirm the floppy disk and audio is working well.

Please to say they both worked fine.

As nice as it is to have a base Amiga 500, I want to upgrade it to have some more modern comforts and features.

I decided to order some upgrades from Individual Computers. First, an expansion card 1MB memory upgrade with Real time clock and battery for the trapdoor slot, an Indivision ECS V3 to scan double the output from the Amiga 500 to VGA output, and an ACA 500 Plus to give the Amiga 500 a hard disk, accelerator option and 8MB fast memory. 

I have other upgrades I already own I want to add too, but important thing is to maintain the base A500 compatibility I now have.

I also ordered a ACA500 plus plexiglass case for ACA500 plus card, along with a extra set of ports to support the optional ethernet module for the ACA500 when it is installed (which I already have but doesn't fit my older case).

While I was waiting for these upgrades to arrive, I decided to repurpose my older ACA500 expansion card, which I normally use in the Amiga 1000, which works great after the ACA500 firmware upgrade I did a few years back. I will connect it back to the A1000 once the new card is here.

My ACA500 has a nice case that came with it when I bought it second hand many years ago. I also have my ACA1233n 030 accelerator attached to it.

The ACA500 expansion makes no use of the extra 126MB memory on the accelerator (even though it detects it), which is a shame. This is apparently fixed on the ACA500 plus that is coming, so hopefully that will improve the setup soon.

Here it is connected to the new Amiga 500 setup.

I took out the 4GB Amiga CF card which currently runs AmigaOS 3.1 hard disk on it. I then prepared a separate 2GB CF hard disk via USB to CF converter on my Amiga 3000 (booting in 3.1.4 mode) with four partitions of around 512MB each in HD Toolbox. I want to use it to boot workbench 1.3 so I need to keep the partitions small.

Using HD Toolbox I then load the 1.3 kickstart file from my Workbench 1.3 floppy disk (located in l/fastfilesystem) to the RDB on the CF instead of the default 3.1.4 fast file system driver, so it is using the older 1.3 file system, since it will be used on Kickstart 1.3 roms.

I labelled the disks System, Data1, Data2, Data3:

For those who are not aware as regular blog readers, my Amiga 3000 has a v1.4 super kickstart, which allows soft super kickstart rom booting in 1.3 mode or 2.x (currently with a special made super kickstart) mode. I show how that works in my Amiga 3000 build blog entries here: part 1, part 2 and part 3. I love this machine now it is working completely stable - It gets plenty of use at the moment.

Sadly AmigaOS 3.2 does not work with this A3000 system as super kickstarts are not supported yet, so AmigaOS is the latest version I can run on it. I hope they fix this.

Getting back to the preparation work, I then formatted the four partitions above, and copied the Workbench 1.3 system drive contents from my Amiga 3000 1.3 setup to the System partition on the CF card. 

This is a bit trickier than it sounds since the 1.3 partition is hidden when booting 3.1.4. So I first copied the drive booting from 1.3 mode to wb13data1 partition, which is visible on both sides. Then copied from there in 3.1.4 mode, since I needed the USB support to copy to the CF card.

While that copy was in progress on the Amiga 3000, I set to work on opening up the Amiga 500, since I would need to do it anyway for the Indivision ECS upgrade, and I wanted to see what I was working with.

This Amiga has the Commodore A501 512k memory expansion card installed, and it is clear that the original battery on it has leaked badly all over the card. These cards were originally covered fully by a metal casing which made it quite difficult for owners to know if the battery had leaked.

Looks like the previous owner has removed the cover completely, cleaned it and (maybe) fixed the leak damage, so card amazingly still works!

That said, I don't like or trust it at all, and decided to remove the card completely.

I have much newer 512k expansion card from Amigastore.eu lying around, so I decided to swap it in while waiting for the Individual computers one to arrive.

I then ran the Amiga System test disk I have to make sure the card is detected and working ok:

All good - memory expansion found fine.

I then connect the ACA500, so I can see the detected 030 accelerator card.

The extra memory on the ACA500 is also visible, giving 2MB total memory. Note that ACA500 allows you to present the 512k expansion as 1MB chip to the system, since the FAT Agnus chip version in this A500 is new enough to support it. You can also choose not to use it from the profile menu. Nice feature.

That done, I then removed the ACA500, and pulled apart the Amiga 500 again, this time removing the shield covering the motherboard also. I needed to do this for the Indivision ECS installation to come.

This Amiga 500 is a Revision 6A motherboard.

By now, the CF card copy on the Amiga 3000 had completed, so I put the Amiga 500 back together and connected the ACA500, and now it boots my AmigaOS 1.3 hard disk environment from the Amiga 3000 on the Amiga 500!

This is a great thing, as it saves a pile of work to setup Workbench 1.3 hard disk how I like it. The setup here originates from the Amiga 2000 workbench 1.3.3 that I setup on a 52MB SCSI hard disk back in 1991, migrated and upgraded over time and still in use today! 

FYI I created the Workbench 1.3.3 boot screen IFF picture in Deluxe Paint and start and turn it off the picture in the startup sequence in case you are wondering. I should update it since it is an Amiga 500 and the memory and hard disk size is very different now!

I also ordered a new MIDI expansion for the serial port. I have an external MIDI interface connector box on the Amiga 3000 already, but I wanted a smaller one to use on other Amigas easily. This one has MIDI in and out cables connected directly to Serial connector to plug into the Amiga.

I already have a nice MIDI Roland SC-88 Pro for outputting MIDI files, so I just connected the MIDI cables directly to it.

Pleased to say the MIDI files played perfectly on the Amiga 500 setup using Sequencer One Plus.

I ran SysInfo, which curiously detects the 030 but doesn't appear to use it when computing the speed?

Anyway, not the most important thing since it is not permanent.

While doing this, some Amiga games and applications turned up! These ones are Australian distributed and new in box, still shrink wrapped. No idea why people don't use games they buy for their Amigas.

Nevermind is not a great game, but there is a story behind why I bought it again. Back in 1990, I bought Nevermind from a $5 discount bin at Headlam computers (a computer store in Perth, Australia). 

I did enjoy playing it at the time, as I didn't have much money. As a school kid I got money for mowing our and neighbour's lawns and occasional pocket money from my parents. This was all I could afford, along with one Amiga magazine per month!

I got rid of the game box a number of years ago when we ran out of space in our old house, and then the original disk died recently. So I decided to get it again, and also Anarchy, a game I had never owned or played before.

I also got Instant Music and Disney Animation Studio (New in box) above from a recent purchase, more applications I had never used before - naturally I remove the shrink wrap immediately. 

I realise some people would think unwrapping is crazy as it wipes the value of it, but please realise that I am not a collector looking for profit later on. I am a die-hard Amiga fan and I want to use and enjoy the software now. 

This software has waited on someone else's dusty shelf or garage for long enough - over 30 years, so it is time to unwrap and use it:

It is fun to try out games and applications I never experienced back in the day for the first time in 2023.

Switching back to the Amiga 500 build, I played around with the settings a bit in the ACA500 to try to get some more memory.

As mentioned, even though the ACA500 detected it, the 126MB memory on the accelerator card is not used at all (at least in 1.3 mode), which makes the remaining memory quite restrictive.

By customising a profile to not map the kickstart 1.3 rom and just use the onboard one instead, I get some more memory!

There is also bare bones configuration that gives even more. Almost 4MB now. Much better.

I ran some 2023 demos from the 1.3 CF hard disk on the Amiga 500 to celebrate.

A little off topic but still Amiga related, you may recall in December last year I looked at Amiga magazines from 1985 to 2022. At the time there were some comments from readers that I missed Amiga .Info, Amiga Annual (Australian magazine) and Commodore World.

I was embarrassed to miss some magazines, but with so many released there was always a chance of that! 

I finally fixed this recently thanks to tracking down one US seller and a local Australian seller who had them. Here is my issue of Amiga .Info magazine from 1991:

From the local Australian seller, I got the Commodore World and Amiga Annual 1990 magazines below. I updated the original blog entry too.

As a bonus, I also got some Amigazette 1988 and 1989 member magazines included, which were issued by the Sacramento Amiga Computer Club, who still hosts the annual AmiWest show in the USA. (I went to AmiWest as an exhibitor in 2014). Interesting that someone in Australia had these!

The Amigazette magazines were quite interesting and had some leaflets in them!

Did anyone here go to the 1989 San Francisco summer Amiga Festival?

I also received the latest 2023 K&A Amiga and Commodore focused magazine (Issue 22), and some Commodore 64 Game "cover disk" floppy disks (they sell these separately) to try out later - but obviously not the focus of this blog entry!

Moving back to the topic of this blog entry, the upgrades I ordered from Individual Computers finally turned up - very excited to get into installing them on the Amiga 500. 

I also got the Micromys v5 as it allows PS/2 mouse to emulate a 1531 mouse for the C64 (I don't have a 1531 mouse and they are stupidly expensive now), and also because buying it reduced the international freight price as a promo - win win!

Comparing the ACA500 plus side by side to the original ACA500, the obvious visual difference is the digit display for the freeze functionality of the plus card:

You can also see the ethernet upgrade for the ACA500 plus above it, and the A512 memory expansion card and RTC battery module add-on to the right in the picture above.

Below is a close look at the ACA500 plus card, turned the other way - they addressed a problem with the ACA500 original card design by affixing a plastic support to the cf slots to prevent the CF card pins breaking easily if some one pushing on the cf cards too hard.

That said, I think you would have to remove the shield in order to install the ethernet module on the board, as shown below the ethernet card can't be inserted in to the slot with the shield in place:

Seems a different design flaw for the new one, caused by trying to fix a flaw in the old one. Heh.

The RTC battery installs easily on the A512 memory expansion card. In theory this card can have another A512 connected to it (or any other memory expansion card that fits) to expand the CHIP memory up to 2MB on A500 plus models.

Since I don't have one of those A500's, I didn't bother with getting a second card. Especially since the ACA500 plus has 8MB fast memory anyway. I set to work to install the A512 expansion card in the Amiga 500, since it is the easiest upgrade to do.

Next, I go to work on installing the Indivision ECS v3 inside the Amiga 500, which of course means opening the case again. Once done, I locate the Denise chip, which I need to remove.

The older Indivision ECS cards required you to install the Denise chip you removed on top of the card and install it. The V3 ones no longer need the Denise chip at all, so I can store it safely away.

They recommend to attach the grounding wire for the A500 to improve the display output quality, so I do that with the included screw and nut.

The screw that holds in the zorro expansion connector metal shield, just below the denise chip I think is the perfect place to connect the grounding wire to the A500.

I removed the screw and connected the grounding wire and reattached the screw again.

I then installed the Indivision ECS V3 into the Denise socket carefully.

I then unplug and route the VGA cable through the expansion connector slot.

I can then put the A500 case back on, and connect the VGA cable from my TFT directly to the A500 using this new connector as the Microbee scan doubler is no longer needed. I then power on and it displays very crisply.

There is a black border at the bottom of the screen which is a bit annoying. I'll need to look at that later. I then booted a Workbench 1.3 floppy disk just to confirm the display is working well.

Output looks good with the Indivision ECS V3, so much better than the Microbee solution. I wish I could use Indivision ECS on the Amiga 1000 too, but my Amiga 1000 has the extra daughterboard on it, which is the only OCS/ECS model Amiga the Indivision ECS does not work with sadly.

The ACA500 plus expansion card is next. Unfortunately it cannot be screwed into the older plexiglass case the original ACA500 is in, as the screw holes don't line up. This is why I ordered another glass case that is designed for it. I haven't got it yet though, so I have to continue without it.

Here is the ACA500 Plus installed on the Amiga 500:

On power on, the ACA500 plus menu is shown, and it has so many more options!

Here is a closer look at the menu options:

Pressing TAB I get the system information page:

Looking next at the profiles, we now have 6 profiles we can customise and then boot from, in addition to the standard AmigaOS 3.1 and 1.3 configuration profiles activated with F1 and F2.

The profile options are very granular, and a big improvement on the older ACA500 profile options:

Sadly though, none of the options allow me to boot or see the AmigaOS 1.3 CF card that works perfectly on the ACA500 thatI showed earlier. No idea why that is. The PC formatted CF card is fine though.

I read from others online that they used the cf card disk prep function built into the ACA500 plus to get a working hard disk, then transferred their data to it. I might try that soon, but for now I will use the AmigaOS 3.1 CF card I had in the old ACA500, which works fine in the Plus also.

You can see I have 1MB chip and 8 MB fast courtesy of the ACA500 plus card (some memory is used by programs run with the Workbench booting of course):

So now I powered off and connected the ACA1233n accelerator to the ACA500 plus. Without a plexiglass case the accelerator touches the desk with it's weight, so I use the A500 slot cover underneath it to prop it up.

The system information page in the ACA500 plus boot menu shows the 68030 accelerator is detected and the 126MB memory on it.

Booting into AmigaOS 3.1 off the CF card again, I now have the extra memory from the accelerator. Awesome. 140MB fast memory on my Amiga 500 now - nice.

Naturally, I ran some WHDLoad demos to celebrate.

I customised a profile (the first one) in the ACA500 plus menu to be a base A500 in Kickstart v1.3 mode with the ACA500 basically disabled, so I can enjoy the latest 2023 Amiga demos released at Revision 2023 over Easter.

They work great, and I am pretty happy with this setup now.

When the ACA500 plus plexiglass case arrives, I can then hopefully work on the Ethernet module installation, connecting the VGA connector to it, and other further upgrades. But for now, it works well. 

With the Indivision ECS now installed, I can move the Amiga 500 to its permanent location, which is where the Checkmate 1500 plus system was.

While doing that relocation, I could enjoy the latest 2023 demos on my Amiga 2000 and Amiga 1200 systems - it is so great we have great demoscene still active in 2023. Electric Lifeforms is a great demo.

Neocolora on the Amiga 1200 is 030 targeted and runs from floppy disk, which makes a nice change to the usual 060 demos we see on AGA machines.

Here is the Amiga 500 after moving it to the new location - looks much better next to the Amiga 600 and Amiga 1200. Time to enjoy Cycle-Op, very impressive new Amiga 500 demo from Oxygene.

Some other classics too of course:

Lastly, I put the old ACA500 card and the 2GB Workbench 1.3 hard disk CF card back into the Amiga 1000, and it boots and works perfectly there. No kickstart floppy disk needed as the ACA500 soft kicks it and I have enough fast memory in the Amiga 1000 for that to work. :-)

I hope you have found this build interesting. I plan to do more with the Amiga 500 once the plexiglass arrives, but it is a fully functional system now and already does what I wanted it to do. Anything else is a nice bonus!


  1. Isn't the Oxygene demo called Cycle-Op instead of Cyber-Ops?

  2. The X-Surf 500 should be installed on the top side of the ACA500+ not the bottom side!

  3. Hi. What is that device installed on top of your Roland SC88 please? Nice amiga setup for sure.

  4. I'm currently doing something similar with my spare 500. I want a 1.3 system to play games and demos, so I've connected my A570 to it and I've upgraded the A570 with 2MB and a SCSI daughter board. I'm now waiting for my SCSI2SD to arrive.