To Upgrade, or Not to Upgrade, That Is the Question

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, the Retro Computing Roundtable, when the host topic really struck a chord in me. In this episode, no. 148, Paul Hagstrom was hosting and his topic for discussion was: Venturing down the retro upgrade path.

How far should we go down the upgrade path toward modernity? If you have a, say, 68030 Mac, would you want to put a third-party 68040 accelerator in it? You would have in 1993. But what is the point today?

Lately I’ve been taking advantage of the wide availability and relatively low cost of FPGA and Systems on a Chip technologies to upgrade a number of my systems to allow flash-based floppy emulation which brings a huge usability and manageability boost. Also, simply maxing out the RAM on a system is something I’ve often done. These are “reasonable” upgrades from any perspective, really, and are not very costly. But these are not the upgrades that Paul was referring to.

And I definitely have some first-hand experience with the upgrades he was referring to.

I’ve gone far down the road of such upgrades on a few systems, and while the experiences were adventures, oftentimes they weren’t the sort of adventures I originally had in mind. The eventuality in these cases has typically been something like a ball of best intentions, memories of power-user fantasies of days long past, rationalized expenditures, and a dose of regret. Let me share an account of my most stand-out example.

The following is a series of events that happened to an Amiga 2000 I acquired in the year 2000, over a fifteen year span of time.

  • Acquired Amiga 2000
  • Acquired GVP HC+8 Zorro II-based SCSI & RAM board
  • Enjoy gaming and scenedemo fun on said Amiga.
  • Have visions of using said Amiga for more than games and demos. Imagine using it regularly for IRC, web, etc. On the Internet!
  • Acquired A2620 14MHz 68020 accelerator board
  • Acquired X-Surf Zorro II-based ethernet board
  • Acquired Retina Z2 high-res/color video board
  • Find I don’t spend much time browsing the web on this expanded Amiga.
  • Sold Retina Z2 high-res/color video board
  • Acquired Indivision ECS scan-doubler / video enhancer
  • Visions of using said Amiga for IRC, web, etc. return to me. Things were just too slow on that 68020. Time to spend $700 on a real accelerator for this 24 year old machine. Better order one from Germany.
  • Removed A2620 14MHz 68020 accelerator board
  • Acquired Blizzard A2060 50MHz 68060 accelerator board
  • Acquired Picasso II high-res/color video board
  • Find I don’t spend much time browsing the web on this expanded Amiga. Seem to have spent more time running benchmarks than on the net.
  • Sold Blizzard A2060 50MHz 68060 accelerator board
  • Sold Picasso II high-res/color video board
  • Reinstalled A2620 14MHz 68020 accelerator board
  • Acquired HxC 2001 SD card-based floppy disk emulator
  • Acquired SCSI2SD flash-based SCSI hard disk emulator
  • Enjoy gaming and scenedemo fun on said Amiga.
  • Hope the game of expanding and contracting said Amiga is at an end.

Of the various platforms I’ve used, for me the Amiga seems to have the strongest “expand me” siren song of them all. I could post another account nearly as long involving two different Amiga 1200s that I purchased, towered, expanded to 68060s, and then sold. In every case, there was that sickening feeling after the big upgrades were sold off of wondering, “what the hell is wrong with me??”

That said, there are some “big” upgrades that have turned out to be well worth it. I spend a good bit of time on my Apple IIgs in its core operating system, GS/OS, moving over files from the LAN, writing out disk images, using music trackers, gaming, etc. Adding in the expensive 8MHz ZipGS accelerator board (the stock 65C816 runs at 2.8MHz) and an Uthernet board were well worth it and quite enabling, given how I use the system. These days I’m trying hard to really think the matter through before jumping down a system upgrade rabbit hole. Please, wish me luck.

Incidentally, as far as my Amigas, I’ve been spending the most time of late with my least expanded one of all, the Amiga 1000 which is still running along just fine on its 7MHz 68000.

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5 Responses to To Upgrade, or Not to Upgrade, That Is the Question

  1. George says:

    I wish you luck, but I’m nto sure what good it will do…

  2. Lane says:

    Yup; the sheer number of upgrades available for the Amiga line is impressive – it’s one of the reasons I like the platform in particular. So many ways to hot rod your rig.
    At the same time, I know exactly what you mean by tricking it out as far as you can, just to wonder what the point is. Do I really need a Vampire V2 in my A600? Nope. It’s cool to see how fast it will run, but my modestly upgraded A1200 with a 42Mhz 030 accelerator gets far more use.

  3. Robert Roland says:

    I’ve done some of these upgrades to my two A2000’s. I’ve found them worthwhile. I plan on moving the Indivision ECS, since having it and a Picasso II in one machine is overkill. I did order a Vampire 500 v2+ for my A500, as it will end up being my main Amiga. It’s been a lot of fun getting back into the Amiga world again. I still use my PC for web browsing, but the X-Surf has been great for getting files over to the Amiga.

  4. Tim says:

    Get a Vampire 2 for your 2000! Will blow the Blizzard 2060 out of the water, and comes with 128MB RAM, micro SD and video card with HDMI.

  5. Pingback: Looking Back on 35 Years as an Amiga User - Byte Cellar

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