I have professed my admiration of the Commodore Amiga on many occasions. Although the Commodore 64 – the single best-selling personal computer of all time – garners the lion’s share of attention when discussing Commodore, in my opinion, the Amiga is the true shining star in the company’s history and we have Jay Miner to thank for it.
As great as the C64 was (is), it had contemporaries with similar capabilities. The Amiga, however, was in a class of its own. When the original Amiga (which ultimately became known as the Amiga 1000) first arrived back in the mid-80s, it was light-years ahead of any other personal computer available at the time. The Amiga’s multi-tasking and multimedia capabilities could not be matched, and would not be matched for years to come. Once cost-reduced versions of the Amiga arrived a few years later, the systems became some of the most desirable amongst gamers and digital artists of all kinds. And I would know; for a short while, I was the top Amiga 500 salesman in the Northeast U.S. Poor managerial decisions and fierce competition ultimately killed Commodore and the Amiga though, and the rest is history.
Speaking of history, a rare recording of Jay Miner has just surfaced. It was found tucked away on a shelf in a garage by Bill “AmigaBill” Winters of The Guru Meditation and founder of the still-active Westchester Amiga User Group, or WAUG. For those that are unaware, Jay Miner was one of the two original founders (along with David Morse) of Hi-Toro, which eventually became Amiga Corporation. Jay was a brilliant circuit designer and visionary that not only built some of the chips inside the Amiga, Atari 2600 and Atari 8-bit family of computers, but leading-edge pacemakers (for the time) as well. Jay Miner actually designed the address generator chip inside the first Amiga, affectionately called “Agnes”, all on his own. And he supervised the design of the other custom chips inside the Amiga as well. It was the Amiga’s custom chips that made the machine so special. The Amiga’s custom chips offloaded many complex processing tasks from the system’s Motorola 68000 series CPU, freeing it up to do other things, while the custom chips handles some of the heavy lifting.
The rare recording that has surfaced is of Jay Miner speaking at 1990’s AmiExpo East, which took place in Washington D.C. The talk was titled, “The Amiga From The Beginning” and consisted of thoughts, facts and anecdotes about the Amiga, and why the machine was so special to him and its legions of loyal followers. During a Q&A session toward the end, Jay even accidentally leaks the existence of the Amiga 4000, though he chalks it up to misspeaking while discussing the Amiga 3000.
For fans of the Amiga, the speech is an interesting glimpse into the mind of its creator, after having moved on from Commodore, leaving his creation in the hands of others to manage and keep alive. And though Jay didn’t agree with some of the decisions Commodore made, live on the Amiga did – to this very day.