The Commodore Amiga 500. Arguably the best 16-bit
console computer ever made (certainly my favourite). Whilst many people called it a console, it was lot more. It was a home computer for the masses that did everything. Homework. Gaming. Programming. Productivity. The Amiga 500 was the jack of all trades and maybe even the master of some in its heyday.
The Amiga 500 was released in 1987 and over the years proved to be Commodore’s best selling Amiga model. Ever. Estimates put over 6 million units sold.
Processor: Motorola 68000 microprocessor
Ram: 512 KB of chip RAM (1MB in the Amiga 500+)
Software: Amiga OS 1.2 / 1.3 – also known as kick start
I/O: 1 double-density floppy disk drive
Does the Amiga 500 need recapping?
We covered Amiga recapping in our article WHY YOU SHOULD RECAP YOUR AMIGA – AMIGA RECAPPING FAQ
The Amiga 500 used higher quality through-hole capacitors which did not suffer the same fate as those on the A600, A1200, A4000 and CD32 which use surface-mounted units, prone to failure.
Unlike the A500+, the humble A500 did not contain a battery, this prevented issues with leaking cells causing untold damage as they leaked over time.
Whilst not necessarily an absolute must, recapping the A500 does have its benefits. It will help lengthen the life span of the machine and also help resolve issues with poor sound and video quality. At present, both my A500 units remain with the standard capacitors whilst my beloved A1200 and CD32 were sent away for recapping immediately after purchase.
Essential Upgrades for the Amiga 500
- 1MB Ram Expansion
Many later games required the half meg memory expansion (a full 1MB of fast ram) in order to play them. 512KB of Fast RAM can be added to the Amiga 500 and 500+ using the trapdoor expansion slot. This is a simple upgrade that can be completed in just a few minutes with no tools or soldering required.
- Geotek Drive
A Gotek drive is a USB Floppy emulator that replaces your internal floppy drive. It features a USB slot and a small display indicator. The Geotek uses floppy disk images stored on the USB drive to “emulate” its content as if it were physical media inserted into the floppy drive. It allows a huge catalogue of games to stored and played from a relatively small USB drive.
- External Floppy Drive
Having a second floppy makes both 2 disk games and
copyingbacking up games a much easier and quicker process. They are easy to install and plug directly into the external floppy port (DB23F) on the back of the Amiga. Up to 3 additional floppy drives can be connected using the port (daisy-chained) giving the A500 a whopping 4 drives.
Controllers and Joysticks
The Amiga 500 features a 9-pin Atari controller port. This meant that as we all the huge array of purpose-built controllers made for the Amiga, it was also compatible with my favourite controller – the Sega “batwing” Mega Drive controller. Another popular choice was the classic Competition Pro joystick, it’s iconic design and bombproof construction made it a popular choice.
The Amiga 500 was bundled with the iconic Tank mouse. This two-button mouse is a design classic and provided to be very reliable. As with all ball mice, it required some maintenance and cleaning but overall it proved to be a solid point and clicker.
- Battery Leaks / Failure (Amiga 500+ )
Having recently purchased what looked to be a mint condition Amiga 500+ plus, I’m now fully aware of the dangers of a leaking battery. Whilst the initial booting of the machine looked promising, after a short period of time the 500+ locks up with some graphical errors and crashes. As you can see from the photo, the battery has leaked and caused some localised damage. The battery will be removed from the machine and it’ll be sent over to AmigaPassion for some TLC and a recap.
As with all our beloved beige machines, yellowing (for some) can ruin the timeless looks of the Amiga. This can be cured by retrobrighting or Sunbrighting the console. Retrobrighting uses Hydrogen Peroxide to bleach the plastics back to their original colour. This comes with its risks. We’ll cover this in a dedicated article coming soon.
- Failed power supplies
Failed power supplies on the Amiga are a relatively common issue. Power supplies can be replaced using a known working unit or can be fitted/modified to accept an ATX power supply.
- Video issues
Video/display issues can be caused by number of things. These include memory modulate failure or even a chip becoming loose on the motherboard. We experienced green video on a recently Amiga 500 purchase and found that the CIA chip was not seated correctly. This was resolved by pressing the chip back into its socket.
What’s the difference between the Amiga 500 and 500 plus (500+)
The A500+ was introduced in late 1991/1992 for a number of reasons. Minor changes were made to the motherboard to make it cheaper to produce, it was also Commodore’s was of introducing a new version of the Amiga operating system (2.04) or kickstart. This causes a number of compatibility issues with older games. The A500 also rolled off the production line with 1MB ram as standard and a battery-backed RTC (Real Time Clock).
Due to the compatibility and battery issues, we’d advise that unless you’re adding a 500+ to an existing Amiga collection, you should opt for a 500 over the plus.
How much should you pay?
Depending on age, condition, bundled accessories and games you can pay anywhere from £30 to £200 for an Amiga 500. I would strongly advise that you test the machine thoroughly before you hand over your cash. Test all the keys, the display and sound quality. Is the floppy drive in order and is there any water damage? Make sure all the required cables and power supply are included. Be sure to check if the machine has already been upgraded to 1MB of ram, this could be a negotiating point.
Where to buy your Amiga 500
There a number of market places offering the sale of second hand Amiga 500 machines. We’d be very careful of eBay, we’ve heard from a number of buyers who have been duped into buying faulty consoles. Amiga eBay prices also seem to be inflated compared to those seen elsewhere. Our Amigas were purchased through the various Facebook groups and apart from our CD32, they were collected and tested in person.
If possible, always test before you hand over and cash or buy from a trusted Amiga enthusiast. Both our Amiga 1200 and 500+ units were essentially faulty but sold as working machines. As with many “vintage” electronics, it’s very much buyer beware.
Work in progress
This article is a work in progress – please feel free to submit additions or correct any information above in the comments below or contact us.
Let’s hear from you!
What are your thoughts on the Amiga 500? What are your tip tips / essential upgrades or top tips for a would-be buyer? We’re also looking for anything which needs adding or is incorrect with this article. Let us know in the comments below.