Friday, 19 April 2013

The Computer Chronicles - Amiga vs ST(1985)

Now, now here's a thing: 

This is an episode of the long-running PBS series The Computer Chronicles from 1985, discussing the newly launched Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. if you can get past the slightly drab presentation style, there's some pretty interesting stuff here. For one thing, you get to see the Atari and Commodore marketing guys make their sales pitch. Atari are up second, and I'm pretty sure you can detect a slight hint of panic as they've just seen what they're up against - hence the emphasis on the ST as a kind of budget price Personal Computer rather than a games machine.

If nothing else, this does serve to underline some unfortunate issues with the ST's design, which often led to it coming off the worse of the two in performance terms. The Amiga had unique custom designed chips for handling graphics and sound, but in order to beat it's competitor to the marketplace, the ST's build included a certain number of cheaper, pre-existing components. For instance, the Yamaha chip that handled all the ST's sound was a slightly modified of version of the same one that had been in the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX, etc. Essentially, the Atari was a 16-bit machine with the sound output of an 8-bit. The more skilled programmers would eventually get some pretty impressive sounds of it, and of course the ST's ability to output to a MIDI module made up for it some ways, but it was always something of a handicap that Atari users had to put up with.

While this reliance on "off the shelf" components may have given Atari the initial advantage in sales terms, it would come to hurt them badly in the long run, as the poor old ST just couldn't keep up with the demands of increasingly complex games.

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