Revisit the Joys of Amiga–But Not the Frustration–With WinUAE
By Jim Norris
At a Glance
Small & tightly coded
Spotty ROM availability
WinUAE takes you back to the “computer of the future,” Commodore’s Amiga.
Back in the 1980’s, a select group of computer pioneers got a glimpse of the future in the form of Commodore’s Amiga computer line. Easily a decade ahead of the PCs and Macs of the era, these systems boasted hardware-accelerated graphics and stereo sound on a preemptive multitasking OS with a Unix-like desktop GUI supported by a fully featured command line interface. A darling of the entertainment and video industries in both the US and Europe, a wealth of innovative and fun software was developed for the platform, including some of the best games and 3D applications of the period. Many of these titles were never ported, so keeping them handy after Commodore went bankrupt meant devoting a sizable amount of desk space to an aging computer system. Fortunately, revisiting these classics today doesn’t require you to redecorate your den. All you need to get your 80’s inner geek on is the free WinUAE (and legally obtained Amiga software–more on that below).
Ported from the original Unix UAE package, WinUAE flawlessly emulates the hardware environment of the original Amigas, from the 500 on up to the mighty 4000. Kickstart ROM boot files containing any of the various versions of Amiga’s Workbench OS are supported, along with floppy and hard disk images for software installation. Many of the old favorites are freely downloadable from Amiga enthusiast sites or via their original publishers, so donning your Rocket Ranger helmet or becoming Defender of the Realm again has never been easier.
You can specify fairly elaborate setups from the Properties window, including emulation of expansion RAM, video cards, CPU upgrades and network support. WinUAE ran every gaming title and application I tossed at it. In most cases, the easily accessed configuration options provided better compatibility than the original hardware. Much effort has been made to smooth over the rough edges inherent with quarter-century old computing. Entire system states can be saved to a file for instant access later, allowing you to get right back into a difficult game or recreate a complex desktop configuration without effort. Floppy drive emulation options allow near-instant loading times. Joysticks are automatically mapped to their PC equivalents with autofire built in. Custom boot profiles allow you to have the best Amiga possible for every program you run. You can even emulate scanlines, for that retro CRT look. WinUAE does it all.
The drawbacks here don’t involve WinUAE directly. Depending on the sources available, Kickstart ROMs may require some hunting to obtain. Cloanto’s Amiga Forever bundles them with software and a commercial version of UAE for a reasonable price, getting just the ROM may take more effort, and can require access to your original hardware on a one-time basis so a dump can be performed. Cloanto’s turnkey download option is easier to install–and like WinUAE, perfectly legal. Also, acquainting (or reacquainting) yourself with the ins and outs of an old computer system can take a little time, even if you’re no stranger to the platform: be prepared to take a few steps up the learning curve. For the Amiga faithful, however, none of this matters. WinUAE is nothing less than a time machine back to the golden age of computing. It’s a ride well worth taking.