debuted its first 16-bit computer system, the Amiga in July 1985 just a month after the debut of its primary competitor, the Atari ST
. Like the fledgling Macintosh
, the Amiga and ST were based on the Motorola 68000 CPU while the Amiga and ST also offered greatly enhanced color graphics and sound over home computers from the 8-bit era. Initial sales were sluggish for the platform as Amiga was inconsistently marketed as a solution for small businesses, and supply was limited for the first year.
In an odd twist of events, the Amiga is more the spiritual ancestor of the Atari 8-bit
line than Commodore's own 8-bit computers such as the hugely successful Commodore 64
. The origins of the Amiga were developed by Jay MIner (who had designed both the Atari 8-bit co-processors and much of the Atari VCS
) and the roots of the Amiga began with a concept for a next generation system while Miner was at Atari
. Ultimately Atari refused to research a 68000 based solution, and it wasn't until a separate company, Amiga Corporation was founded with Miner as its technical lead, that actual production work was started on what would become the Amiga. Atari ended up being an investor in Amiga and unknowingly ended up help bootstrap their larger competitor in the 16-bit home computer market after Commodore purchased Amiga outright in 1985 (a move which led to a flurry of lawsuits between the companies.)
In addition to using the faster 16-bit processor, much of the Amiga's power was derived from its custom chipsets. It enabled the Amiga to perform fast video via a specialized blitter chip that was designed to support quick display and movement of GUI objects like Windows in AmigaOS but became a boon for game programmers wanting to exploit the Amiga's capabilities. Additional capabilities such as the innovative Hold-and-Modify system allowed the Amiga to display high resolution images with color depth beyond the published specifications of the system. Early Amigas supported up to 64 colors (4096 with HAM) where as late models could achieve up to 256 colors in standard modes from a 16 bit palette. The Amiga's impressive sound system was driven by a custom chip capable of 4 separate 8-bit channels spread across a stereo sound field.
By 1986, Commodore began to market the Amiga more purposefully, offering a cheaper model pitched for home users as the ultimate replacement for the 64, and advanced models designed to compete with the Macintosh as creative tools as the core of its dual-pronged marketing approach. Commodore also killed off the remaining 8-bit systems other than the still successful 64 to simplify its product lines. However, despite its original success, and the gradual adoption of later 32-bit revisions of the Motorola 68k CPUs, a lack of technical innovation led to the Amiga failing to capitalize on its initial success and the system gradually lost ground both to the Macintosh and increasingly capable multimedia PCs in the early 90s. Despite that, Commodore would sell almost five million Amigas, with its best success in Germany and the United Kingdom before production halted in 1994 with Commodore's bankruptcy. One last gasp attempt to leverage the Amiga technology was with the short lived Commodore Amiga CD32
game console first introduced in 1993, an ironic return to the Amiga's roots as a game machine.