He was microelectronics. Jay Miner, the real protagonist of this article, landed in the ranks of Atari in the late 1970s, just as the company that Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded in 1972 was starting to do well. Miner had an electrical engineering degree from Berkeley nearly two decades earlier, but his first steps as an integrated circuit designer were in the medical industry.

Once in Atari, The miner did not take long to emerge. Bushnell had a good eye and assigned him to the team developing the hardware for his new 2600 video game console, and Miner responded. In a relatively short time, he succeeded in transforming the tangle of cables and circuit boards responsible for generating the graphics and sending the signal to the television into a single integrated circuit called TIA (TV interface adapter). Atari 2600 was a smash hit, but Jay Miner’s story was only just beginning.

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From Atari’s misunderstanding to the founding of Hi-Toro

The expertise with which Miner designed integrated circuits had not gone unnoticed among Atari gyrfalcons, so once the good reception of the 2600 console was consolidated, Jay began working on his successor’s graphics logic. Your starting point was the TIA chip that he had given such a good result in the 2600, but fine-tuned it as needed so that it is not only found in the 5200 console, its successor; Atari has also decided to use it in its new line of 8-bit microcomputers.

In 1979, Motorola released its 68000 chip, a 16-bit microprocessor with CISC architecture that Miner quickly fell in love with.

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Warner Communications took control of Atari in 1976, causing Nolan Bushnell to see his ability to decide which direction the company should take diminished. The constant pinch with Warner executives meant that Bushnell decided to leave Atari in 79, and with this step, Miner lost one of his most valuable allies. Someone who knew how to design integrated circuits from the start.

In 1979, Motorola brought its 68000 chip to the market, a 16-bit microprocessor with the CISC architecture that Miner quickly fell in love with. So neither short nor lazy, began to design a new video game console capable of taking full advantage of the capabilities of this promising processor. But he did achieve one thing: if you wanted the 68000 to perform at its best, ideally you would free it from a significant chunk of the computational effort that you would have to do when running games, so it should be supported by a dedicated chipset which, among other things, they would be responsible for generating the graphics of the future console.

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This photograph of Jay Miner was taken at an Amiga developer convention in Paris in 1990.

Unfortunately for him, Miner’s project was not well received by Atari decision makers. At that time, they were more interested in using low-cost components in their next machines than in designing new chips that promised to be much more powerful and sophisticated, but also much more expensive. For Miner, this decision was disheartening. He was convinced Atari was missing the opportunity to do something truly innovative. Something original. So discouraged, in the early 80s decided to leave Atari and returned to the medical industry in which he had worked before entering the video game market.

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Two years after leaving Atari, Miner received an unexpected call. Across the phone line was Larry Kaplan, a former Atari teammate who had also left the company due to the drift he had made due to Warner’s decisions. Kaplan was determined to start a video game business. He knew firsthand the fame that preceded Miner and wanted to count on him in his project. And Jay agreed. Shortly after this call to Kaplan, Miner and other former Atari engineers started a small hardware and software company. called Hi-Toro.

The first Amiga takes shape and Atari reappears on the scene

Hi-Toro had two departments. One of them would develop video games and peripherals for the most powerful consoles of the time, including Atari 2600 and ColecoVision. And the other would be led by Miner and would focus on designing a new video game console 16 bits more powerful than those on the market at the time. Its heart would be the Motorola 68000 microprocessor that Miner had fallen in love with since the time this chip was released to the market.

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Miner had designed three chips, Agnus, Denise and Paula, which would be responsible for freeing the CPU from generating graphics and sound.

The first results were not long in coming, and soon after the founding of Hi-Toro Miner and his team, they were ready for the foundations of Lorraine, which was the codename they gave the console. promising video game they were working on. . The Motorola 68000 processor was the core of the hardware for this project, but Miner and theirs had also designed three chips, Agnus, Denise and Paula, which would be in charge, among other things, of freeing the CPU from the generation of graphics and sound. This was the sauce that Miner intended to add to the recipe since he had the idea to dive into this project while working through the ranks of Atari.

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But there was something else. What Miner really wanted wasn’t to design a video game console; I wanted to set up a full computer. With its keyboard and expansion ports. The problem was that Hi-Toro investors didn’t want to risk. They knew that Atari, Coleco and Mattel, who had launched their Intellivision years before, were doing very well in the console market. And they wanted to follow this same path. They didn’t see the need to take risks by devoting company resources to building a computer that was clearly more complex than a video game console. But Miner did not throw in the towel. He had an ace up his sleeve: he would install the expansion ports he needed on his console so he could easily transform on a full computer in the future.

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Atari2600 During the development of the graphics logic of the Atari 2600 console, Jay Miner began to forge a definite solid reputation when the Commodore Amiga 1000 was released in 1985.

Lorraine’s development was progressing at a good pace, but Hi-Toro fell flat on its face with a small stumbling block: There was a Japanese gardening machinery company that used a brand almost identical to its own. His name was Toro, and their names were too similar. Hi-Toro couldn’t afford to be mistaken for a gardening company, so they changed their business name to a Spanish word which beyond its meaning sounded very pleasant: Amie.

The Lorraine project seemed to be getting better and better, but in 1983 a huge setback happened: the video game market collapsed. And with him, Atari. The company’s investors realized that under these circumstances it would be suicide to bring a new video game console to market, so they ultimately accepted Miner’s claim that Lorraine wouldn’t be a console. It would be a 16-bit computer. And it would definitely be called Amiga.

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Atari was willing to prolong the negotiation as much as possible so that Amiga’s economic dependence would allow them to take control of the new machine cheaply.

The first working prototype of Amiga was due to be unveiled at CES in Chicago in 1984, but at the time, the computer was just a collection of several printed circuit boards linked together by a tangle of cables. Yet this machine had something special. Something that apparently stunned people who attended this first presentation of Amiga hardware. The graphics sent to the monitor that Miner and his team had connected it to were infinitely superior to anything in existence at the time.

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What Miner and the other Amiga engineers did not only caught the attention of anonymous visitors to CES; It also made Atari officials look at the machine. However, they were not interested in the computer; They really wanted to get their hands on Agnus, Denise, and Paula, the three custom chips that so powerfully supported Motorola’s 68000 processor. Amiga needed more money to complete their project and turn those printed circuit boards into equipment that could really be marketed, so receive a cheap injection of Atari It seemed like a good idea.

Friend1000 This is what a Commodore Amiga 1000 looks like, the first computer of which is undoubtedly one of the best-known personal computer families. Many fans still use their Commodore Amiga.

The plan was for Atari to get a fair amount of Amiga shares, but although all the paperwork had been resolved and the price for those shares had been decided, Atari loaned Miner and his half a million dollars. people so that they can continue to work on the final stage of Lorraine. What they didn’t know was that in reality Atari was willing to prolong the negotiation as much as possible so that Amiga’s economic dependence would allow them to take control of the new machine. at an advantageous price. Warner managers knew the Amiga coffers were empty. Miner and his team will never be able to repay the half a million dollars loaned to them.

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And finally Commodore comes to the rescue

Amiga’s financial situation in 1984 was critical. Their resources were so limited that Miner and his team had no choice but to accept Atari’s offer, however unfair it seemed to them. But unexpectedly, an ally appeared. Jack Tramiel, the owner and founder of Commodore, was willing to pay a fair price for Lorraine and lend to Amiga one million dollars so that Miner could cancel the debt he had contracted with Atari. The dark panorama that towered over them seemed about to clear up.

The Commodore capital injected into Amiga allowed Jay Miner and his team of engineers to finish the computer they had in mind. The first Amiga, the Model 1000, was ready to be unveiled. It was no longer just a bunch of printed circuit boards and a tangle of cables; it looked like a commercial computer. On July 23, 1985, the Commodore Amiga 1000 was unveiled at Lincoln Center in New York City, and its reception was even better than what Lorraine had had a year earlier at CES. This machine captivated everyone those who had the chance to attend this presentation. And even today, he continues to do so. The rest … is history.

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Cover image | Bill Bertram
images | Michael C. Battilana et Cloanto IT | Kal-El | Evan-Amos

Source : Engadget