A1200 accelerator cards: A buyer's guide
Author/Company: AndyLandy/Amibay.com - Date added: 8th February 2013
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So, this has come up a few times recently, so here's a lowdown on what you can plug into the trapdoor on your A1200. Hopefully this is useful to people, particularly our newer members who are just getting (back) into the exciting world of Amiga hardware!

FastRAM cards
These are the most basic expansion you can pop into an A1200 trapdoor slot. The most basic ones tend to be plain 4MB cards (There might even be a couple of 1MB or 2MB cards out there, but I've never seen one). The top of the range ones have a full 8MB FastRAM, real-time clock and support for an asynchronous FPU up to 40MHz. Some cards even use the A500 'Ranger' address space to give you 9MB FastRAM. Some models may take RAM in ZIP or SIMM form, others will have it soldered directly on the card.

For a basic A1200 WHDLoad setup, a FastRAM card is a nice addition, it will double the speed of your A1200 and give some RAM, enabling you to WHDLoad the vast majority of games.

The A1200's on-board CPU is the Motorola 68EC020 at 14MHz. EC models of the '020 support 32-bit access of the RAM, which is why they're that bit faster than 68000-based Amigas, but they only support 24-bit addressing, hence the 8MB FastRAM limitation. Be aware that putting in an 8MB card is likely to cause conflicts with your PCMCIA port. Indeed, some cards will allow you to jumper them to 4MB so as to not interfere with the PCMCIA. You could do a lot worse than add a switch allowing you to choose between 4MB and 8MB depending on what you're doing that session.

Budget accelerators
The next step up from just some FastRAM is a basic accelerator. There are a couple of 28MHz 68020 cards out there that'll give you a nice speed boost over the stock 14MHz CPU, but with the same 8MB/4MB+PCMCIA limitation as the RAM-only cards above. There are also a few 68030-based cards out there which have the same RAM limitations, such as the M-Tec 1230. It's worth noting that clock-for-clock, an '030 is only marginally faster than an '020. Again, many of these models have FPU support and real-time clock circuits.

Mainstream 68030 accelerators
The 68030 CPU has a full 32-bit address bus, so can theoretically address up to 4GB(!) of RAM. Many 68030 accelerators take advantage of this to allow you to get round the A1200's 8MB limit. At the most basic end, you're usually looking at a 33MHz '030 with up to 32MB FastRAM. These cards invariably take standard PC 72-pin SIMMs, so you'll see them offered with different amounts of RAM. (Watch out for GVP accelerators though, they tend to require proprietary 64pin GVP SIMMs which aren't as commonplace).

The new ACA1230 models essentially fall into this category, too. None of these cards will conflict with your PCMCIA port as they put all their RAM into the 32-bit address space, leaving the PCMCIA port untouched.

At the top end of the spectrum, you've got the king of the 68030s: The Blizzard 1230 IV with its 50MHz CPU and FPU, supporting 128MB FastRAM on the card and an optional SCSI module that itself can take yet another 128MB FastRAM.

High-end 68040 and 68060 cards
If you really want to push the boat out, you can eschew the modest 68030 in favour of the much faster 68040 and 68060 CPUs. At this level, there isn't quite the range of different cards, but the big players (Apollo and Blizzard) both have offerings in this market. The card designs for '040 and '060 are often very similar and if your '040 card has the right logic (MACH131 chips rather than MACH130 ones) it is quite likely that it can be upgraded to an '060 with the addition of a new CPU, a 3.3V voltage regulator and appropriate timing oscillator. Again, these cards will all support at least 32MB FastRAM and once more, some models have optional SCSI kits available. Be aware that once you get to this level you will probably need to consider a higher-rated power supply and give some thought to air-flow and cooling. This is particularly pertinent with early revisions of '040 and '060 CPUs as they can be pretty power hungry and will generate quite a bit of heat.

If you want to go the whole hog, the BlizzardPPC is the only real offering out there. Supporting AmigaOS 4.0 as well as some enhanced features in 3.9, a PowerPC can give you some pretty serious performance, but it usually comes with an equally serious price tag! These all come with a 'companion' CPU, either a 68040 or 68060 to remain compatible with the classic Amiga environment, as well as a PPC 603e, running at 160MHz-240MHz for accelerated PowerPC code. Our resident PPC guru, stachu100 has pushed these cards to their limits, getting 68060 CPUs up to 80MHz and PowerPC ones to 330MHz! The points above about higher-rated PSUs and decent cooling/airflow are even more pertinent here when you're running two CPUs.

FPU = Floating Point Unit, these are occasionally useful for some productivity apps, but the majority of Amiga software doesn't need one. Full-core '040 and '060 CPUs have one built-in, LC040/060 ones don't. '020 and '030s can take either a 68881 or 68882 module, either synchronous or asynchronous to the CPU clock. Nine times in ten, you probably don't care.

MMU = Memory Management Unit. These allow for paged virtual memory access. To the first approximation, nothing needs one. EC030 CPUs are missing it, but full-core 030s have it. If you're doing some serious coding and need a decent debugger, or you want to play with 68k Linux, you'll need an MMU, otherwise, don't worry about it. I believe WHDLoad can take advantage of an MMU if one is present, but it'll work quite happily without.

RTC = Real-time clock. Just in case you need your Amiga to remember what time it is between reboots. It's nice to have, but hardly a big deal. If you're doing a lot of hard-disk based work, having timestamps on your files might be useful. If you're gaming, you probably don't care. Beware, some earlier A1200 cards have Ni-Cad 'barrel' batteries to keep the time. These are prone to leaking and should be removed ASAP! You can replace them with a newer Ni-MH 'barrel' or do the lithium coin-battery hack. (More on this another time)

OK, so this is Amibay and we don't discuss prices outside of an actual transaction, but it's fairly safe to say that cards generally get more expensive as you descend the list. A1200 cards tend to change hands often enough that they have reached a price equilibrium and determining the 'going rate' for any given model isn't too difficult.

Caveat Emptor!
Before laying down your hard-earned on any A1200 card, it's always worth checking out BBOAH or Amiga Resource. Both sites have very comprehensive information on just about every card that's out there. Some cards are picky with which RAM modules they support, some have a SCSI option, others don't. Some take weird proprietary GVP SIMMs. Some won't fit in a standard desktop A1200, being designed for use in a tower conversion. Make sure you know what you're buying before you buy it, and save yourself a lot of headache later.

Happy hunting!

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