Amiga Fest 1997 Report
by Kirk Trumble
Computer Fest, 'Canada's Largest Computer Show and Sale' of which Amiga Fest was a part, was closer to a computer flea market than a true computer hardware/software exhibition such as MacWorld/SIGGRAPH. However, AmigaFest was the better part of Computer Fest with hardware/software manufacturers such as Newtek, phase5 and Nova Design having booths as well as showing their products at the large demostration stages. Once each day Borland, IBM and Claris presented products at the demonstration stages but did not have booths. Scala was also there, represented by MEDIA Innovations of London. Their booth was on the border of the Amiga Fest section but they were listed as a Computer Fest exhibitor and demonstrated Scala MM100 as a clone product on the same stage as IBM.
NewTek despite recently having made much noise about the wonders of the clone marketplace was listed as an Amiga Fest exhibitor and were located in the AmigaFest section. Don Ballance was there demonstrating the Flyer to small groups of the curious. The first booth you saw as you entered the Amiga Fest area was that of phase 5. Two A4000T's were running PowerUp PowerPC accelerator cards. These cards hold 604e PowerPC cpu's running from 150 MHz to 200 MHz as well as 68040's or 68060's. The idea of the two processors which run in parallel to each other is that, according to Wolf Dietrich, developers can easily port their applications to PPC processors in stages. As a first step developers can leave their GUI and other functions in 680x0 code and only port their power hungry tasks, such as those used for rendering, to the PPC chip. Programs could eventually be made fully PowerPC or left as hybrid programs while developers wait for the Amiga hardware situation to be resolved. When I asked Wolf if there would be PowerPC based software released at the same time as the PowerUp boards he flinched. He then went on to say that developers would be supporting these accelerators but would not say when such software would appear. Wolf also said phase5 was "trying to talk" to NewTek about their supporting phase5's innovation in Amiga hardware since they could offer them raw processing power as well as "access to the OpenGL standard which they wanted", according to Wolf.
Despite not being assured of lots of software being immediately available the PowerUp board could still be a good investment as a card with a PPC 604e @ 160 MHz and a 68040 @ 40MHz is expected to retail for little more than a CyberStorm MkII. I also got the impression when Wolf asked me about the prices that he was testing my reaction to see if they were too high ( or maybe it was to see if they were priced too low). On the retailer front the largest retailer at AmigaFest was National Amiga and they were busy. Valley Soft from Pembroke Ontario were also there with a lot of used and new (but largely older) games but not enough booth space to display them all. Comspec of Toronto who at the very last World of Commodore had a large retail display as well as being the store from which I bought my A3000 shared a booth with QuikPak but had no merchandise for sale. They are, however, QuikPak's Canadian distributor. There were other retailers at Amiga Fest, some of whom handed me thick cataloges, but I was surprised to find the one with the biggest presence was London's National Amiga and not a Toronto area retailer.I also find this a little worrying.
QuikPak shared booth space with ComSpec and were showing two newly reconfigured Amigas the A5050 and the A4060. The A5050 is an A4000 that shares its tower case as a Wintel motherboard (not a bridgeboard), the two are linked by the Siamese System which networks the two computers together and allows the sharing of various devices made for one system by the other. The A4060 is a standard A4000 with an '060 cpu replacing the usual '040. The Siamese System was being demonstrated by its creator Paul Nolan, who also originated Photogenics.
As I have a Mac emulator I also went to this "Computer Fest" expecting to find Mac software which is as scarce in London as Amiga software (though if recent trends continue it may become harder to purchase Mac software off-the-shelf than it is to buy Amiga software locally). There was no Mac software at Computer Fest. Ok, there were some Adult CD-Roms which were Mac-compatible but that was it.
Overall, it was an interesting festival and what Amiga Fest lacked in size it made up for in quality even if wasn't another World of Commodore.