Over the years there have been several attempts to emulate the Mac on Amiga computers.
And as far as I can tell, for Mac emulation on the A1000 there was only one game in town. It was originally released in 1989 for Amiga OS 1.3 machines. And it was called: A-Max.
A company named Readysoft out of Ontario, Canada, created this stunningly innovative and well-crafted Macintosh OS emulator.
To be technically accurate, A-Max isn’t really an emulator because it doesn’t emulate any of the Macintosh hardware. It patches the Mac OS so that it runs on the Amiga hardware. In other words, it ports the Mac OS to the Amiga.
Readysoft produced two hardware and four software releases over a period of three years.
The hardware, by and large, was to allow the use of original Macintosh boot ROMs and to provide physical ports for additional Apple peripherals and devices to be connected to an Amiga computer.
The A-Max hardware and software is a little confusing to talk about because of the naming conventions Readysoft employed. I’ve linked an article in the description below this video that shows a complete breakdown of the Mac emulation products they produced across the A-Max line to try and make things more clear.
But it boils down like this:
There were essentially two hardware options released over the years: one any Amiga could use, the other a Zorro II card for big box Amigas. In addition, there were four separate software releases. Each subsequent release supported later versions of the evolving Amiga and Macintosh operating systems, which obviously provided more features and potential.
The original A-Max, often referred to as a cartridge, is this odd looking thing with three ports on its sides. One is for plugging into the back of your Amiga’s floppy port. As a result (unless you have some sort of special cable), you have to pull your machine pretty far away from the wall for it to fit back there. We have to remind ourselves that back then, a lot of computer desks were pretty gigantic compared to today.
In 1989, this meant A-Max would have been used with an A1000, 500 or 2000. The other ports allow you to attach an original Apple 800K external floppy drive. That is super cool, because as we’ll see later we’ll then be able to read - or even write - real Macintosh disks with our Amiga as if it were a real Macintosh. The cartridge also provides a pass-through port for additional Amiga floppy drives.
On the inside, the cartridge has 2 sockets to house original Apple Macintosh boot ROMs.
It can take two 64K ROMs or two 128K ROMs. The 64K ROMs are from really early-days Macs, like the Macintosh 512K and 512Ke “enhanced” computers. The 128K ROMs, however, are from the more capable and venerable Mac Plus. Those are the ROMs you really want to either source or burn for yourself, as they will let you use up to System 6.0.8 with A-Max 2.0 and up to 7.1 with 2.5+ software.
I burned my own 128K Mac Plus ROMs, as my cartridge’s sockets were empty when I bought it. But I decided to use System 6.0.8 for performance reasons.
In this project, I took a closer look at the original cartridge-based A-Max released in 1989 - the year I graduated high school (!!) - in conjunction with an Amiga 1000 running OS 1.3.
As I said before, A-Max is kind of like an OS port running on Amiga hardware.The A-Max hardware is mostly just to socket the ROMs and support the external 800K Apple floppy drives.
In fact, A-Max is so good at what it does, it actually convinced one of my friends back in the day to leave Amiga for the Mac as they entered university.
While the Amiga took graphics, sound and video to new heights in the 80s, for a lot of people Print was THE killer app. And the Mac did print really, really well. There's no sense in denying that. Heck, back in the late 80s my high school journalism department switched entirely to Macintosh computers for us to create our school newspaper. It was a sensational choice at the time and really was astounding to use back in the day.
After attaching the cartridge to your computer or external floppy drive, you insert the Program Disk instead of Workbench. While I have the 1.0 and 2.0 program disks, I ultimately use version 2.56 of the software with the cartridge as it is fully supported in Amiga OS 1.3 and allows for me to use a slightly better Macintosh System OS.
Back in the day, most people used floppy disks entirely with A-Max. They would use their Amiga’s drive with a very innovative “transfer program” that could convert Mac disks and programs to work on Amigas. Or, real Apple floppy drives plugged into the cartridge that the Amiga could then use.
When you first launch A-Max you’ll get to a settings screen. You might want to adjust the RAM or video resolution, for example. Or let it know if you have an Amiga KS ROM or not. That kind of stuff.
Remember that the Mac Plus’ resolution is 512 x 342. You can choose that resolution in addition to Hires Interlace and get the exact same boxed look of a Mac Plus on your screen. What I do, though, is pick 600x400 to take full advantage of the screen real estate the Amiga provides. It doesn’t distort anything at all - you just get more room.
I use Hires Interlaced mode, which does cause a little bit of flicker because I don’t have a flicker fixer on my 1000. But if I turn down the monitor’s contrast it really isn’t that bad. In fact, I have some friends who say back in the day there was a screen-tinted film you could buy quite cheaply and attach it to your monitor which essentially served as a poor man’s flicker fixer. Adjusting my contrast kind of attempts to do the same thing and it’s fine. There is even a program on Aminet called Fuzz - made for A-Max users - which anti-aliases the screen to try and eliminate flicker. But I don’t mess with that.
You can save your changes directly to the boot floppy so you don’t have to fiddle with things the next time you load the program.
Next you’re going to insert your Apple System disk to “boot your Mac.” Remember we’re running entirely off of floppies here, but there actually are ways to get a hard drive installation going with A-Max 2.0 and 2.5+ with Amiga OS 1.3. And I’m going to show you that in a second.
If you have an external Apple 800K floppy drive you can use original Apple System disks if you want to. Otherwise, you’d need to convert the Apple disk image files to work on Amiga floppies using the A-Max transfer software. That’s what I have here. They sometimes call these “A-Max Format” which is this sort of bridge between two worlds where Macintosh software works on Amiga formatted disks.
Pretty quickly we’re looking at a Macintosh Plus’ screen on our good ol’ Amiga!
I'd argue the classic Mac OS is even BETTER on an Amiga when using system friendly software because we get so much more real estate with a bigger screen.
Even with only using floppies we have a very capable Mac Plus machine for all intents and purposes. I can run Apple software right off the floppy drive, or even a Floppy Emulator (aka Floppy Emu) by Big Mess o’ Wires! This allows me to use software I grab online and bring it over by simply transferring an SD card from a modern machine over to the floppy emulator.
There is one catch. A lot of high-end Macintosh software wants to be installed to a hard drive to run. It’s not always the case, but it’s often the case.
Now some of you - especially the Anti-Apple folk who have never even owned a Mac - are probably asking yourself, “Why - WHY AmigaLove?! - would you ever want to do this?! You SUCK so bad!”
There are lots of reasons, actually.
But the first and most obvious is software. Now I can run fantastic software that was made specifically for the Macintosh yet never ported to Amiga - or any other platform in some cases.
As I said before, a lot of Macintosh software wants to be installed to a hard drive to run. And believe it or not, folks, it IS possible to do on an Amiga with a stock Amiga 1000.
In order for all of this to work on the original Amiga running OS 1.3 it all comes down to the hard drive controller you’re using. Some will work and some won’t.
The mechanism that lets A-Max find and talk to these devices is the controller card. They are supported by A-Max II and 2.5+ through the use of software drivers that are written specifically for given cards. A different driver is required for each different controller.
Some came with the A-Max software disks back in the day. These included drivers for cards like the A2090, A2091, A590, some Great Valley Products (GVP) cards and eventually Supra as well.
But staying with the original A-Max cartridge and OS 1.3, the choices are limited. If you have a brand new Parceiro, for example, we’d need to beg David Dunklee to write a driver to support A-Max. Or, let’s say you’re one of a handful of folks who has an original - or brand new - Microbotics Starboard with a StarDrive SCSI module.
You heard that right. If you have a Starboard with a StarDrive, and also happen to have an A-Max cartridge, in 2022 you can run to Aminet and download brand new drivers that let you install A-Max 2 to your A1000’s hard drive on a special partition or stand-alone hard drive.
It requires a partition or drive less than 300 MB big. If you aren’t running a Rejuvenator Crispy wrote special software that will create the needed Mountlist on the fly. If you do have a Rejuvenator you’ll have to hand-type the Mountlist details of your SD card by hand and also update your Startup Sequence.
It’s a bit of brain surgery, to be honest, but it is possible. And it really changes things big time.
Have we all entered a spacial anomaly? Jumped into a crack in spacetime? Negative! We’re livin’ large in 2022 with our Amigas - and our A-Max!
One final caveat is A-Max works very well with software that is system friendly, but it falls down when software tries to go directly to the hardware. A lot of games, for example, bypass the OS, and talk directly to the Mac chips, which on the Amiga are not there.
Fortunately there are a lot of games and programs that are system friendly and do work with A-Max.
A great example is the legendary RPG by Infocom that was only ever made for Macintosh: Quarterstaff. Even the PC never got this gem. I got it to run perfectly when I installed it to an A-Max partition on my Amiga’s hard drive. It looks and plays bleeping flawlessly.
Or, Apple’s own legendary Hypercard software, which is pretty wild to see running on an Amiga!
Or, how about Microsoft Word 5.1a, for example - what some consider to be the greatest GUI-based word processor ever made.
In order to run this software, it has to be installed to a hard drive and not run off of floppies. Getting A-Max running on a hard drive provides the maximum flexibility for mass storage options as well as providing support for other Macintosh SCSI devices such as printers and scanners - if your hard drive has a pass-through.
As such, I went the next logical step and installed System 6.0.8 directly to the new A-Max partition. It’s a very slick setup where the Amiga never sees the A-Max partition, and A-Max never sees the Amiga partitions. It really feels like two computers sharing the same clothes.
If I wanted to use powerful creative programs like Adobe Photoshop 4.0, I’d move over to my Amiga 2000 or 3000 and use the A-Max II+ so I could dive into System 7.1 with better screen modes and full-color. But the truth is, if we’re going to move over to one of those machines and they have Workbench 2.0 or above and a really good accelerator (I’m talking something that flies), we might honestly be better off running something like Shapeshifter, which is pure software emulation. It was supported for much longer and allows for later versions of the Macintosh OS.
The advantage of A-Max I, II or 2.5+ (or even the Emplant), is they give you hardware options like using real floppy drives, printers, scanners or even midi devices. If you’re just wanting to play some games or run some software and have a high-end Amiga, pure software emulation might be the way to go for a lot of folks.
But for an Amiga 1000 running in sweet Old Blue? The A-Max is THE only game in town. And it’s 100% kick ass, especially when installed to a hard drive which is difficult to do, but totally attainable - as I’ve demonstrated. The possibilities it creates are fascinating, fun and really cool to explore. And for all of you die-hards out there, you never had to technically ever buy an Apple product.
- AL -
Enormous props to Crispy for his creation of the new A-Max drivers for the StarDrive in 2022. And, huge thanks for his exceptional patience, kindness and guidance in helping me get this setup running on my own machine.
Here are my results, keeping in mind I have an AdSpeed installed. I'm a bit surprised it isn't higher. Then again, it's testing against some serious voodoo hardware as far as this program is concerned. Check out that math score, tho!
Incidentally, I think the test is based off a stock SE model. Not sure if that matters here (vs. compared to a Mac+).
NOTE: I ran this test off the floppy, not the hard drive.
If I can get the FPGA emulation people to finish their direct frame buffer hooks, then I could finish the all-new video driver core! That would let things like Replay, MiSTer, and other FPGA based Amiga emulations to have ultra high-res Mac video modes.
I really don't want to have to go back and add new/more code to the video driver core because it means re-working and re-assembling every video driver again!
That would require Dunklee to write a specific A-Max/Parceiro driver. It could happen, but I wouldn't expect one any time soon. There simply aren't enough out there to make it worth his time and efforts from what I've seen thus far.
I've gotten some of the original A-Max cartridge plastic stand-offs. I never showed this before, but up to this point I've been using a Lego man that came in-the-box with my C64 Mechboard as a "feelie" extra gift. He was the perfect height to hold up my A-Max cartridge. The only downside being whenever I moved my hands around back there he'd easily get jostled and sometimes even fall down to the floor into the dreaded Pit-o-Wires.
Well, now the cartridge can be supported as it was originally intended with zero stress (both mentally and literally). I just need to find the Lego man some new work!