Originally called simply the “Amiga,” and ultimately the Amiga 1000 (A1000), the first model to hit store shelves is always at the top of the list. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful Amiga ever made. And with its tidy mechanical keyboard, clever “garage” and machine-specific mouse, the Amiga’s sleek design and elegant lines are world class. Plus, being first never hurts, either.
But her slightly younger cost-reduced sister, the all-in-one blonde bombshell the Amiga 500 (A500) sold more units than any other Amiga in history, and for good reason.
The A500 was a full-featured and stunningly powerful home computer delivered at a price that was too hard to resist for many consumers in the late 80s. Without a monitor, these amazing machines retailed in the United States for only $699. And while that was a lot of money back in 1987, it was far less than any other Amiga model as well as most competitor machines, while it delivered at other-worldly levels. And unfortunately while the Amiga 500 never fully captured the public’s imagination or pocketbooks the way the Microsoft PC did, it did sell more than any other Amiga model with some estimates as high as 4-6 million units in the US and EU combined. In comparison, the Amiga 1000 is thought to have sold in the hundreds of thousands before being discontinued.
The Amiga 500 is a cost-reduced machine compared to her big-box siblings, but in the very earliest of her days she shipped to markets in what today is referred to in reverent tones as the “Chicken Lips” edition. It’s hard to sound sane when using such a ridiculous nick-name around non-Commodorians, but that’s the label that stuck.
The Chicken Lips A500 wasn’t very cost reduced at all compared to what came later. In fact, this Amiga computer came with some very specific components considered by many to be best-of-class, shared only with her fraternal twin, the Amiga 2000.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes the Amiga 500 “Chicken Lips” computer so special and highly sought after to this very day.
The quickest way to identify a Chicken Lips A500 is usually by the case badge. If the case badge is an embossed Commodore “C=“ logo, it’s not a guarantee you’ll have all of the goodies, but it should at least get your heart beating a little faster because you just might. If you do have the embossed logo, the next thing to look for are two very special and unique keycaps on the keyboard.
Most Amiga computers were made with Amiga keys directly on either side of the spacebar. On the Amiga 1000 and some very rare Cherry MX Amiga 2000 keyboards these keys were printed red. In all others they were printed black.
But there were two other Amigas that were given very unique keys: the pre-retail Amiga Development System, and the Chicken Lips Amiga 500.
In the non-retail development machines the Amiga keys were actually Commodore logo keys, one with a solid fill and one as an outline.
The Amiga 500 Chicken Lips also sports a solid filled C= logo on the left side. And on the right it has a very unusual, solid “A” at half the normal size. If you see an Amiga 500 with these two keycaps combined with the embossed logo, your heart rate should be at dangerous levels at this point. Just ignore that fitness strap on your wrist smile to the beat. What makes the Chicken Lips 500 shine even brighter is what’s found directly below its keycaps. This special Amiga, along with a rare keyboard made for the Amiga 2000, has a very high-end mechanical keyboard that uses the exquisite NMB Hi-Tek Series 725 switches, aka “Space Invaders”. There are several variations of switches, but the ones in the Chicken Lips keyboards are known as White Linear. This same switch can be found in some very early and quite rare Amiga 2000, Commodore PC-5 and PC-10 keyboards.
The Space Invaders switches are stiff and extremely stable, and they feel absolutely fantastic.
What most folks like about the Space Invaders, though, is actually the dense clicking sound they make when you type. While the Cherry MX keyboards are often pointed to when top Commodore keyboards are discussed, there seem to be as many folks who prefer the Space Invaders version.
While the keycaps themselves are not double-shot, which is my personal preference for high-end keycaps, they appear to be printed via a process called Dye Sub, or Dye Sublimation.
Most Amiga 500 keycaps are printed with a method called pad-printing, which is the easiest and most cost effective method available. The downside to this process is over time the letterforms can actually be scratched or worn off under heavy use. I imagine a few of you watching this have some keyboards where the letters have vanished over time - that’s pad printing.
With Dye Sub, a laser engraves the legend into [the] surface of the keycap. MechanicalKeyboards.com:
The letterforms themselves aren’t as crisp as double-shot keys, and upon close inspection are even a little bit fuzzy. But they’ll pretty much last forever without obvious wear.“Then a dye or clay material is applied to the void. This makes the legends highly visible. The keys are extremely resilient to wear [and] the legends cannot be felt as the user types.”
Other Possible Differences
With the Chicken Lips A500 the LED power light is red. And on the Caps Lock keycap, the clear circular light is larger than later models with a hatched effect on the inside of the keycap. There also seems to be very slight differences with some of the enclosures of the internal floppy drives.
The motherboards in the earliest Amiga 500s are labelled Revision 5 & “Rock Lobster,” which was a moniker taken from a famous song from the American band the B-52s.
Between my 2 Chicken Lips machines, both are Revision 5. However in my earliest Chicken Lips edition, S/N CA1002602, the motherboard is primarily golden in color. In the slightly later model, which did not get the special keycaps or Space Invaders switches, it is green. There doesn’t seem to be any definitive rhyme or reason as to which Chicken Lips models got which colored motherboard that I can tell. While this may not matter to purists, it’s worth noting that the Revision 5 motherboard is actually harder to upgrade particularly in regards to the Agnus, as well as the Kickstart ROM. The DRAMs also have a higher power consumption which more prone to failure these days.
While my Chicken Lips computer was made in the United States, these machines were also made elsewhere around the world.
The German version looks identical to the US version, except of course it is a PAL machine. In addition, if you flip the machine over it has an unusual S/N sticker that only shows the number on a thin, silver label. The rest of the manufacturing information found on the US sticker is actually embossed right into the bottom shell of the case’s plastic in the German versions. It tuns out this machine was also manufactured in Hong Kong, thus muddying the waters even further as subtle differences between regions do exist from model to model.
I’ve found one A500 that is entirely Chicken Lips from end to end in PAL style of the German models, except it lacks the embossed logo. Total head scratcher. But that seems to be an extreme edge case, no pun intended.
Finally, on my really early Chicken Lips my machine has very unique rubber feet on the bottom. They look like nearly perfect cylinders with very little tapering. I've never been able to find replacements as a result of this - dang it - and of course I'm missing just one foot on one corner. Even More Differences: from later A500s, via bweebar on YouTube:
- Phillips case screws, not Torx and it never had a warranty void sticker
- No Extra Half-Brite mode
- No software switchable audio filter (filter off software turns the power LED completely off and the sound does not change)
At the end of the day, it’s really all about that keyboard. And if you have the Commodore Key to the left of the spacebar, welcome to the club. (And please show your serial number at the door.)