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MicroDigital's Omega priorities

By Chris Williams. Published: 8th Apr 2004, 04:54:45 | Permalink | Printable

Faster and better, sounds like a plan

MicroDigital stated on their website yesterday their six priorities for the Omega: in order, ethernet networking, XScale second processor support, USB, the user manual, graphics acceleration and finally SCSI. It's interesting to note that MicroDigital have placed XScale support above USB, although the company points out that some of these developments "are being progressed in parallel".

The writer behind MicroDigital's latest news update concludes, "My feeling is that in the real world, the 600MHz Iyonix is still overall a little faster than the 300MHz Omega. Hopefully our next upgrade will overtake them and we still have the XScale to look forward to."

Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth
The news release mainly attempts to argue MicroDigital's claim that the Omega's design will afford sufficient bandwidth to both the StrongARM processor and their custom video chipset, allowing the processor to run at full capacity whilst the video system provides a suitably high resolution. Also, MicroDigital are waiting to release version 15 of their FPGA based chipset's configuration to end users, which will (according to MicroDigital) increase the efficiency of the Omega's memory system.

"What has also become apparent is that there is a performance drop when using high resolution modes with true colour," MicroDigital concedes. "Our critics have said that there is not enough bandwidth available to support both video and the CPU. In practice, they vastly over-estimate the amount of bandwidth the StrongARM is capable of using, so in fact there should be some spare."

The OS
MicroDigital seem remarkably upbeat regarding RISC OS Adjust, the forthcoming ROM release from RISCOS Ltd. Having confirmed that the Omega is compatible with the 26-bit operating system, MicroDigital commented: "This new RISC OS really looks a winner. Once you have used it, you won't go back to RISC OS 4.0."

The rest
As for USB, it's still not quite there although they have reportedly finished the low level software that sits between the actual Simtec USB stack and the USB controller electronics. MicroDigital have, oddly enough, left the ball in Simtec's court by saying the release of Omega USB support is down to "how busy [Simtec] are with other work". We have to wonder why Simtec should be expected to govern MicroDigital's software release policy, but it probably makes sense to someone, somewhere, hopefully. MicroDigital have also sent the finished Omega user guide to the printers, which will be distributed to existing users.

The spin
The more vocal users of the RISC OS world are divided into two camps: those who oppose MicroDigital and those who apologise for them. Depending on where you stand, yesterday's progress update will either be a new act of gospel or another round of FUD. Heaven forbid that you might have a reasonable opinion of it all that lies somewhere in between.

The comments on the Omega memory system seem rational enough, but when you consider that with the StrongARM and video system competing there "should be some spare" bandwidth, how will the Omega design cope with that plus an XScale fitted? We also spotted the low blow regarding "earlier integrated [XScale] designs", as it seems MicroDigital can't quite let go of the fact that the Iyonix uses an integrated XScale processor. Yes, the early PXA XScales were allegedly a little dubious, however the Iyonix uses the IOP XScale range. Perhaps MicroDigital were referring to the fact that mass produced chips have bugs (shock!) and that the Yorkshire based hardware developer can afford the luxury of re-programming the Omega's FPGA chipset if a fault or bug slips into their designs.

One other thing is the mentioning of benchmarks, especially Steffen Huber's famous Iyonix vs. Omega comparison. While MicroDigital claim "the Omega out performed the competition", Steffen's own statistics reveal that the 600MHz XScale powered Iyonix slam dunked the 300Mhz StrongARM equipped Omega on every test. The RISC OS Mark results more or less echo Steffen's findings, apart from particular memory and filesystem accesses.

The important thing to remember though is that MicroDigital is communicating again, whichever way you look at it, and with a moderately realistic progress report that tells us what's done. It tries its best not to speculate too much on the future, as predicting the future isn't something MicroDigital are renowned for. If you ignore the odd typo and grammar error (becoz nobodies' perfekt), yesterday's news release is a far cry from previous announcements and self destructive Usenet posts to escape from MicroDigital and on to the 'net.


"Omega developments" - new tagline, hitting the nail on the head, Omega the expandable computer
Previous Omega progress report and Omegas being assembled

Previous: AcornEvolution editor not lost
Next: Simtec denies Omega USB involvement


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Are they going to start exhibiting at RISC OS shows/ visit usergroups? As a potential customer I want to be able to see/try/compare before I buy a machine before I spend that sort of money. The same goes for the Iyonix, but Castle have been doing this.

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 8/4/04 7:32AM
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AFAIK they are coming to the RISC OS Expo in the Netherlands and I might organise another visit to the Arche Acorn User Club sometime in the summer.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 8/4/04 7:41AM
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Ahhh, how this article made me smile :)

-- Spriteman

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 8/4/04 9:48AM
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Same old siren song from MD. Why OH Why did I not buy a RiscPC or Riscstation computer rather than a Mico. A singular failing :((

 is a RISC OS Userjlavallin on 8/4/04 10:41AM
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Because with these you would not get the option to upgrade to a faster computer with a price reduction in the region of a new Mico?

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 8/4/04 10:48AM
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The alternative is to upgrade to an even faster computer which is already cheaper by a value in the region of a new Mico. And had you purchased in Februrary, you could have had a further 100UKP off with trade in.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 8/4/04 11:17AM
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Choices...choices Cost of a new Mico+vat against selling existing Mico and buying an Iyoinix. Which is the better value option?

 is a RISC OS Userjlavallin on 8/4/04 11:17AM
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in reaction to mrchocky

you mean a windows based pc? They are much better value for money than any of the current RISC OS computers

 is a RISC OS UserGW on 8/4/04 12:05PM
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GW: if I meant a Windows PC, then the price gap would be much larger.

Was what I was talking about really not clear, or were you trying to be intentionally obtuse?

"Value for money" is very subjective, so it's not much good bandying it about.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 8/4/04 12:08PM
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but if value for money is very subjective, how can you choose the Iyonix (if that's what you meant) over the Omega. The Omega must have its advantages over the Iyonix, since it's a newer computer.

 is a RISC OS UserGW on 8/4/04 12:24PM
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Surely the Iyonix is the newer computer. The Omega has been "in creation" since 200, whereas the Iyonix was designed and shipped in 2002. The Omega is the later computer...

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 8/4/04 12:35PM
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Since 200? 1884 years of development and it's _still_ not done? :-)

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 8/4/04 12:38PM
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since 200, woo :) But I see, if Omega didn't incorporate all the new technologies that became available in those 4 years, I don't see its use or market possibilities.

 is a RISC OS UserGW on 8/4/04 12:39PM
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Ignoring the highly questionable claim that "newer = better", then the Omega is only "newer" because it was so late. The Iyonix has a newer processor, newer memory architecture, and overall newer design. And (controversially) a newer OS.

</troll feeding> ;-)

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 8/4/04 12:40PM
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Controversies aside, it looks like MicroDigital really are close this time to finishing the Omega's feature-set. There is reason for optimism: each of the firmware updates has enhanced the Omega experience, and so there seems little reason to doubt that the forthcoming 15th release will be as exciting as MD claim.

Choice in the 'native' ARM sector has to be a good thing, I'd have thought. The StrongARM Omega already outperforms the Iyonix in several of the RISCOSmark tests, it'll be interesting to see how this changes with the new formware release.

 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 8/4/04 12:59PM
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Stewy: I wish I could say otherwise, but it doesn't look like they are very much closer at all, apart from the oh-so-nearly-ready networking, which has taken nearly a year to get ready.

Is there any reason to think USB/SCSI won't take as long again? As for the ARM twister, they say they're doing a whole new design to replace the (now dated) 80200. How long will that take? What about the software and OS changes needed to make this thing work? there are still many questions about the functionality of the ARMTwister which remain unanswered.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 8/4/04 1:10PM
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Unfortunately, I have not been able to update the benchmarks with results from FPGA version 14. I remeasured some of my benchmark tests, and there was a slight speed increase, but nothing dramatical that might be enough to even begin to shift the overall result that the Omega is much slower than the IYONIX for the given tasks.

I made other interesting tests with some very complex ArtWorks illustrations involving transparency (transparency totally changes the way ArtWorks draws onto the screen - the "transparency" way is much better suited to systems with comparatively slow access to graphics memory like ViewFindered RPCs and the IYONIX). There, the speed advantage of the IYONIX is the difference between usable and unusable. The speed difference is simply stunning. I guess MD have never done such a thing, or they wouldn't say "My feeling is that in the real world the 600MHz Iyonix is still overall a little faster than the 300MHz Omega".

Now I only need the time to write it all down, so that Drobe can publish it :-(

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 8/4/04 1:34PM
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It's cool that Omega puts the second processor so high on the wish list. It would be nice if there would be a multi processor PCI card with 4 or more XScales and Risc-OS became a multi processor OS. Personaly I would have put the priority below all the other stuff though.

 is a RISC OS UserJaco on 8/4/04 2:22PM
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Maybe the priority list is not for a desktop machine, but more in line with the Rack mounted Omega: [link] A Omega has a high instructions / Watt ratio and a XScale Omega will have a higher. When you scale the benchmarks to the minimum size of their PSU then Iyonix (200 W) and Omega (140 W) are very close.

Maybe MicroDigital is going to explore another market? Top of the embedded market, Telcos? But then I would expect a Unix-version for the Omega because Riscos has some disadvantages for those markets.

 is a RISC OS Useregel on 8/4/04 3:44PM
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In reply to mrchocky:

My impression is that a *lot* of work has been going on 'behind the scenes'; it's not only networking that they've been working on, as evidenced by the firmware releases, documentation, etc.

"Is there any reason to think USB/SCSI won't take as long again?"

From the above announcement, I feel there's reason to be confident about USB. MicroDigital have announced that their bit is complete (bar testing), and Simtec have an excellent track record.

"As for the ARM twister, they say they're doing a whole new design to replace the (now dated) 80200."

Do they say that in the article referenced above?!

"How long will that take? What about the software and OS changes needed to make this thing work?"

Errr, where have MicroDigital said that OS changes are required for ARMTwister to work? I'd appreciate the references please.

"there are still many questions about the functionality of the ARMTwister which remain unanswered."

With respect, MicroDigital are the only ones with the necessary knowledge of their system to explain it. I'm sure that the last thing that you'd want to do is post potential 'misinformation' about RISC OS ;-)

 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 8/4/04 4:17PM
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> Memory Bandwidth...

As for the statement '"What has also become apparent is that there is a performance drop when using high resolution modes with true colour," MicroDigital concedes. "Our critics have said that there is not enough bandwidth available to support both video and the CPU. In practice, they vastly over-estimate the amount of bandwidth the StrongARM is capable of using, so in fact there should be some spare."':

Well, well.... With just that processor Steffens benchmarks showed that on the odd task the Omega was significantly slower in a resolution of 1600x1200@TrueColour than with the low resolution of 640x480@16, both using just 60Hz framerate (TFT screen). Perhaps the 'some to spare' means that Omega will work, albeit perhaps not as fast... And when MD goes for an XScale processor I would assume that that can put a significantly higher bandwidth load on the RAM than the current StrongARM. Anyhow, let's wait and see - or perhaps MD can explain this one ;-)


Oops, Simtec's name is a bit irritating here since last year MD told me explicitely that Simtec was not involved - or perhaps I mis-understood something there.

> Anyhow

I'm glad to read that MD does pass on the odd piece of information again. Let's hope that the next info is not that far away - looking at the news desk this posting is dated 7.4.2004 and the previous one is from 3.10.2003 :naughty:

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 8/4/04 4:52PM
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Honestly. I do wish commercial websites wouldn't get involved. They're only there to make money.

 is a RISC OS Usermoss on 8/4/04 5:01PM
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the last four years went by with MD pretending that "a lot of work is going on behind the scenes". I wonder when all this work will finally surface? This not only means a releasable form of basic components like USB, networking and graphics acceleration functionality, but also the things MD talked lots about in the past: their incredibly efficient FPE solution, the complete internet suite with a competent browser (DA promised me full JavaScript/DOM/CSS1 functionality in 2002), the mythical ARMTwister...

In contrast, the Omega customers did not even receive a complete disc image yet with all the promised bundled applications. Interestingly, they have now silently dropped the whole software bundle from their "Omega specification".

Speaking of USB: I would like to hear Simtec's opinion about all that. Last time I asked, there was no licence agreement between them and MD.

Don't get me wrong, I think that the whole Omega, being able to run a basically unchanged RISC OS, is a remarkable technical achievement. But it doesn't help that MD promises advanced features for some years now without even delivering the basics. And everything is always "nearly ready", like the networking stuff - as an Omega owner, I was promised a working Ethernet card since I got my Omega mid last year.

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 8/4/04 5:01PM
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I always thought the stance on USB was that MD seemed to think Simtec was going to do the software part, but Simtec had no such knowledge!

I still think the Omega is all talk, it seems to perform twice as fast as an SA-RiscPC, with the Iyonix twice as fast again, but according to MD, they can make the Omega faster by just reprogramming an FPGA! Oh yeah, did I tell you that I made my 486 faster than my Athlon by flashing the BIOS? :p

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 8/4/04 5:14PM
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Personally I neither specifically oppose MD, nor aplogise for them. I ignore them, unless they're announcing that a new product is actually available in the shops. The lack of speculation didn't seem to harm the Iyonix's launch particularly.

But it always impresses me the amount of energy the vocal minority of RO users manage to put into fairly random speculation concerning manufacturers vague proclamations. After getting burnt with Peter Bondars somewhat fantastical claims for the Phoebe's video system, I don't pay any attention to anything I can't actually buy. Thankfully everyone's not as cynical as I am.

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 8/4/04 7:05PM
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ninja: I think it's only a very *very* small minority of RISC OS users (three or four people?) who still believe this sort of pronouncement pouring forth from MicroDigital. (See the response from Simtec and you can guess why!)

After all, do you know *anyone* who has placed a new order for an Omega in the last six months?

I wonder if MicroDigital will ever attend any UK shows again?


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 8/4/04 7:32PM
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"Maybe MicroDigital is going to explore another market? Top of the embedded market, Telcos? But then I would expect a Unix-version for the Omega because RISC OS has some disadvantages for those markets."

As it happens I work in the telco industry and such a box can be succesful when the OS has real time capabilities and redundancy build in. Special versions of Linux are okay and maybe a special version of Risc-OS can be build.

But then surely the PCI cards need to be hot swappable and on the front and the harddisks should be mirrored and hot swappable as well.

 is a RISC OS UserJaco on 8/4/04 7:56PM
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dgs: I know the MD supporters are pretty thin on the ground, but surely there must be more than three or four of them? If that's true, who's everyone else arguing with?

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 8/4/04 8:01PM
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Nice to see further progress, and also nice to see the newdesk updated. I used to enjoy reading them when they were updated regularly.

 is a RISC OS UserRevin Kevin on 8/4/04 8:54PM
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ninja: Several dozen Omegas have been sold, at least. hubersn bought one of them.

(Was that a good purchase or a bad purchase, hubersn? )

You've probably already seen that, on forums or newsgroups, it only needs three or four people to put forward a world view ("X-Scale will be available in a few weeks, MicroDigital are doing great"), and it makes an awful lot of noise.

Top prize to the first person that suggests "well just don't reply to them then", etc etc ad nauseam.


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 8/4/04 9:34PM
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