RiscPC 10 Years Old TodayBy Peter Naulls. Published: 16th Apr 2004, 23:08:31 | Permalink | Printable
10 pizza oven cooked slicesToday marks 10 years since the RiscPC launch on the 16th April 1994.
To the London event hosted by Acorn, were invited various RISC OS enthusiasts, who were encouraged to post to Usenet, including this detailed report by David Ruck. The RiscPC, whilst not by any means Acorn's last production machine, was its most powerful. It remained their flagship product for 4 and a half more years, until the closure of the workstations division and the cancellation of the ill-fated Phoebe.
The RiscPC, although remaining essentially the same, underwent significant performance and functionality changes via processor and RISC OS upgrades from Acorn, and the plethora of expansion cards, PC cards, memory upgrades from other parties. This was aided by its novel, yet infamous and often cursed, slice system, allowing the case to be easily expanded, but often also, items in the lower of the machine became hard to reach without taking the whole machine apart.
Drobe.co.uk spoke briefly today to Jack Lillingston, of Castle Technologies, which took over production of the RiscPC and A7000 from E-14 after the dismantling of Acorn. "It was a fantastic machine", Jack says. And indeed, it continues to be so - asked about how long he expected his customers to continue using them, he cited people still using Electrons, now around 20 years old, so we could easily expect RiscPCs to be well used machines for another 10 years. Jack also says "it was a bread and butter machine" - not only for Acorn, and Castle, who produced a range of expansion cards, but for many other hardware and software developers who made products to take advantage of the features of the RiscPC over older RISC OS machines.
And it really was upgrades that determined the longevity of the machine - that is, apart from its rugged design and relatively lightweight OS. The StrongARM processor upgrade being the most significant, giving up to 10 times speed improvement over the original 33Mhz ARM6 processors. There were also other important upgrades - the 2nd processor PC card meant many users were able to avoid (for a time at least) getting a real PC. Also later, the ViewFinder card, which for a considerable number of users, gave a new lease on life to their (already then) aging machines.
RISCOS Ltd, too, did their part, taking over development of RISC OS 4 and then progressing with Select, adding many features, and fixing considerable numbers of bugs, as well also providing a major focus for RISC OS development, and breathing yet more life into the RiscPC.
As for contenders for the RiscPC replacement, the saga of attempts shows just how difficult it is to top the machine. There was of course Acorn's Phoebe, which was oh-so-nearly completed. RiscStation's Evolution, which never saw the light of day, MicroDigital's Omega, horribly late, and although finally released still lacking important functionality and of course Castle's Iyonix, not without its own share of problems. For the time being, most RISC OS users will probably continue to have RiscPCs as their primary machines, although there's certainly a growing body of Iyonix users, and indeed, VirtualRPC users, who've escaped the hardware, but certainly not its legacy.
One of the most famous RiscPCs was of course Peter Bondar's "Rocket Ship" RiscPC, featuring numerous slices including most famously, a pizza oven. Not something he got to keep, however, when he left Acorn.
With reference to my own venerable StrongARMed RiscPC 700 with numerous upgrades, it is merely 8 years old. When I purchased it, I was scoffed at for claiming I would still be using it in 5 years' time, although even then, there was plenty of evidence that Acorn machines don't die easily; such as the BBC Micros still seen doing service in odd corners. I also have a second RiscPC rehoused in an A7000 case, and of course, an Iyonix. Oddly, my Iyonix has yet to replace my RiscPC, because it happened to turn out to be an excellent ARM Linux development machine. So, my RiscPC lives on, for many years more I expect.
I had hoped to receive my RISC OS Select ROMs today, for which I had recently been charged, since that would certainly have been fitting, although I expect the significance of the close dates has not been lost on RISCOS Ltd.
Finally, we have a history of some significant dates in the RiscPC time line. Errors in this are all mine.
- 16th April 1994
- RiscPC 600 Launch with RISC OS 3.5
- March 1996
- First StrongARM card powered up.
- July 1996
- RiscPC 700 launching, including 16-bit sound on a Mark II motherboard with an ARM710 processor. The 202 Mhz StrongARM upgrade was available around this time too along with RISC OS 3.7.
- Mid 1997
- 233MHz StrongARM RiscPC (J233) machine available, up clocked from the original 202 Mhz.
- September 1998
- Cancellation of Phoebe and closing of Acorn Workstation division
- Early 1999
- Castle sign licence with E-14 to distribute and produce A7000s and RiscPCs.
- March 1999
- RISCOS Ltd acquires RISC OS 4 licence from Pace.
- July 1999
- Release of RISC OS 4 by RISCOS Ltd.
- May 2001
- Select Scheme Announced by RISC OS Ltd (Begun in October 2001)
- May 2001
- First Viewing of the Omega at the Wakefield Show.
- May 2002
- Select 1 released
- October 2002
- Select 2 available
- 30th November 2002
- IYONIX pc launch at the South East Show.
- May 2003
- Select 3 available
- June 2003
- Nominal Omega launch with hand out of machines at Big Ben Show in The Netherlands.
- July 2003
- Castle announce purchase of RISC OS from Pace.
- November 2003
- Iyonix first birthday.
- November 2003
- Castle confirm no further plans for RiscPC production due to hard to get parts.
- February 2004
- Adjust ROMs officially announced
- 16th April 2004
- RiscPC 10th Birthday
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