'Chuditch' Iyonix built in AustraliaBy dgs . Published: 28th Apr 2004, 15:10:40 | Permalink | Printable
Exclusive Where there's a will, there's a wayAs discussed recently, a number of RISC OS user groups in the southern hemisphere have cited the high costs of transport, currently unfavourable exchange rate, and local taxes as major obstacles to the purchase of what they really want - an XScale powered Iyonix PC. Some have even said that this situation has contributed significantly to the demise of their user groups. And so, at just the right time, a new project has now taken off in Western Australia.
Its aim is quite simple. That is, the project aims to defeat these major obstacles to purchase of an Iyonix PC in Australia, by providing a hybrid RISC OS computer, with all the facilities of the Iyonix. But at the same time, not breaking the law, and not hampering Castle's own sales efforts.
The first rather unusual part of the project is that it is not run by a RISC OS dealer. It is, according to those behind it, a cooperative venture. This effectively means non-profit, as those behind the project specifically explain that the costs of carrying it out on a commercial basis would in itself place far too high a financial burden (added to by local sales tax) on the potential Iyonix user. This cooperative aspect of the project makes it sound almost like a Western Australia user group. After all, user groups aren't by definition a body of people that meet every month. On the contrary, user groups can just be people who cooperate for their common benefit - that's exactly what's happening here.
Building the dream
There is however a specific reason for cooperation in this case. There is an obvious method to avoid the huge cost of shipping an entire Iyonix package (computer, mouse, keyboard, manuals, cardboard supports and outer packaging) half way across the world. That method is to identify which parts specifically need to be sourced in the UK, and ship only those.
Some might say "only the motherboard" is the answer, and of course would be wrong. It is essential that the relevant PCI cards are also shipped. Although cynics may make much of the claim that the PCI cards are standard parts, actually the graphics card is modified by Castle themselves for the Iyonix, and it is absolutely vital that the right USB card is supplied for complete compatibility (an Iyonix without working USB isn't worth having - no mouse and no keyboard, for a start).
So the cooperative in Western Australia have arranged with Castle to buy everything necessary to build their own Iyonix. That means motherboard, two specific PCI cards, an official Iyonix serial number, a complete copy of Oregano 2, and a separate CD with the entire Iyonix hard disc image.
As we expected, Castle were adamant that these packs are not available "off the shelf" to ordinary users (or even extraordinary ones). The volume shipments to Australia are specifically to meet the requirements of the local market, and overcome the obstacles imposed by the large distances involved. So individual UK and European users shouldn't jump to the conclusion that they'll be able to save money on an Iyonix by buying their own case and peripherals separately. The additional support burden of such an approach makes it infeasible for Castle.
Locally grown produce
The CD with the Iyonix hard disc image is necessary because the peripherals required for the fully working Iyonix will be sourced locally. Here begins another aspect of the substantial (but legal) saving on local sales tax and overall shipping cost. Hard disc drive, floppy disk drive, CD-RW drive, SDRAM, case (including power supply) and ribbon cables can all be bought locally at local cost prices. As in Castle's X100, the floppy drive can be combined with a built-in digital memory card reader if required.
Shipping all of these parts from Suffolk to Western Australia would cost a large amount of money. Sourced locally, the Iyonix can be assembled and tested with the peripherals required for a particular local user, and it's all done. To give an idea, the shipping cost for ten Iyonix packs from the UK is roughly the same as the shipping cost for a single finished and cased Iyonix.
The resulting hybrid computer is provisionally known as a "Chuditch", or at least that's the logo that the project team have begun using. The Chuditch is a type of cat native to Western Australia, chosen in this case because its "tenacious, unique and from the other side of the world". The project as a whole is referred to as "Iyonix DownUnder" - originally just an email title, but increasingly a quick and easy way to refer to the whole enterprise.
More is better?
The Western Australia collective are starting slowly, and plan to order Iyonix kits ten at a time, and peripheral/case parts from a Perth supplier six at a time. My suggestion is to extend the scheme as a whole to all Australia (still on a cooperative basis), and order twenty Iyonix packs at a time, and twenty-four peripheral packs. This could see the price for each Iyonix fall significantly. Those involved in the project have specifically said that it will not extend to New Zealand, as ESD already supply Iyonixes to New Zealand users.
There have been a few mishaps in the early development of the project, as of course it is to some extent a learning experience to those involved. Re-casing Iyonix systems is a common pastime for enthusiasts with time on their hands in the UK, but even that sometimes involves blood being spilt.
Devil is in the detail
Just like Castle with the original Iyonix, the Iyonix DownUnder project doesn't force people to buy a monitor with their hybrid (as Acorn were often keen to do). Instead, it's just an option that you may consider. Many people will use the monitor from their old Risc PC, or share the monitor of a Windows computer. However, do remember that the Iyonix can support significantly higher resolutions, so if you're still using an AKF60 then it's probably time to get rid of it. (With the rise of LCD monitors, a 17" CRT with much better resolution costs very little these days). Of course, you need to make sure you have USB keyboard and mouse. A Playstation 2 mouse will work fine with any Iyonix, or USB keyboard and mouse can be purchased for next to nothing from any computer store.
After looking at various case designs, the project's supplier in Perth was asked to quote for Aopen cases. Specifically, the QF45 midi tower (roughly the same size as the original Iyonix), and the H340C that the project team rather optimistically describe as "Risc PC style". It doesn't look likely that the resulting hybrid Iyonixes will ever have podule support, but this will not be a priority for most people (the Iyonix X100 doesn't have it either).
Guideline specifications and pricings drawn up by the team provide a fairly standard mix of 40GB and 80GB Seagate hard disc drive options, and 256MB or 512MB memory, with a Sony CD-RW. Some members of the co-operative are opting for more expensive configurations, with one intending to run Iyonix Linux as well as RISC OS, and planning for 1GB RAM and two 120GB hard discs.
Assembling an Iyonix
The project team suggest that local groups getting together and assembling their machines as a joint effort is the best way to do it. (The experts point out what needs to be done, and the non-experts can help out with basic assembly tasks requiring a screwdriver). I'm not entirely clear on whether hybrid RISC OS 5 systems assembled by the team in Western Australia can then be sent on to individuals elsewhere in Australia that need one, but it's time for Australian users to enquire and find out.
The bottom line
In the end, all of this can only happen if the ordinary Australian RISC OS user is happy to buy an Iyonix via the scheme. Because the scheme operates via bulk orders, money up front is essential. So if you're interested, more details are available from Ross McGuinness.
Photos from the project
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