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'Chuditch' Iyonix built in Australia

By dgs . Published: 28th Apr 2004, 15:10:40 | Permalink | Printable

Exclusive Where there's a will, there's a way

RISC OS in .auAs 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.

IyonixDownUnder logo


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.

Photo of the inside of an Iyonix
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.

Links


Iyonix website Photos from the project

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Discussion

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A great initiative. Come on, how about East Asia... anyone else but me craving for Iyonix in Japan?

 is a RISC OS Usergovind on 28/4/04 4:34PM
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There are a few users in Japan, actually. I don't know if they have an Iyonix or not.

Chris. Just me.

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 28/4/04 5:06PM
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The next issue of Qercus (no.270) is due to contain an article on the Quokka, which I believe is a RiscStation hybrid built locally in Australia in a similar way.

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 28/4/04 5:22PM
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A fantastic article - great to hear about RISC OS in other countries.

What modifications does the GeForce2 in the IYONIX have to make it work with the computer? I realise the USB card in some cases (perhaps all) has a notch cut out of the edge connector to allow it to fit in the 3.3V only PCI slots.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 28/4/04 6:09PM
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Call me nave but.... what do you mean with "actually the graphics card is modified by Castle themselves for the Iyonix"? I always thought that IYONIX used standard components (well, selected, but unmodified components).

 is a RISC OS Userbernie on 28/4/04 6:15PM
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The red and green outputs need to be swapped round (or something like that, anyway). This isn't necessary if you can swap them yourself using the connector lead to the monitor.

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 28/4/04 6:17PM
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dgs: Must be the red and blue then - I always wondered how they got around the RGB/BGR problem! I thought it was odd because I didn't think the NVidia card natively supported the byte ordering that RISC OS uses in 24/32 bit colour modes.

Hmm...I don't really like this solution. I wonder if they could find a better way around it. I'm sure they could change the byte ordering in RISC OS, but it would break colour rendition in a *lot* of programs.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 28/4/04 6:32PM
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Surely Castle could of pre-empted this problem when designing the Iyonix and swapped the red and green channels on the motherboard, or even in RISC OS (as I believe this is where the problem was said to lie).

This seems like an excellent idea though, and it's a shame Castle aren't considering selling the DIY Iynoix packages to other customers; I'm sure that those holding out who can't justify the cost would jump at these packages, as items such as hard-drives and RAM can eaily be sourced very cheapily from other locations.

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 28/4/04 6:50PM
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Maybe this is also the reason why there is no DVI version available?

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 28/4/04 6:52PM
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Smiler: there are no red and green channels on the motherboard. The video card is the only item in the IYONIX containing video hardware.

Does the Viewfinder get around the problem in a different way? Perhaps the ATI cards support different byte orderings.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 28/4/04 7:08PM
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When ViewFinder for Iyonix? <hides>

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 28/4/04 8:16PM
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While a kit-form Iyonix wouldn't make it instantly affordable with a definite price-cut, it would at least allow people to select a nicer case, and their choice of mouse, keyboard, etc. I guess not allowing kit Iyonixes is really just for ease of support, rather than Castle trying to make money on the mice, hard drives, etc. There are some horrible cheap PSUs around, dodgy generic RAM, etc.

 is a RISC OS UserJessFranco on 28/4/04 8:31PM
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I would suspect ViewFinder's module does the BGR swapping. Select AIUI has BGR mode support available in it somewhere.

JessFranco - whilst I would love to believe that there are no financial reasons for Castle not wanting to sell 'kit form' Iyonixes, I can't help but worry about your naivity if you seriously think that they don't profit from the other components.

Just to prove it to you: part-exchanged mobos cost 600. I very very very seriously doubt they repair many. - and I suspect they make a profit on those boards. They charge 75 for the GeForce, although you can buy those for a teensie fraction of that OEM price, and the mod is as described above, so not too many man-hours work there. USB PCI cards also cost not many UKPs.

Are you saying that they're not profiting off the machines by charging 600 for the remaining components?

I'm not knocking them for that AT ALL - it makes good business sense to do it, and since people will pay the money, it's clearly a successful policy.

Now I feel really bad, like announcing that Santa is really just a normal man dressed in a red suit :(.

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 29/4/04 12:23AM
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md0u80c9: Acorn profited from selling complete solutions, Apple profited from selling complete solutions (witness the rapid death of the "clone" Mac manufacturer policy), why should Castle be different?

I'm not sure what you mean by "part-exchanged mobos cost 600". Who part-exchanged a motherboard with whom, for that price? What sort of motherboard was it?

When you talk about 600 for "the remaining components", what do you think Castle are charging for the operating system? Or for Oregano 2? Or for the other bundled applications?

Are you planning to sell a post-Risc PC RISC OS computer yourself? Oh, wait, MicroDigital do that already :-)

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 29/4/04 1:15AM
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For people in Oz who want a RISC OS machine for free, see the RISC OS section of the forums. RiscPCs, A7000s, A4s, software, expansion cards. All working. All free.

Australia only please!

imagfact@planet.net.au

 is a RISC OS UserMal on 29/4/04 2:12AM
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Life for RISC OS in Asia Pacific has been revived :-)

So, apart from Oz, NZ and Japan, how about Malaysia? Intel in Penang make a significant proportion of their processors there, including XScale. It would make more sense for Castle to build their machines here! Most electronic components are sourced from the Far East.

Any problems with this? Government here dangle several large carrots to encourage IT businesses to set up shop here. Darn well need to, what with China threatening to eclipse trade with their labour and exchange rate policies...

Great article btw!

 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 29/4/04 3:30AM
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sascott: Build the machines in Malaysia, then pay about 150ukp to 200ukp per cased and packaged machine to ship them to the UK? :-)

What am I missing...

Methinks your best bet is to take a quick holiday down to Western Australia, it's not *that* far. Arrange with the airline that your luggage on the way back will be especially heavy...

See you there? :-)

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 29/4/04 3:40AM
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> Select AIUI has BGR mode support available in it somewhere. Useful for LCD screens and therefore portables. Any more details?

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 29/4/04 10:21AM
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IIRC, ViewFinder solves the problem inside its AGP bridge (i.e. in hardware). However, for this to work, the software needs to write whole words into the screen memory, so that ViewFinder knows which bits to swap around.

There were quite a few pieces of software that did byte writes even in true colour modes, which meant that they didn't work properly with ViewFinder. However, patches were usually available pretty quick. ISTR DitherExtend was one of the culprits.

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 29/4/04 10:27AM
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In reply to DGS:

I could tell all about the Quokka, but its more fun to keep you guessing. ;o)

 is a RISC OS UserCol1 on 29/4/04 12:17PM
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The Chuditch, although known locally as a native cat, is really a marsupial. It has been decimated by cats and foxes since these were introduced by man. The chuditch has been part of a breeding and reintroduction plan. The farm on which I live had a visit a few years back by one of these creatures. It decimated a dozen chickens over several nights. I managed to get a couple of photos in which you can even see the metal tags on it's ears. It is about 30cm long with a tail (not seen in the photo) of the same length. We finally relocated this critter to a more suitable location about 30km away.

Photo's available at [link]

 is a RISC OS Userkriten on 29/4/04 12:42PM
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Col1: Actually what I'm really waiting to find out is whether Qercus will be covering the Chuditch in the same issue ;-)

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 29/4/04 2:19PM
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dgs:

spilling blood eh? - what are you refering to? ;-)

I wish we could have the ability to just get needed Iyonix components here in the UK.

The only castle supplied bits in this Iyonix are the motherboard, Hard drive, RAM and the USB card...

Our next Iyonix will end up in a similar fashion :-)

Having said that I appreciate that this is a difficult proposition as supplying bits would make production testing legally interesting to say the least!

Full marks for this developement - hope it works out :-D

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis@work on 29/4/04 7:59PM
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In reply to dgs:

Not sure what you mean by your first point.

My argument was that as well as Oz, the Iyonix could be put together in Malaysia at least in the same way as in Oz, preferably as a whole machine, and then exported at more favorable rates.

1 pound is worth nearly 7 Malaysian dollars (which itself is pegged at 3.80 to the US dollar) which is a fantastic thing (i think it's even better than the UK to Australian dollar rate), that exchange rate can be used to Castle's advantage, potentially reducing the cost of assembly and shipping of parts.

Acorn did have clients in South Korea during their STB days of 96-98, I recall some Korean company attending one of the Acorn shows showing off their wares. It remains to be seen whether Castle's clientele includes the Far East, but if so, I would seriously look into the possibility of doing assembly here.

 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 30/4/04 2:33AM
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Are there going to be any Iyonixs in the 2 counrties with biggest populations in the world, (espacially as the Iyonix has Unicode support)?

 is a RISC OS Userspeccyverse on 30/4/04 12:20PM
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I never thought I'd see it: the RISC OS brigade openly advocating the offshoring trend. ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 30/4/04 12:51PM
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dgs - You'll note I very specifically said: "I don't blame them for doing things like that". And it's Castle themselves who sell part-exchanged mobos on their site, which is where I quoted the figure from.

I wasn't saying they're wrong to sell machines like that - they most certainly aren't. What I was saying is that it would be INCREDIBLY naive to think that selling the rest of the machine is non-profit-making, or to quote the poster I'm replying about:

"I guess not allowing kit Iyonixes is really just for ease of support, rather than Castle trying to make money on the mice, hard drives, etc".

Think you'd do better to read the posting before hitting reply...

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 1/5/04 8:51PM
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md0u80c9: It's equally likely that Castle aren't making a profit out of what is simply a replacement part. Again, Acorn used to sell replacement Risc PC motherboards in much the same way.

"Think you'd do better to read the posting before hitting reply..."

That's advice I'd heartily recommend ;-)

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 1/5/04 9:14PM
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Do you seriously think it costs 600 quid to make a REPLACEMENT mobo??? So let's get this straight: we've got one poster here who believes that they don't make a profit on ~600's worth of 'other' computer parts. You're not convinced that they make a profit on 600's worth of motherboard.

Could I suggest that one or both of you is wrong, or else there's a company out there that's making a machine for the sheer hell of it???

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 1/5/04 11:27PM
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Do you seriously think it costs 600 quid to make a REPLACEMENT mobo??? So let's get this straight: we've got one poster here who believes that they don't make a profit on ~600's worth of 'other' computer parts. You're not convinced that they make a profit on 600's worth of motherboard.

Could I suggest that one or both of you is wrong, or else there's a company out there that's making a machine for the sheer hell of it???

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 1/5/04 11:35PM
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