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Wakefield 2004 show report

By Martin Hansen. Published: 22nd May 2004, 15:32:10 | Permalink | Printable

Views from the Launchpad

Wakefield 2004 graphicWakefield 2004 Exactly one week on from the start of this year's Wakefield show weekend and in our final article on the event, drobe.co.uk writer Martin Hansen insightfully reports on his show experiences, as a news correspondent and as a first time independent exhibitor.

Wakefield is this way
It was at 3.25am on the Saturday morning that I realised that it just would not all fit into my car. Spread around the moonlit drive were display boards, a couple of RiscPC's, an A6, an Iyonix, four boxes of user guides, a hundred floppy discs, a bin bag stuffed full of decorative cloth, and three 19" CRT monitors. As if in a dream I had watched myself carry it all out through the front door. Was I a contestant sitting by the conveyer belt on that old TV show, The Generation Game, watching the prizes roll by? My main wish was that my neighbours were still asleep. My reputation as a 'nutter' would be confirmed if they witnessed any of this.

In four hours time I needed to be 133 miles away in Wakefield and setting up my MathMagical stall as my contribution to the premier RISC OS show of the year. After two years of spare time coding I'd finally got my TurtleChalk software up to a commercial standard and was planning to head north to sell, sell, sell. If I sold all that I had prepared at the full price, I'd walk away with over a grand. Ah yes, as I say, I was in a dream.

"At 4.32am", the neighbours told me later, "you left Shrewsbury". As my journey began I tried to calm myself as I knew I had to last non-stop now until six in the evening when the show closed at the end of the first day of its two day run. Alas, I'd never been anywhere near Wakefield before, yet there was now no time for any wrong turns, and no time for any sleep. Somewhat tense, I arrived at the Thornes Park Athletics Stadium only one hour behind schedule, set up stall, and managed to smile. Here I was: 'a small developer' in RISC OS land, finally rubbing shoulders with some of the big boys. At 10am sharp, show organiser, Chris Hughes, let the large queue of waiting people filter into the hall, which immediately became buzzing and busy.

Rumours, gossip and good news
I smiled some more: happy days are here again. The RISC OS scene has come through its long wilderness years, and since the Iyonix arrived 18 months ago, the market has stopped retracting and become positive and forward looking again. Wakefield 2004 was a celebration and consolidation of this 'turning the corner', with incremental edgings forward mushrooming on most stands around the hall. No 'big' news was expected, but this didn't seem to matter. There were the usual pre-show rumours flying around, though. One muttered that a non-emulation laptop from an unexpected source was 'on the brew'. Another insisted that Castle had just doubled the technical staff working on 'something' in Cambridge. I asked Castle boss Jack Lillingston if he'd tell me more, but he laughed, said he really wanted to, but then declined. "You'll know by the end of the year," was all he'd say.

As a new developer, there is nothing quite like placing your ideas in person in front of those to whom you'd like to sell. There is so much to get right; the price, the audience you direct your product at, what you have on the monitors as folks walk by, and what you say as an opening line to someone who as paused to look. I tried hard not to be like one of those over anxious Curry's floor sales chaps whose income is the commission on sales. I didn't really get it right on the Saturday, but by Sunday, I was getting it sussed. Even to the point where I could go to a theatre presentation or wander around the hall, with an interested customer appearing pretty much as soon as I returned each time. It helps that I'm not doing this for the money, and for me it didn't matter if I left with nothing. This care-free attitude allowed me to catch four of the talks, visit several of the less obvious stands, and spend time chatting to the punters without the ulterior motive of clinching a sale. And come to chat is clearly what draws a lot of folks to the show. Wakefield 2004 was a relaxed, friendly and good humoured affair.

Naturally, any well staged show begins with a pre-event explosion of news. I was pleased that the third issue of Qercus arrived two days before 'W'-day thus reminding readers that it was "this weekend". Interestingly, MicroDigital had placed two full page adverts in this issue, one for their Alpha emulation laptop and one for their native desktop Omega. I thought it was strange marketing to do this, seeing as they wouldn't be at the show to catch the follow up sales. Scottish dealer Liquid Silicon, had a stand featuring an Omega and the MicroDigital advert made more sense once one realised that Liquid Silicon was willing to take orders for the machine. The Omega was encased in a neat and slim rack-mountable box and had a working ethernet card. A glass top showed that the motherboard did not require a redesign despite rumours alleging that such a redesign, whilst expensive, was the only way that MicroDigital could eliminate the Omega's timing problems. This Liquid Silicon machine worked beautifully for the duration of the show and aroused a lot of curiosity. Two of the chips on the motherboard now have big heat sinks attached, but the cooling fans of the PC adapted case were disconnected and not needed. Archive editor Paul Beverley could not resist wandered over from the Archive and Living with Technology stand to give this Omega the careful once over with his eagle eye. He did some careful experimentation with moving windows slightly, waiting, and then moving them again. Whatever the glitch that this had revealed in the past, it now seemed to have been fixed. But enough of this; MicroDigital were not at the show and we were talking about Qercus magazine.

RISC OS media
In his talk, editor John Cartmell seemed more happy, relaxed and on top of things than he had at the South West Show in February. There have been long pauses between John buying up Acorn User and the first few issues of Qercus, with three "monthly" issues appearing over five months. However, I think we can confidently expect the pace to stiffen now that the inherited subscriber database has been sorted out. Attention can now focus on the magazine without the distraction of troublesome background administration. He smiled with good nature when I commented quietly to him later concerning the number of double words, typos and other quality control matters that some readers have found a little irritating in the Qercus copy to date. As a drobe.co.uk contributor, I have every sympathy with him: It is very hard to get a piece exactly right and as soon as you publish the mistakes are suddenly obvious. [I beg to difffer - Ed] However, Qercus is evolving still, and John's large stand at the show was far more visual and interesting than the old Acorn User effort had become. The new Qercus binders were also on display and looked good.

Spares supplies running low?
Call me odd if you like, but I've really got into using an A4 laptop recently with an AKF50 colour multiscan monitor attached. Running software on a slow, old machine is an effortless way to spot unnecessary screen refresh, and for sensing where code could most profitably be speeded up. So I was delighted to spot a brand new replacement A4 power pack on the ITC stand for a modest 20UKP. In a long conversation with ITC top man, Dave, I got the full story of how he came to buy all of Acorn's spares stock. Although running a spares and repair service did initially provide full time employment for himself and Jason, the ITC technical guru, it is now part time work as, little by little, the stock is running out. The last few StrongARM cards are going fast, and only one brand new Mark III RiscPC motherboard remained. I missed a chance to, for 5UKP, get the last A4 Econet card which sold while I tried to find out on another stand about the clock boxes needed to get it running. "We'll not be coming to these shows in two or three years time," commented Dave. "Not once most of the main stock lines have dried up. We don't buy new stock, just sell what we've got, all those years ago, from Acorn."

Adjusting to the climate
Paul Middleton, of RISCOS Ltd, was another speaker who seemed less stressed at this show than when I spoke to him in February. Selling the first batch of 150 Adjust ROMs in just ten days and sourcing a fresh supply of OTP ROMs for the second has, no doubt, helped. RISCOS Ltd have no intention of relaxing, and the soft-loading version of Adjust is scheduled to be out by the end of June. Castle may be starting to pump much more effort into RISC OS 5 but RISCOS Ltd are the company seemingly with the initiative and head start in desktop development, for the time being. Although supposedly rivals, I can't help thinking that each will soon be, if not already are, feeding off of the other's ideas and that each stream of RISC OS will, actually, be all the better for it. I suspect that each will bend in a similar direction, although the actual inner code on each side of the OS fork will continue to diverge.

RISC OS'n'radar
Denbridge Marine Ltd had a refreshingly different set up on their stand for punters to look at. They are in the coastal surveillance business and had some cutting edge technology on display, the guts of which is RISC OS based. I was interested to hear that most radar systems send only a filtered portion of the raw data from a radar to a computer for processing, this then analyses the reduced signal and then draws a predetermined pictorial representation of, say a boat. Here, from a video tape playing back genuine radar data, was a system which can handle, display and swiftly refresh the full data flow, including areas of noise that are typically the result of the radar's microwaves bouncing back from wave tops. As we looked at one area of noise in a small portion of a large LCD display one could just make out a pattern; two approximate lines in a V shape. It was the wake of a small high speed boat packed full of explosives, piloted by terrorists and, quite reasonably, expecting not to be picked up by radar as it sped towards its target, a large aircraft carrier anchored near Plymouth. Denbridge Marine Ltd had passed the audition.

Stay inside even more
I managed to catch all of Neil Spellings's enthusiastic talk on Sunday on Aemulor and Cino. The Pro version of the former is an extraordinarily clever product that provides a compatibility layer to enable the back catalogue of 26bit RISC OS software to run on the Iyonix. If you have an old software product that you care about and that fails under Aemulor Pro, then there is a good chance that Neil's team will sort it out for you. With a wide selection of old machines at my disposal, I am personally more interested in the forthcoming DVD player. I observed some kids watching a DVD on a Windows laptop recently and when the sound was quiet, as it will be at times in a film no matter what the volume you set the speakers, the fan noise was most irritating. On the Iyonix, of course, fan noise is simply not there and so watching a DVD on an Iyonix should be an enhanced experience. Neil is fast becoming one of the RISC OS personalities. His talk was delivered at an unbelievably fast pace, but his team is writing ground breaking code and is understandably passionate about what has proved to be possible on an Iyonix. This has now resulted in the requirement to rewrite the ADFS to free up the CPU for decoding whilst more data is being fetched, virtually unsupervised, by the filing system.

Out with the old
When the show closed on Sunday, I was a little disappointed in that I hadn't managed to see more of the stands. But no one wanted to talk now and the speed at which the hall was dismantled was stunning. I too ripped my two day shop down and bundled it back into the car and the attached trusty caravan, now even more loaded than when I arrived as I had acquired a monitor, some books and a load of mice from the Charity Stall. I was a little shocked to see all of the unsold Charity stall kit going into a large skip and half regretted not buying up the eight or so A4000s now being binned along with a ton of magazines. But not so much so that I was willing to fish them back out, even for free. Like yesterday's papers, who wants yesterday's machine?

With my drobe.co.uk hat on, I conferred with fellow writer Ian Chamberlain, and we had both sensed, in particular, that Martin Wuerthner had had a good show. His spectacular additions to ArtWorks, which were released in time for the show, were much admired, much talked about, and attracted many cash sales. The message is clear: developers need to keep pushing their product development aggressively forward, constantly improving and enhancing if they want to make it in RISC OS land. The one shot effort that will then sell for years thereafter - those days are gone.

A photo of Stuart Tyrrell Not being in a hurry to leave, I helped Stuart Tyrrell (pictured left) and the Advantage Six team load up their van. They sure had brought a lot of stuff in order to put on a good show, and freely acknowledged that IKEA had done rather well out of their decision to step up and present themselves for the first time as one of the RISC OS major players. They understand the psychology of selling, as evidenced by the shelves bulging with stock. People like to buy from a winner. They are a lively, mostly young, humorous bunch and although exhausted, had enjoyed a very good show. They looked great in their black outfits with the A6 logo on.

I'd featured an A6 on my stall as well as an Iyonix as my software works equally well on either machine. One customer had really put me on the spot: "Which was the future for RISC OS computing?" It was a genuine question from a RISC OS enthusiast who could not decide which machine to spend the money on that he had brought to the show. It rather brought home to me, just what a power struggle is currently being fought out within our marketplace. If a few good new RISC OS educational software products can start to enthuse a few schools, then VirtualRiscPC could really take off, and expand the potential market for further RISC OS based software. But if it's just going to result in a small market not expanding and simply becoming more fragmented then I feel emulation is a negative thing. I don't know what that particular customer ended up buying to run my software on, and I don't want to know.

And the lights fade
Finally, at the end, and in an empty hall, I spoke to show organiser Chris Hughes and his team. In deciding to make Wakefield 2004 a two day event, rather than stick with the one, he had gambled. The people had come, paid to get in, and from what I saw, gone home happy. Right from the moment it opened on the Saturday morning, it drew a good sized crowd and buzzed along nicely, right through to Sunday afternoon by which time, fair enough, things were quiet and lazy.

A photo of the WROCC organisers
WROCC committee (left to right): Ruth Gunstone, Philip Marsden, Peter Richmond, and Chris Hughes

Outside, it was a glorious English summer afternoon, and I think anyone who opted for a walk over the Yorkshire moors, rather than wandering through the athletics hall in Wakefield, shouldn't feel bad about that decision. So, the two day aspect of the show was a gamble, but on this occasion Chris Hughes and his team had won.


Show gossip and news
Theatre presentations and photos
Pre-show guide
Wakefield show website

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A nice report. A big well done to all the organisers and sponsors.

I'm a bit upset to hear that the unwanted charity stand items were thrown away though...

 is a RISC OS Usermonkeyson on 23/5/04 12:24AM
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monkeyson: You didn't hear about last year, then?


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 23/5/04 12:35AM
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Seems thoroughly irresponsible to dump them in a skip. They could have at least been put in freeads to find a new home, or given to a needy cause.

 is a RISC OS Userarenaman on 23/5/04 1:33AM
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What happened last year?

 is a RISC OS Userarenaman on 23/5/04 1:39AM
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Material from the charity stand got dumped in a skip after the show. (Not all of it that year, though, as I understand it).


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 23/5/04 3:04AM
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You reach a stage when you have no other choice. Where would this material be stored? Who would move and distribute it? How would the cost of packing and transport be paid? etc etc I currently have 10 RiscOS machines in my "Car" until I decide what to do about them. If I hadn't taken them they'd have gone in a skip like the previous 40 (including RO 4 S/Arm RiscPC's and Riscstations) There are probably people out there who would like to have them but how do you reach them particularly when you are geographically isolated and the cost of packing and shipping is far more than their value. In addition to the 10 machines (and a HP server with NT and Citrix Metaframe) I've also 10 more RiscPC's plus possible access to another 20 currently sitting in a storeroom (eventually to be thrown into a skip)

 is a RISC OS Userrmac on 23/5/04 5:04AM
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I should also comment that the machines are perfectly useable and educationally appropriate for the real task of educating children to produce with a computer rather than to be a 'consumer' of software. Unfortunately they are not political correct ie they aren't the latest, flashest nor 'industry standard' nor 'what everybody uses' That they are fine to achieve excellent educational objectives carries no weight.

 is a RISC OS Userrmac on 23/5/04 5:09AM
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There are a lot of good points that reflect both sides of the coin, but it is the face value of these wonderful aging machines that were "donated" to raise money for charity on the stall for new "foster owners" to grab the opportunity BEFORE the being dumped in the skip. Yes, I agree that it is sad they were dumped, but apart from the few who may collect antiques I guess most show visitors had their minds and eyes on the attractions?? Life goes on..... Steve.

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 23/5/04 6:29AM
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Firstly, a very nice and honest report.

Regarding the Charity stall stuff left over, it is very regreatble that any has to be thrown away, but it happens, we evn offered the stuff free later on the Sunday Afternoon so as much as possible went to a new home, little was taken. Things like Scanners, RiscPC's, etc., went mainly on the Saturday.

A small amount was taken away by helpers, to be stored or used in the charity auction later in the year.

A large amount of money was raised for the Wakefield Hospice breaking the record again.

As to storing the rest this is a problem it cost money!

In any case from August the new EU regulations come into force and we could not afford the costs involved with that.

I am sure Castle would not want all the old computers, since it will push up prices longer term. - Maybe Drobe can do an article on this, WEEE regulations.

 is a RISC OS UserWakeman on 23/5/04 2:29PM
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rmac If you have a StrongArm RiscPC sitting in your car or readily available you don't want then I can make a home for it :-)

 is a RISC OS Userjlavallin on 23/5/04 7:48PM
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In reply to rmac: Why dont you advertise those machines on comp.sys.acorn.misc and let people know you have some to offload. I'm sure many people would like one or two, and even if you dont make any money on them, at least the machines wont sit rotting on a landfill somewhere.

 is a RISC OS Userjonesd98 on 23/5/04 7:51PM
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jlavallin: Can you pay shipping from Australia for it, though? :-)


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 23/5/04 8:54PM
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If someone has three to four SA-RiscPCs to spare, I know a company who would replace their PCs with them and spend a few hundred EUR on things like UniPods, ROS4+Select, Applications, etc. to get them up to date.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 23/5/04 9:10PM
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JGZ> talk to STD (or ROL or whoever) and say you'll buy 4 unipods if they can source cheapish SARPCs. Obviously no-one's going to give them away, but they may be able to do something. The going rate is around 80-100ukp on ebay AFAIK.

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 23/5/04 9:19PM
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*Whoa there*! Who said they'd thrown away StrongARM RiscPCs??

That's what eBay is *for*!

I'd gladly pay substantially more than postage costs for one!


 is a RISC OS Useradamr on 23/5/04 9:35PM
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adamr Not only did they throw the StrongArm RiscPC's with RO4.02 in the skip they kept the A7000s and some Riscstations in preference. Some of the RiscPCs had 32Mb RAM also. Ignorance! of the $ value as well as the eductional value.

Shipping is $AU178.50 (70) for up to 20kg and then there is the cost of packing!

 is a RISC OS Userrmac on 24/5/04 2:16AM
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Anyone know where they took the skip? ;)

 is a RISC OS UserPhlamethrower on 24/5/04 3:14AM
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If I wasn't in the process of cleaning out all my old stuff damn I'd love to buy someone elses, though a SA RPC would definately be a step up after paying out a few years ago for a Risc Station, bah never did see anything more come out from RS :/

 is a RISC OS UserNoMercy on 24/5/04 1:13PM
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Excellent article - shame I missed the show (work!) Top snaps to the WROCC team, who are simply the best.

 is a RISC OS Userharmsy on 24/5/04 5:40PM
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Problem I always have with shows is arriving via public transport and having to lug everything back home via bus, train, tube or foot, or more usually, all four. Still, I could probably manhandle an issue 2 RPC mobo back and that'd be enough to give me all sorts of new-fangled features such as 16-bit sound (gasp!) and would probably fix my timing issues while it's at it. Should make the effort to get to the SE show next time.

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 24/5/04 5:49PM
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ninja Sorry, Issue 2 motherboards don't have 16 bit sound - that's Issue 3

 is a RISC OS Userapdl on 25/5/04 7:06AM
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apdl: How did you come to this conclusion? Unless you have different numbering to me, then they do. i.e. Issue 1 = RiscPC 600, Issue 2 = RiscPC 700, which certainly did have 16-bit sound. Are you suggesting that there was yet another revision between the two? Or is this a genuine mistake? :-)

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 25/5/04 8:55AM
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mrchocky: I do not know to which release product the issues correspond but the latest RiscPC motherboard issue was definitely issue three. There was quite a significant change regarding the hard disc controller (but this may have been between 1 and 2 or 2 and 3).

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 25/5/04 9:38AM
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I was under the impression that the issue 2 one doesn't have 16 bit sound, when I picked up a spare one at Wakefield (due to me not trusting my original one these days, after my attempts at soldering on it).

I thought that the issue1 boards were the ones that didn't even have the pins in place to put the 16 bit sound card on (hence some of my soldering), the issue 2 boards had the pins, and the issue 3 boards had the 16 bit sound on them.

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 25/5/04 10:04AM
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I think SimonC's analysis of issue number vs sound capability is correct.

I may have a source of RiscPCs in the summer. Potentially 40 Kinetics and 80 further SA / OS4.02 / 64MB machines. Some are issue 2 with sound upgrade. Mail me if interested. martin@heleigh.org.uk

 is a RISC OS UserMartinD on 25/5/04 11:45AM
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"In Reply to Martin D"

Did you know that there is another contributor to these discussion whose first name is Martin and whose surname is five letters long and starts with D. Fortunately you supplied you email address which will hopfully prevent me from receiving a bucketful of emails from people wanting me to supply them with RPCs.

Or even worse, confuse my comments on Drobe with yours ( I think most of your few comments are pretty innocuous, but I wouldn't want you to be blamed for anything I write).

Martin Dixon

 is a RISC OS Usermrtd on 25/5/04 12:49PM
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Issue 3 RPC motherboards also require (de) soldering if you want to use higher resolutions.

Does anyone know how to get rid of the shimmering across the whole screen in 1600x1200? It especially happens when there's a menu open or when I'm scrolling a window, perhaps it needs a capacitor somewhere?

It certainly happens the same on a non-16bit sound motherboard and a 16 bit built in one.

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 25/5/04 1:16PM
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mrtd> I can't see any confusion "MartinD" is somewhat different to "mrtd"!

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 25/5/04 1:38PM
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Oh good, no problem then

But MartinD is a name that anyone who knows me might think is me. More likely that than the other way round I think. I might even have used that user name in some places!

 is a RISC OS Usermrtd on 25/5/04 5:24PM
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A RiscPC binned into a skip is a catastrophe! It's a shame! It's horror. It's ... You don't can do THAT!

 is a RISC OS UserGollum on 25/5/04 6:48PM
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We don't seem to be much closer to a comprehensive answer on this issue, although it seems that what I've believed all these years may not be 100% accurate. Dave, I'm still interested in what you have to say about issue numbering.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 26/05/04 1:57PM
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I thought I'd let it drop as the info is rather easy to obtain, but here goes.

Issue 1 - first batch of RPC 600's. Number on rear of board is 0197.000. 16 bit sound, can only drive a single floppy with ID set to 0. May have some pins missing on sound connector if you're fitting a 16 bit sound card. Have 'fat' SIMM sockets which can be difficult if fitting double sided SIMMs with chips close to the back edge (particularly newer 32 Mb).

Issue 2 - second batch of RPC 600. Similar to issue 1, ID number 0197.100. Still only 16 bit sound but invariably have all pins on sound connector. Normally have slimmer SIMM sockets. Missing connections on floppy drive circuitry restored so floppy can be ID 0 or 1.

Issue 3 - Final board. Introduced with RPC 700 and also the 'cut down' RPC 600 which appeared at the same time. ID number 1208.000. 16 bit sound on board. Reduced video bandwidth to meet stiffer CE standards. Improved stability and (normally) no need to remove C32 when fitting bigger SIMMs as with earlier board.

 is a RISC OS Userapdl on 26/05/04 2:10PM
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Oops, just realised, Issue 1 board should say '8 bit sound' and Issue 2 'still only 8 bit sound'

 is a RISC OS Userapdl on 26/05/04 2:11PM
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ircnet.demon.co.uk #riscos ?? motherboards <Sprout> motherboards : RiscPC motherboard versions: 197,000 issue 1, mk1, 8bit sound, 4 pin audio connector; 197,100 issue 1a, mk2, 8bit sound, 5pin audio; 1208,000 issue 2, mk3, 16bit sound, crap video; J233, issue 3, mk4, 16bit sound, supposedly best; Castle version: unknown

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 26/05/04 6:02PM
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