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Update on DIY hardware projects

By Chris Williams. Published: 28th Jun 2004, 23:47:05 | Permalink | Printable

More from Riscbox and laptop craftsmen

Earlier this month, we reported on the DIY laptop and Riscbox hardware projects, which both use a RiscPC in new and interesting ways. For those of you who like hacking their RISC OS hardware to shreds and making something useful out of it again, here's some more information on each of these curious initiatives.

Riscbox photoRiscbox
After firing a wedge of questions at RISCOS.be's designer Steve Royd-Marker, he replied with the following background: "How it started: My profession is a designer with the necessary background. I do all my computer work on RISC OS. Anything else is not taken into consideration unless it is better. I haven't seen anything better yet.

Time: I haven't really kept track of it and I can only allocate a little time to it. Often I have to force myself to do something every day in order to have some progress: drilling a little hole, folding a plate, thinking about the possibilities, getting an idea, etc. If I will have some time then I will finish the CAD drawings, and I will give them to some other skilful people. But that's something for the future.

The reasons why:
  1. A compact computer for personal use which can be carried around in a camera bag. The only thing that cannot be carried along is the monitor, but for my purposes this isn't required as I often use a projector which can be carried in a similar bag.
  2. We want to have something interesting that can be displayed on RISC OS shows (and other computer shows) and we want to profile the RISCOS.be club within the RISC OS scene.
  3. We want to have a study object and to gain some experience which can be useful for other projects in the embedded market with RISC OS and ARM applications.
  4. By giving presentations with the RiscBox in companies (who undoubtedly will have some PC problem) people will become curious and they will automatically start asking questions about the software. That way I can promote RISC OS without being obtrusive.

At the moment, this has produced a project for the embedded market: a client has visited our stand at the RISCOS Expo 2004 in the Netherlands (Holland) and he left with positive impressions."

The Riscbox includes a 3.5" hard disc, 3.5" floppy and Zip drives, two podule slots, PSU, fan, right angle connector for the CPU daughter card, all inside 105mm (height) x 310mm (width) x 245mm (depth).

DIY laptop
Keeping us abreast with current work, Rico Naf recently informed us that: "My intention was to use the innards from a third party manufacturer. I asked RiscStation to sell me their components, Castle for an Iyonix motherboard, Explan for a Solo - all negative. So I ended up with what's left. Two RiscPC's on the desk for scrap. To buy an ARM7500 based board did not make sense, as the RiscPC's are for free. It's not a hybrid type of thing, running another OS in the background. The Kinetic card is an option but that means removing the original RAM. The flexible screen cable is on its way and a trackball has just been added. So there is a good chance to get something useful. I have already a PC user wanting the thing. He's trying hard to push me :-)"

If you have any hardware or software plans, do let us know, as we're interested to hear from anyone doing unusual things with their kit.


News? Comments?

Previous: News in brief
Next: Iyonix gains audio capture software


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please, some more in depth comment about the risc pc laptop. how is the lcd being driven ? looks like there is an rgb lead from the risc pc video plug that dissapears behind the screen. just curious if it is a comercial lcd screen that has had the cover removed to fit the new 'case'. i have a couple of old laptop lcds without the rgb->digital stuff a monitor carries, i'd like to try similar but don't want to source signals from my rpc donor mobo (even if there are suitable ones to find) or go to the trouble of building a line driver for the laptop lcd - waaaay beyond me. any chance there is a website with the story so far - give us a link :o)

 is a RISC OS Userlostamarble on 29/6/04 4:12AM
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I have asked Rico about the screen. There is no website.

Chris. Just me.

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 29/6/04 6:51AM
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A little more info on the laptop. The Screen is a standart analoge panel, it can be used on any computer. That's the positive side of it, drawback is it's power consumption. It takes aprox 18 watts. Mi mind is in hardware at the moment so no time for webdesign sorry! The laptop will help in that when it's useable. I'm sorting out the cabling and batteries now. But you could help me to set up a how to guide.

 is a RISC OS User1234 on 29/6/04 8:00AM
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I did some hacking to fit an A4 LCD to an A7000 board - see [link] It works quite well, except for the rather strange dual-panel format the A4 mono LCD uses which makes the VIDC's mouse pointer support get a bit confused (you have to tell VIDC whether the pointer is in the top or bottom half of the screen). BTW dual-panel means that that top and bottom halves of the LCD are effectively separate LCDs, but they must have driven in sync - so every dot clock you send out 4 pixels for the top half of the screen and 4 for the bottom. It's very strange.

For a colour LCD this should be much easier. Using the circuit in the application note linked, it should be fairly straightforward to hook up a colour LCD to 256 colours. Getting more colours is possible, but requires a bit of hackerg (basically you need to tell VIDC that the screen is twice as wide as it really is, then demultiplex each set of two bytes sent out of the video data port to 18-bit RGB). You need an LCD that has raw R/G/B (usually 3 or more bits each per pixel) plus Hsync and Vsync. You don't want a panel that does LVDS (well you can buy a module from Simtec for 100 pounds to do it, but...) Having the datasheet for your panel is immensely useful - try googling for the number.

This will definitely work on ARM7500(FE) machines as they have LCD support. The VIDC20 datasheet is a little unclear as to its LCD support (I was particularly concerned about the dual-panel mono support I needed for the A4) but I'm fairly confident that the colour single-panel support is there (it's much easier than dual-panel in any case). Sourcing signals is very easy - they all come off a header on the motherboard (PL5 IIRC).

(Rico and I did discuss this, but I can't really hardware develop remotely!)


 is a RISC OS Usercaliston2 on 29/6/04 11:52AM
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"I asked RiscStation to sell me their components, Castle for an Iyonix motherboard, Explan for a Solo - all negative."

Classic contemporary RISC OS marketplace behaviour. "I offered to fight Lord Vader but the RISC OS giants all backed into their respective corners, clutching their water pistols."

Perhaps there's more mileage with stuff like gumstix ([link]), but then I suppose we'll be hearing lots of excuses from various corners about how something that already exists is in fact impossible or uneconomical, despite being available to order today.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 29/6/04 12:45PM
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guestx> I take your point that there is no *practical* reason why RISC OS can't be pushed into other areas (after all if it can be done with Linux there's no reason RISC OS can't too). I suspect we will eventually see proper RISC OS small/embedded or portable devices.

From a big manufacturers perspective *not* having to worry about GPL is a big plus (even if it means they have to pay a bit more to use an OS like RISC OS). They *know* that if they build apps on top of RISC OS their apps are still *their* intellectual property, with GPL it's a lot more fuzzy - and that may just be enough to get RISC OS a toehold in this market.



 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 29/6/04 6:48PM
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AMS: "From a big manufacturers perspective not having to worry about GPL is a big plus"

Yes, I guess that's why IBM have been steering clear of Linux.

AMS: "They know that if they build apps on top of RISC OS their apps are still their intellectual property, with GPL it's a lot more fuzzy"

FUD! You could ship your apps on the same disk as Linux and not be required to distribute your own source code, but even if there was some redistribution obligation the apps would still be your "intellectual property". Meanwhile, on the subject of the GPL, how did Castle get away with that HAL code business again?

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 30/6/04 11:13AM
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guestx: <Castle HAL & GPL> Good question. I'd be entirely unsurprised if the Iyonix HAL now contains no GPL code - if it were mine I'd have stripped out and reimplemented the GPL code the moment it came to light...

 is a RISC OS Usercaliston2 on 30/6/04 5:40PM
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caliston2: To my best knowledge, there's no longer any GPL code in RISC OS 5. At the time, Castle argued that the HAL is separate from the OS, (saying it was a 'BIOS') - so they neatly wrapped up the HAL (which is "based" on sources that were under the GPL) and placed it under the GPL. You can download it for yourself from here:


Chris. Just me.

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 30/6/04 6:54PM
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guestx> Yes but Castle *very nearly didn't*. The point is that they went through hell and had to go to great lengths to prove the *hadn't* broken the GPL - if they simply hadn't used GPL code *at all* there would have been *no* problem.

I'd certainly use Castle as a case in point - use GPL and you may wind up with THIS problem.....



 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 1/7/04 10:38PM
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Why is all this fuzz about GPL so important? Is it because some ppl also want to build RISC OS machines and use the efforts from Castle?

What worries me more is the unwillingness from RISC OS system-developpers to help users in their projects. Which can even broaden their market at a very cost effective way (since that particular end-user is doing some o/t hard work).

It's clear that the ppl whom hold the rights to RISC OS hardware lack vision. Far worse than what Acorn was accused of in the old days. The only thing I see is that the companies sit and wait untill someone (read "prospective buyer") comes in their office (by accident I presume) and asks them to this and that, dropping a sack of gold and leaving. This is NOT the way to do bussiness. You have to do it the other way around. Go out and show the other parties what you can offer. In fact I wonder how these hardware devellopers can see who's a "prospective" client if they turn down even these small efforts?


Manu T

 is a RISC OS Userepdm3be on 2/7/04 11:42AM
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