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Midlands 2004 show report

By Chris Williams. Published: 5th Dec 2004, 14:47:51 | Permalink | Printable

What was hot and what was not, plus MiMagic 5 details [Updated] Select32 info

RISC OS in the MidlandsYesterday's Midlands RISC OS show closed early, just before 4pm, putting an end to an otherwise quiet show. The general feeling amongst the dealers and developers present was that the show could have been worse, and thankfully a few punters turned up to buy new and old kit. Castle claimed to have done a roaring trade, apparently selling more Iyonixes than they did at the Guildford show, a claim that astonished a few other dealers. The Midlands isn't the most densely populated area, in terms of the number of RISC OS users.

Having spent the majority of the day wandering around the show, there were a lot of things to see and therefore many details to report - although perhaps not as much to talk about as the Guildford show due to the lack of a show theatre. It's just a shame that many users won't see these developments until next year's more popular shows.

RISC OS 5 on MiMagic hardware demonstrated
As promised, Castle had brought along with them a development board designed and manufactured by NeoMagic, fitted with a 220MHz ARM9 MiMagic 5 processor and running RISC OS 5.06. The development board was fairly large but mostly consisted of interface electronics to connect the processor to the Flash ROM and RAM and the I/O sockets located around the edge of the board. The processor itself includes all the electronics to provide USB, serial, audio, image capture and other interfaces - from the show photos below, you can see just how small the processor chip package is, and therefore the possibilities of making very small embedded RISC OS powered devices using all-in-one devices like the MiMagic 5.

We gather that a third party has created a product that's powered by the MiMagic 5 processor and then licensed RISC OS 5 from Castle to power the hardware. Castle say that they've spent a year working on supporting this device, although the work was postponed for a while as they worked on developing STBs for Pace, which were demonstrated in The Netherlands earlier this year. Castle wouldn't name who they were working with for the MiMagic support and refused to say how RISC OS was being used in the new products.

The development board was connected to a small keyboard and an LCD touchscreen, displaying the familiar RISC OS desktop in 320x256 in 32k colours at 72Hz. The board ws fitted with 64M of RAM and 32M of Flash, which included the operating system and some extra software. The touchscreen and keyboard driver modules were interestingly dated as being built in 2000. We were told that most of the I/O interfaces on the board were not supported by RISC OS 5, although the serial interface and the keyboard and LCD touchscreen interfaces were working - and apparently, this is all Castle's client required. Amusingly, half the keyboard didn't work, due to a fault in the connections leading from the keyboard to the processor. Castle say they received a replacement processor card earlier in the week from NeoMagic, but it was the wrong socket for the board and couldn't be used at the show. The touchscreen, however, worked quite well with RISC OS, and you could play Zool on the kit too.

From the configuration of the development board, the product sounds like an industrial application, and to which the MiMagic processor range probably isn't the most suited. However, a large number of peripheral devices still use a serial based interface: interfaces to the mobile phone network, GPRS, and so on. The possibilities are endless and Castle aren't going to reveal where they are pouring all their time, away from the desktop market.

I had an interesting discussion with one particular exhibitor about the notion of an embedded RISC OS. As much as we love the RISC OS GUI, if you're going to embed it into a phone or a PDA, or some kind of information display system, you'll have to customise the user interface away from the window-icon structure of the desktop to something more suited for simplified, compact use with lots of bright, inviting graphics. If you consider RISC OS to be the desktop GUI and the application software that runs in it, then to take that away leaves us with a piece of embedded software that we couldn't believe was RISC OS. You can't run OvationPro on a 4 inch screen, but perhaps Nettle and FTPc could be squeezed into such a space, though. Although it's exciting to imagine RISC OS running on the next phone-PDA crossover, or an information display for the next museum exhibit, could we, as desktop end users, accept this as a step forward for the operating system? Perhaps, only if these advances into other areas can some how feed back improvements to the desktop arena, could we appreciate the recent work by Castle, RISCOS Ltd. and Advantage Six to get RISC OS onto more platforms. When you watch the National Lottery or Who wants to be a millionaire programmes and muse, "that's RISC OS behind that, that is", you know that at the end of the day, you're still using an OS with minimal memory protection and with it the world's most expensive, and arguably one of the worst, web browsers. Great.

And so, this was apparent at the show: Castle had a fairly hard time demonstrating the board to some end users at the event, most of whom seemed to be expecting a machine that they could sensibly use. The Castle team tried explaining that the hardware on show was a development board, to test and demonstrate RISC OS 5 on the MiMagic processor, which was allegedly being used by an OEM client. As they wouldn't disclose exactly how the OS and processor are being used in the embedded world, users were left wondering exactly how relevant the hardware support is to desktop users. A few exhibitors also quietly wondered what was the point of bringing the mysterious non-desktop hardware to the show, but then, quite a few of them were still a little bitter after Castle spent the summer sending them cease and desist letters.

Castle have yet to decide on a price for the MiMagic development kit, which includes RISC OS 5 and the necessary software and developer support, but seeing as the development board itself starts at about 5,000 quid, it's not going to be a pretty price tag. Presumably, a mass produced product that employs RISC OS 5 and the MiMagic processor will enjoy a much lower retail price.

Desktop RISC OS 5
A few users hassled the Castle staff over concerns regarding their desktop hardware: the buggy audio capture system on the Iyonix, the fact that the Iyonix's on-board USB still doesn't work, the lack of MIDI support on the Iyonix, the few number of supported PCI cards and the state of Oregano. The fault in the audio capture system, whether it's a software or hardware error, is still being investigated. A user had approached Castle and offered to write the software to enable MIDI support on the Iyonix, but has since disappeared, according to Castle - if anyone else is interested, they should get in contact. As for the on-board USB, conflicts between the PCI bridges on the Iyonix motherboard forced Castle to abandon it in favour of using a PCI card to provide the USB interfaces. Plus, the PCI card offers USB2, unlike the USB1 ports on the motherboard. Castle hope to have the USB2 drivers out before Christmas and say they will ask users to pay a small charge for the new drivers.

As for the possibility of the Iyonix 2, Castle's Jack Lillingston said that such a machine would only be possible once there was a sufficient leap forward in compatible technology. He argued that, although the XScale IOP332 is faster and more capable than the Iyonix's IOP321 in terms of bus performance, clock speed and supported PCI interfaces, there would have to be a processor offering a significant increase over the Iyonix in order to produce and market a new desktop system.

New online home for Aemulor, CinoDVD, Geminus, DeskDebug
The new e-shop for Spellings.net software is software.spellings.net. Geminus will cost 25 quid and was demonstrated to show punters, with a release date of "soon". With two monitors connected to two graphics cards, one screen can show a DVD playing in CinoDVD while the other shows a RISC OS desktop, or the two screens can be combined into one wide desktop. The software interface to Geminus will also be made available to other developers, so that, for example, one screen could show the output of a PCI TV card and the other screen showing a desktop. Incidentally, full screen movie playback in CinoDVD is still a little jerky, but the sound no longers breaks up as much - writing the new ADFS is next on the to-do list, which should bring the player up to full speed.

Accelerated drawing on RISC OS and Select
Further to the curious announcement we received before the Guildford show, we discovered during yesterday's event a module on a RISCOS Ltd. RiscPC that appeared to be an AGP driver for Viewfinder cards, authored by the SIMON development team. The RiscPC wasn't fitted with a Viewfinder card, so the drawfile acceleration was disabled. RISCOS Ltd.'s Paul Middleton confirmed that the module was part of the SIMON project, and told users that future releases of Select would use drawfiles for icons, rather than sprites, to improve the visual appearance of the desktop. Another directory on the RiscPC titled 'Select 4' contained updated applications, including Paint, Recyclone and HForm.

A visitor to a show, who had been chatting to RISCOS Ltd.'s Paul Middleton, told us afterwards: "Paul seemd to feel that the Merlin project had been thrown over the wall (my words) to ROL and didn't seem enthusiastic about it, ROL having their own plans for Select. I was left with the feeling that Iyonix owners don't figure highly in ROL's plans because there are so few of them compared to RiscPC users."

RISCOS Ltd. also explained that surveying existing Select subscribers on the future of Select32 was the first phase of a public consultation and that they would be asking more widely for interest after Christmas. The logic of asking existing Select subscribers first, according to ROL, was to understand any effect on ROL's 26-bit business.

The uptake of Select for Iyonix has been lower than expected, ideally RISCOS Ltd. are looking for at least 100 users to sign up initially - however, there's the catch 22 issue where users may not have bought an Iyonix due to the lack of Select32. To receive Select32, ROL is asking current subscribers to stump up an extra 15 quid although cheques won't be cashed until Select32 is available.

Another visitor told us after the show: "I also asked Paul about issues with 3i4 Select and Kinetic cards and he said they think it might be a combination of memory. it seems the 64M Kinetics are more likely to fail and fail with more than 4M of motherboard RAM."

Linux VirtualRiscPC
The Linux version of VirtualRiscPC was not on show at the event, but we were told that it is visually still the same as the version demonstrated at the Guildford show, however there are a number of glitches that need ironing out before the product can be released. The software, once heavily reliant on software interfaces to Microsoft Windows, has been converted to use SDL with the hope of making the product truly portable. We asked a RISC OS dealer, known for shipping VirtualRiscPC on Windows PCs, if they would consider selling a range of PCs that come with Linux installed and the Linux version of VRPC. The answer was a firm no, because providing end user support for Linux would be a 'nightmare' - although they wouldn't turn away individual customers that just wanted to buy a 'blank' PC and Linux VirtualRiscPC. Interestingly, the dealer also encourages users to not use Outlook Express, but recommends users stick to Internet Explorer over Firefox, because there are apparently a few sites on the web that are still IE-only and can't be rendered in Firefox.

In brief
MW Software was showing off the big list of printers supported by Gimp-Print, with more on the way later this month. MW Software are also still in the process of updating TechWriter and EasiWriter for Icon, but wouldn't be drawn on what specific additions are likely to be developed. Even updating the document software's footnote system took longer than expected, we're told, so we'll have to wait until the new features are finished. Drobe writer Martin Hansen wins the prize for best looking stand, and says he'll be adding drawfile export to his TurtleChalk software soon. As a maths teacher, Martin employs his educational RISC OS software in his school. CJE Micros, rumoured to be the future distributor of AdvantageSix's A9home system, says he hasn't heard any more details from Ad6's Stuart Tyrrell. OreganoUK say they've contacted developers Oregan about future versions of Oregano but hasn't back from them yet. Finally, Graham Shaw, author of the RISC OS toolkit, says he's working on a multi-line writable text field gadget for other applications to use.

Show photos
Ceiling of the museum's fancy new interior, rebuilt following last year's fire [View photo]
Exhibitors, including Qercus, prepare their stands in the minutes before the show opens [View photo]
The final finishing touches are put in place [View photo]
A shot of the "crowds" at the show [View photo]
CJE find the time to relax [View photo]
RISC OS 5.06 running in 320x256 on a small touch screen, powered by a MiMagic ARM9 processor [View photo]
Another shot of the RISC OS 5 desktop on the small LCD display. Yes, we know it's blurry, the photographer has been fired [View photo]
The touchscreen unit and the NeoMagic development board. Also attached is a small Querty keyboard. The processor, which contains the ARM9 core and all the necessary I/O interface electronics is on the daughter board seen in the lower right hand corner [View photo]
A close up of the MiMagic processor. This daughter card can be swapped out and replaced with other processors [View photo]
Another overall shot of the development board. The vertical daughter card in the middle of the board carries two Flash chips that include RISC OS 5.06 and some extra software. The development board really only includes ancillary electronics to connect the processor to the I/O ports, located around the edge of the board. All of the main electronics are on the processor die [View photo]
A close up of the RISC OS 5 Flash board [View photo]
An overhead shot of the development board [View photo] [Larger photo]
Overhead shot of the MiMagic processor [View photo]
Dual head display driver software Geminus in action [View photo]


Update at 18:19 5/12/2004
Added extra information and quotes from show visitors to the section on Selet32 news, above.


Links


The ARM Club website - organisers of the Midlands show Heard something at the show that we didn't? Took some show photos and want to share them?

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Discussion

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Just a quick mention for the hard working guys from the ARM Club. The show went very smoothly and was well organised...which means we all tend to forget about them. Toby, Tom, druck and others were all there and doing a great job.

 is a RISC OS UserTonyStill on 5/12/04 4:33PM
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Thanks for the update Chris. Always nice to read a report so soon after a show.

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 5/12/04 5:16PM
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"I was left with the feeling that Iyonix owners don't figure highly in ROL's plans because there are so few of them compared to RiscPC users."

I really hope that this is not the case. Whether Mr. Middleton likes it or not, 32bit is the future of Desktop RISC OS. Ignoring the Iyonix users because they are currently a small number of RISC OS users is like developers ignoring the early RiscPC users back in the '90's when there were more A7000 users.

 is a RISC OS UserJWCR on 5/12/04 8:52PM
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"Perhaps, only if these advances into other areas can some how feed back improvements to the desktop arena, could we appreciate the recent work by Castle, RISCOS Ltd. and Advantage Six to get RISC OS onto more platforms."

The VITAL thing about getting RISC OS onto other platforms is that it will help subsidise the desktop envirionment. I am afraid that desktop RISC OS is always going to be a minority. However, if the OS is invisibly running more devices than you can shake a stick at, and the money made by the licences on those devices (and any technical developments that result from these licences) help keep the computer system that gives me genuine pleasure to use going, I will be happy.

 is a RISC OS UserJWCR on 5/12/04 9:00PM
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Hmm it was me looking into writing the midi drivers for the iyonix, but it turned out it was the hardware bit that was what needed doing (i.e. not a case of bunging something on a web site). And considering I don't even have an iyonix it made it a bit hard! Maybe if I had one I'd go ahead :)

Also the Midi Support modules would have to run under aemulor unless they convert them to be 32 bit.

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 5/12/04 9:52PM
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john: As mant people know, I'm 32-bitting all the MIDI modules. I'm way behind schedule due to getting a load of paid music work (plus the Fringe in the summer) but I should have a release available in a few weeks (early January at latest). All subject to ESP's say so.

After that, I'm looking at doing a USB MIDISupport driver, rather than having to add custom hardware inside the Iyonix.

JB should know this as I emailed him an update before the last show in case he got any questions ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userliquid on 5/12/04 10:12PM
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Good news and progress overall. I wonder if the Castle USB card for RPC is USB2 and wether the promised drivers for the Iyonix would also work on that card.

The Iyonix could be a more than adequate base for serious MIDI & audio work. When the MIDI 4 & Support drivers are ready, MelIDI is converted to 32bit, a new multi-track professional audio editor be developed, multi-port USB/PCI MIDI expansion and decent (24bit/192kHz, digital) PCI soundcard are supported. Ofcourse still no softsynths or VST compatibility, but those working on old-fashioned hardware would not really need them. If all this would actually happen, I would actually consider an Iyonix in my little soundlab. Also Geminus would prove very useful in this area.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 5/12/04 11:03PM
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Aah I thought the whole "a user" and "has since disappeared" sounded more like me than you because he knows where to find you :) But it is good news about Midisupport being 32bitted, what with the DMI50 I use being on its last legs for some reason, it's just not happy recently. Maybe one day I'll get an iyonix and have a silent, fast computer with midi support and select :)

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 6/12/04 1:25AM
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If you look *really* closely at the photo of the ceiling you'll see that the museum has invested in a top-of-the-range state-of-the-art fire alarm system. Software written by yours truly. It was the first Acorn show that I'd been to for a while and it was interesting to put names to faces - well at least those that had the decency to wear name badges. Not too sure who I was talking to on the Castle stand. It was fun parking as there was a PC show also on in a hut in the car park. Had a quick look round that as well. I was rather surprised at how expensive most of the stuff was. Cheaper from Ebuyer.

 is a RISC OS Userjeffd on 6/12/04 7:48AM
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The USB card in the Iyonix is USB2. And it should be pointed out (again) to anyone complaining that "onboard USB still doesn't work", that this is a fault in the interaction between the southbridge and the PCI bridge and there is nothing Castle can do about it.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 6/12/04 8:27AM
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mrchocky, the fault with the onboard usb, should surely have been found on Castle's prototypes and then rectified for the production batch. Or was it that it was not noticed before? Points to poor QA if that is the case.

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 6/12/04 6:11PM
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The fault with the onboard USB was found on the prototypes, but it couldn't be sensibly rectified, because the used PCI bridge as well as the southbridge were virtually the only ones on the market. Fitting a PCI USB card was a much more sensible and cheaper option all around. Even if you don't consider "time to market" a serious cost factor.

Steffen

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 6/12/04 6:18PM
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As I said, "there is nothing Castle can do about it". It's ALi and Intel/Hint you need to complain to about QA.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 6/12/04 7:32PM
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So much for "Intel Inside".

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 6/12/04 9:36PM
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You deserve what you get when you buy from ALi, anyway :) What was wrong with the PIIX, which is a fine southbridge?

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 6/12/04 10:29PM
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PIIX? With the ultra-speedy UDMA33 support if you are lucky? Without the nice I/O functionality (of which admittedly the IYONIX only uses the two serial ports and the FDC)? With the UHCI USB stuff? Well, at least they had a half-proper working USB at the end of the product cycle...and maybe Castle could have used the PCI-to-ISA bridge for their podule interface.

Steffen

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 6/12/04 11:54PM
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I am a bit bewildered by the USB comments. The comment "onboard USB still doesn't work" in the article is grossly misleading. It was never meant to work in production machines nor will it ever work. Why should it? The Iyonix has fully working USB support provided by a PCI card. "still doesn't work" implies that it is expected to work at some stage, which is nonsense. Neither has anyone promised onboard USB would ever work, nor would anyone need it, nor do I know of anyone having expressed the wish of it working. Why does it matter whether the USB facilities are provided by the onboard chip or by a card? So, the sentence "onboard USB still doesn't work" is about as sensible as complaining that "there still is no onboard coffee machine", which is equally true, but equally pointless.

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 7/12/04 8:58AM
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I'm sorry the defence of Castle wrt the USB is missing the point. Castle have sold the machine and according to the sale of goods act THEY are responsible for it working or not. The fact that it may be a component problem is of no concern to the buyer. That is Castles' problem for using those components. They are responsible for ensuring the product they sell does what was advertised otherwise its a breach of the sale of goods act. The purchaser would be in their rights to demand their money back. The purchaser can negotiate a small refund for incorrectable problem if they wish. But no way can Castle demand more money from the purchaser to get something to work that should have in the first place. Peter stop defending Castle when they are wrong.

Imagine buying a car, the radio doesn't work and Ford say "sorry not our fault its's a Panasonic radio". In fact such situations have happend and the car manufacturer has to replace the faulty radio at no cost.

 is a RISC OS Usermripley on 7/12/04 9:08AM
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hubersn: Err, the PIIX on my MIPS development board does ATA133, USB2, and more I/O than you could shake a stick at.

mripley: Your car metaphore could be a little better - the radio in your car doesn't work, because it's Panasonic's fault, so they provide a small portable hi-fi to use instead, that takes up one of the seats in the car. :)

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 7/12/04 9:21AM
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mripley: Actually, they're not. AFAIAA, they've never advertised the onboard USB as ever working, so they've no need to ever get it working (even if it were possible to do so). Certainly, they've stated that the IYONIX has USB support - how they provide that is entirely up to them. As for "but no way can Castle demand more money...", unless I'm very much mistaken, the Iyonix has had working USB support from day 1 (it would be fairly useless without it, given the lack of PS/2 ports), so quite where you got the notion that they've charged the customer more to get a feature working is beyond me.

 is a RISC OS Userjmb on 7/12/04 9:26AM
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If Malcolm's (mripley) point is/was justified, wouldn't we have a "picnic" over in the Windows department? rage

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 7/12/04 9:52AM
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mripley: I'm not "defending Castle", I'm pointing out facts. (1) There was only one other even buggier Southbridge chip suitable for the Iyonix (for bus interfacing reasons - I don't know the exact reason why for example the PIIX is not suitable).

(2) As has now been pointed about about 4 times, they never advertised onboard USB working. Nor did they adverise onboard PS/2 or onboard parallel port support working - all features provided by the ALi chip, but simply not part of the Iyonix feature set.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 7/12/04 9:54AM
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My Iyonix doesn't have a problem with non-working on board USB ports.

It doesn't have any on board USB sockets.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 7/12/04 10:12AM
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jess: Nor do any of the production machines (though I'm fairly sure the PCB tracks are still there)

 is a RISC OS Userjmb on 7/12/04 10:21AM
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Can someone clarify this for me? As I read this people are having a general whine because the wire connecting the usb sockets on the iyonix connects to a pci card instead of the motherboard? This is despite the fact that the pci card can offer usb2 whereas the on board could only ever offer usb1?

Am I missing something or is this just general people moaning - again - for no good reason?

Lack of onboard coffee machine sounds a far more reasonable complaint to me :)

 is a RISC OS Userbenc on 7/12/04 10:38AM
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Ben: that is essentially it, yes. As usual, the simplest of things in RISC OS generate discussion out of all proportion to their size.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 7/12/04 11:08AM
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Having sockets that don't work would bug me a little, but not having the sockets at all is fine.

The coffee machine sounds good, but would be more suitable for a PC to put the waste heat to good use wouldn't it?

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 7/12/04 11:21AM
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if the sockets were there, it would be like the Econet socket on the A310 without the Econet board.. the lights are on but no-ones home.

Dont seem to recall too much problem over Acorn's solution (IE putting a non working socket in)?

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 7/12/04 11:57AM
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mripley: I am afraid YOU are missing the point completely. The Iyonix has perfectly working USB. There is absolutely no ground for anyone complaining and there is absolutely no NEED for Castle to defend. Maybe you misunderstood something? Sigh. This is precisely the problem caused by the completely misworded phrase in the article. Yes, there is some chip on the motherboard that is not working. But why on earth would anyone care? The Iyonix's USB system is working because the Iyonix comes with a card to perform the functionality of the broken chip. So, your car analogy does not work at all.

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 7/12/04 12:01PM
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Perhaps what mripley means is that to compensate the 'broken' onboard USB1, Castle had to 'sacrifice' one PCI expansion slot. But it does offer USB2, so that's fine with me and in no way did they 'mislead' any customers since they offer working USB as specified, though better 'cause it's USB2.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 7/12/04 2:56PM
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I think Martins suggestion of an inbuilt coffe machine is very sensible, after all, every Iyonix comes supplied with a built in coffee cup holder, does it not? :-)

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 07/12/04 4:34PM
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The Iyonix is excellent. However, I'd be more concerned that 5 USB devices I've tried don't work with it. Is there a way of making these devices work, or do we just be (dis)satisfied with a sub set of what a PC will be able to use?

 is a RISC OS UserDaveW on 07/12/04 5:03PM
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nunfetishist: I thought I had the latest incarnation of the PIIX inside my Asus P2B-S. The information available from the Intel developer website hints at the same state of play. Did another company buy the PIIX technology from Intel, or have they just missed to update their website? Or does perhaps your MIPS development board provide all the nice features like ATA-133 from a different chip?

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 07/12/04 5:39PM
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Are there any plans to get subclass 5 mass storage devices to work with the Iyonix. I was showing a friend my Iyonix on the weekend, and it failed to impress because he could not email a file from an USB pendrive because it was the wrong flavour of mass storage device.

 is a RISC OS UserJWCR on 07/12/04 10:40PM
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Indeed, USB support is present but certainly not perfect. What I hope is that Castle will add more compatibility when they release their USB2 drivers this Xmas. They are charging for them, so I'd expect them to be a substantial improvement over the current set.

Anyone any idea how well the Castle USB performs against the Simtec USB stack (as used in UniPod)?

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 08/12/04 10:20AM
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From the limited amount of devices I have tried, they are quite similar. Most that work in one work in the other. Cheers!

 is a RISC OS Userfwibbler on 08/12/04 10:30AM
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