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Building a DIYonix

By Chris Williams. Published: 17th Dec 2004, 15:56:38 | Permalink | Printable

Aka, how to sniff out a good deal

DIY Iyonix motifCastle's DIY Iyonix kit offer, in which punters can build their own Iyonixes, ends today, so let's look at what it's brought to the market. Each kit consists of just an Iyonix motherboard with the standard 80321 600Mhz XScale processor, RISC OS 5, a graphics card and a few bits and pieces - the rest can be bought from cheap component shifters, allowing users to (in theory) get the best deals and customise their machines accordingly. This approach usually works well in PC land, where it's more affordable to assemble a computer yourself if you shop around.

Having heard from users who have welcomed the DIY kit, we spoke to 'DIYonix' purchasers Andy Wingate and Jess Hampshire to see how they fared and how much they saved.

As well as buying the DIYonix motherboard kit, Andy also picked up a USB card, 1GB of RAM and a Sharp LL-171A 17" TFT monitor from Castle. From Simply, he then picked up a Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 80G hard disc with a 2MB cache because the drives with 8MB were SATA only. Andy says he has a 60G MP3 player and an NFS file server on his network, and therefore doesn't require a lot of local storage. He did, however, want to make the most out of the Iyonix's single RAM slot.

Relying on Castle's component buying guide for the Iyonix, Andy also bought a Mitsumi FA404M 7-in-1 compact media reader, and from Ebuyer, an NEC ND-3500A 16x DVD R/RW drive, a USB-to-PS2 adapter and a Casetek CK-1007-2B MicroATX case (pictured below). Andy also didn't have to worry about providing a mouse and keyboard as he intended to use his Iyonix with a KVM and existing peripherals.

Casetek 1007-2B caseAndy told us: "Things generally went well. Unfortunately, my box of components was missing a graphics card but Castle were very apologetic and sent it out to me on a day when I would be around to accept delivery. I had only ordered my extra bits on the evening of the show so all the components arrived together in time for a building session on the Friday.

"My biggest problem was when I put the hard disc in the wrong way around in the sliding compartment in the case. But I was working from a webpage and got caught up in the pictures rather than thinking through what I was doing."

Andy also had to do some minor re-wiring work to connect his USB based media reader to the internal pin header on the motherboard - the supplied connector diagram proved useful, says Andy.

He adds: "How the case wires attach to the LED and switch headers on the motherboard was not super clear to me. The motherboard build sheet diagram has pin 1 marked for each connector but the case designers seem to change their minds about which colour the appropriate wire will be. I found their instructions and build guide clear enough but I am reasonably confident at putting a PC together.

"It took a few hours on the Friday evening. The delays were when I got the harddisc stuck when it was neither in or out and after I had attached the keyboard lead to the wrong bit of my KVM. Once I got going with !Chars, I was well away."

In total and excluding the TFT monitor, Andy spent 1085 and, by comparing his system to the Iyonixes on sale from Castle, believes he made a saving of around 400.

"It is a good way to save money," continues Andy, who thinks anyone who has built or upgraded a PC themselves should be confident enough to build their own Iyonix. "I would not have bought an Iyonix otherwise as my RiscPC was working pretty well. It was feeling slow and a bit frustrating but it did the job. Being able to choose the components made the machine more desirable and being able to afford the cost when the purchase was not absolutely essential helped.

"When I saw the announcement before the South-East Show, I started thinking about the idea that I would be able to afford an Iyonix. I did a bit of research with Archive, Drobe and Qercus to see if I really did want to get one, then looked at possible components. I then went to the show with a clear set of questions I needed to ask (including about a USB-PS2 adapter and PS2 KVM). Once I was satisfied with the answers I decided I would buy one."

Jess also bought a USB card from Castle, along with the DIYonix kit and then reused parts he had left over from other computer systems. At the moment, his computer is fitted with 128M of RAM, 20GB hard disc, DVD and CD-R/W drives, a USB based compact media reader. He hopes to soon upgrade the machine to 512M of RAM.

Jess did, however, encounter a few problems: firstly, his Western Digital drive didn't work with the Iyonix until he added a slave IDE device. Castle later confirmed that this is the case with Western Digital devices, and in fact, Western Digital devices aren't listed in the component guide for this reason and some PCs are known to suffer from this kind of fault too.

Secondly, he reports a problem with the wiring diagram for one of the USB ports, also confirmed by another Iyonix user. Also, according to Jess, there's a maximum limit of four USB storage devices allowed on the iconbar (hindering his media reader that has five functions) and his memory sticks are not recognised.

To work around the USB difficulties, Jess has to make sure the media reader uses a high numbered USB port and that any memory sticks are plugged into the Iyonix before it's powered up. Castle are said to be addressing these problems.

Jess has also found that if he turns the system's sound volume up too high, the audio output becomes distorted. Other users have confirmed this and blamed the Iyonix's audio chipset.

"Assembly took a couple of hours. I wanted to make a neat job and I re-routed some untidy wires in the case I had. It also took a couple of hours chasing down the drive problem," says Jess, who also used a Swiss army knife designed for PC engineers to assemble his computer. He's also investigating using the 12V supply from the Iyonix PSU to power his LCD monitor and finds that he has to turn his Iyonix on first and then the monitor in order for the display to appear.

He adds: "There was also a delivery delay. I didn't realise that Castle use a courier rather the Royal Mail - I was expecting to just go to the nearby sorting office one morning to collect it. However the courier phoned my work place and got throught to the one person who wouldn't recognise my address and didn't know I was expecting a delivery at home. The courier didn't have the sense to mention my name. Castle got it back and sent it to my work place."

He also advises that you make sure you get a decent and suitable PSU. Jess continues: "Be familiar with building computers first. I have built hundreds in my career, the Iyonix is probably the second most expensive one, for parts, I have built. It is simpler than a PC as there's little to worry about for airflow. Budget for replacing any parts you already own that aren't on the component guide list with ones that are on the list. Don't rush it."

As he already owned most of the computer components beforehand, Jess believes he saved 400, compared to a pre-built Iyonix of similar specification.

Having upgraded to an Iyonix, Jess adds that he misses Select on his RiscPC: notably, the improved cut and past in writable icons, numeric file sorting, Apple networking, the graphics format support system, filer thumbnails, the PC delete key issue and even the rounded desktop buttons.

"The networking and Internet support and sound seem noticeably better on Select and the loss of PNG and JPEG support in Paint is a major one," says Jess, who has contacted RISCOS Ltd. to pledge his support for Select32.

"The Iyonix is far better for email, web browsing and playing MPEGs, but not for music. For web design, I find the loss of Select functionality more than outweighs the speed improvement, so my RiscPC will be doing that function until Select32 arrives. However, I don't regret buying it, but would not have wanted it to cost any more than it has."


DIY kit announcement from Castle
More info on Andy Wingate's DIYonix - plus photos
Photos of Jess' DIYonix Updated at Fri,17 Dec 2004.18:36:12: Added specifications of Jess' Iyonix

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We already had bought our Iyonixes when this announcement was made & have now recased them - doh!

hmm that'll be an extra 2-300 then :rolleyes:

...makes getting the connectors round the right way less hit & miss though

 is a RISC OS UserROHC on 17/12/04 4:36PM
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Jess: turn off any auxilliary sound inputs you don't need in the sound control panel. Turning them all off except the system sound will get rid of almost all distortion from the audio. I'm not sure why this is the case but others have confirmed my solution. It would be nice to have a software/hardware fix for the mixer, though.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 17/12/04 6:03PM
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They already were. the system setting needed to be reduced. I think the issue is probably just software, and i think the improved sound in select would address the overall sound quality.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 17/12/04 6:23PM
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I doubt Select has anything very much to do with it. There are two issues here - one is that the default sample rate in RISC OS 5 (and I admit I haven't checked in 5.07/08) isn't set to 44.1Khz, but this is easily changed with a single SWI.

The second is that it's a cheapish AC97 chipset (and there's already been far too much discussion about this on the Iyonix list), but the bottom line is that if you turn it up too far, you will get distortion - it's the same on many systems.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 17/12/04 9:11PM
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Select has a nice module called ratetracker that sorts out most of the sample rate issues. i'm just listening to Africa Bamaataa's Metal - MP3 128K 44.1K sample, through my hi-fi and it sounds pretty good. I'm pretty sure ratetracker when available will sort it out for all the other sample rate MP3s. Biggest problem in have is getting it through the hi-fi instead of my son's PS2 :)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 17/12/04 11:05PM
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Having listened to a lot more MP3s (all 44.1K or half that) I'm certain there is nothing fundamental wrong the the iyonix sound hardware, it sounds great. part of my comment about listening to music is that I am unable to listen to the same radio stations on it that I can with my RPC (same software) or even my work's PDA - hence my feeling that the networking is poorer tham select.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 17/12/04 11:36PM
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Even the AudioDynamics super post DMI50 card suffers from distortion more than you'd expect. This is because it powers the output amplifier off 0 and 5v. Maybe either the iyonix has a similar problem, or the inputs have some kind of bias/lack of bias so when they're on the output is operating closer to its max swing.

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 18/12/04 12:38AM
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Practically every digital<->analog soundcard suffers from distortion to some extent, only thing one can do is find the best signal-to-noise ratio. I also understand RO5 has its default sample rate below 44.1kHz. Using the Mixer app you can select different sample rates for the soundsystem:

[link] It would be nice, though, if Castle were to press ahead with a couple of PCI card drivers, including for a decent soundcard.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 20/12/04 1:10PM
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So does this mean the Iyonix doesn't have an SPDIF output? Would have thought this was essential these days...

 is a RISC OS UserSquirrel on 2/1/05 7:29AM
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How far are we from PCI - SATA Drivers?

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 19/2/05 12:07PM
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