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A9home beta will give Ad6 some breathing room

By Chris Williams. Published: 22nd May 2005, 17:54:54 | Permalink | Printable

Analysis of the A9home beta release [Updated]

A9home logoIt's not finished and it's not for sale, yet, is the message from AdvantageSix on the A9home. It would appear that they, Ad6 and CJE, have to polish the product off and arrange a means of providing support to the end user.

More importantly, the hardware is yet to be fully harnessed, as the chipset, which Ad6 are keeping a secret for some reason, apparently provides a lot more functionality than the operating system supports. The 32bit OS also needs work done on it to bring it up to the stability expected of RISC OS Adjust. Crucial questions, such as the speed of disc access and the supported screen modes, are yet to be answered, presumably because they'll ultimately depending on what the final version of the retail A9home will be.

So far, the gang are aiming for six main selling points: small, tough, portable, native RISC OS system, affordable and speed. The machine can be carried any where in a small flight case and Ad6's Matt Edgar demonstrated stepping on the device to show how rugged the aluminium case is. The speed and affordable points will, of course, be down to end user experience. Our previous article on why now is a good time for a new desktop computer initially had AdvantageSix fearing that details of their product had been leaked. It turns out that yes, the time is now right for a new device to enter the market, aimed as an entry level model.

In the meantime, while we and other users brood over the consequences of the A9home's unveiling, developers can get their hands on an A9home for 50 quid off the retail price, and later upgrade to a full retail version when the product is released. This beta release system features a preview version of the 32bit RISC OS Adjust, to give programmers "a head-start in writing new and exciting applications for the RISC OS platform", according to Ad6. One thing they mention is that software for 32bit RISC OS 4 will not be fully compatible with RISC OS 5, and vice versa. This is due to a number of factors, one being programmers assuming that all 32bit software will only be running on the Iyonix platform and using fixed hardware addresses and so on.

By signing up to the beta test scheme, you must be or will become a 'bona-fide' developer of RISC OS products and be willing to participate in testing the machine and software supplied with it. An interesting clause in the scheme's T&Cs states that RISC OS Adjust 32 is provided without support from RISCOS Ltd., and that you must "supply feedback regarding the developer-issue A9home only via AdvantageSix" - which could mean that those with an A9home could be gagged from saying too much about the computer.

Ad6's Stuart Tyrrell commented that he felt, for now, sales of native RISC OS 4 hardware would not overly affect emulation sales and vice-versa. Whilst there will be users who'll hold onto their cash for a while longer to see how the A9home manifests into reality, we've heard of a few users who still walked out of the show with an Iyonix.

Given the current state of play for the RISC OS platform, justifying developing and manufacturing new hardware is becoming increasingly difficult, due to ROI and economies of scale issues. Is it vapourware? Initially, we thought so. Now we've seen the kit in action, and learnt that CJE and Ad6 are hoping for beta machine sales to dig into three figures in order to see a return on their investments.

The A9home is not only a new major native product waiting in the wings, it also represents a determination to keep the OS and its users running on new hardware. How their competition and third party developers react will be one we'll keep an eye on.

Update at 12:17 24/5/2005
A source close to the A9home development confirmed earlier today the chipset used in the A9home, which (according to the specifications) go up to 1024x768 in 16/32bpp and 1280x1024 in 16bpp. The insider added: "We only showed at the slightly lower size because we were busy on other things and hadn't sorted an MDF for the LCD's we used on display." The SM501 is packed with features and IO support.

Links

AdvantageSix website

Previous: A9home emerges in beta form
Next: Wakefield 2005 show report

Discussion

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Amazing bit of kit, shame I couldnt make it to Wakefield (anyone wanna buy me a new car? ;-)).

 is a RISC OS Userjonesd98 on 22/5/05 6:48PM
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we wish the OS fork to be closed

 is a RISC OS UserJo@ROHC on 22/5/05 7:09PM
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This seems like a brilliant piece of news to me. Is there any news on the expansions e.g. is the DVD a recordable? What about floppy drives?

 is a RISC OS UserAW on 22/5/05 7:14PM
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Is it RISC OS Ltd who have been developing the OS?

 is a RISC OS UserAW on 22/5/05 7:16PM
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The dvd drive is just a reader. However I did talk tot he guy behind cd/dvd burn and did ask him if it would work with a USB drive. Currently the answer is no, however he did say that Stuart had discussed that with him at the show.

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 22/5/05 7:38PM
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Surely the problem of compatability is only temporary. Once Developers have their hands on both machines, it will be possible to build new versions of their software that works equally well on both.

 is a RISC OS UserJWCR on 22/5/05 8:10PM
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AW: Have a look at [link]

 is a RISC OS Userjoty on 22/5/05 8:57PM
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In reply to Jo: Seconded. I do hope that RO Ltd will endeavour to make *their* 32-bit RO the same as Castle's, from the point of view of the programmer and user, that is.

 is a RISC OS UserTonyStill on 22/5/05 9:49PM
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I'm definitely looking to replace my RPC, this is almost the machine to do it but there are one or two niggles that bother me. I'd love to see a version with a CD burner built in (I already have a CD/DVD USB burner for the PC, but I prefer using internal drives where possible), and a floppy drive too - no point Aemulor emulating those games perfectly if you've got nowhere to stick the copy protection disc after all.

If I got a USB floppy drive could RISC OS (and the Simtec USB stack) recognise it as ADFS :0, or would it always be a USB device (and thus presumably no good for copy protection stuff)?

 is a RISC OS UserNieA7 on 22/5/05 9:51PM
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NieA7: I agree that floppy reliance is a major issue. However, it would make more sense to break the copy protection on those pieces of software, and then to move them across. Whilst I think the A9 will rapidly become many people's primary machine, their RISC PC is unlikely to become redundant instantly - at least not until they've transferred software across etc. Part of that I suspect will be removing their dependence upon floppies - and I guess that'll need a few patches, many of which already exist I think.

Aside from legacy, there is no practical use for floppy drives with the prices of CDs being as they are; copy protection won't work as they will assume ADFS is the drive. Yes - you could mimic that, but it would need to be a dedicated 'USB ADFS copy-protection-get-around' driver. And TBH, it's easier to crack the software protection and move it to CD or over the network :o).

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 22/5/05 11:20PM
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In reply to md0u80c9:

Hmm, good point. I still use floppies, but there's no reason I couldn't use my USB stick for copying files instead (I'm a tight wad, I don't like the principle of using CDs as disposable transfer even if the price is microscopic ;) ). I've tried using copy protection breaking programs before, unfortunately I've never had much success with them. I've had even less success in setting up a home network :(

The lack of an internal optical drive is still a minus for me. I use my PC and RPC side by side on a KVM/USB switch, having USB devices that need dismounting on that switch is a real pain. Still, the A9 is looking really promising, I hope it can use its copious (for a RISC OS machine) VRAM well. I use the RPC mainly for image editing, so if the A9 does well there (and having the latest OS is a big plus for me, I'll spend 600GBP for a new computer and new OS, I'm much more reluctant to spend 150GBP for a new OS on its own) then I'll almost certainly get one.

 is a RISC OS UserNieA7 on 23/5/05 12:18AM
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"CJE and Ad6 are hoping for beta machine sales to dig into three figures in order to see a return on their investments" 100+ developers for a beta machine? Well I suppose Castle pulled that one off a few years ago and for quite a bit more money, but can Ad6 and CJE really be expecting that many beta sales? Remember that most developers don't need another 32-bit machine, and those that don't have an IYONIX, know people who do and who can any testing required. Besides, are there 100+ developers for RISC OS in the first place?

 is a RISC OS Userphilipnet on 23/5/05 12:48AM
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NieA7: Why would you need to dismount? You don't need the devices to be switched as well. I use a KVM as well. You could use USB switching in addition to KVM, but that leaves USB ports free to be devoted to a single machine.

Programs with floppy disc protection will /have/ to be replaced now; providing the A9 sells in sufficient number (which in RO land is 'not many at all'), copy-protected floppies will no longer be an issue. Patches will no doubt be publically available for older software.

As far as image editing goes - early days yet, but the spec. looks promising as is ;).

Philipnet: 100 beta testers is an extremely small amount for a new machine and massively-modified OS!!!! Pace no doubt used more than this when 32-bitting RISC OS for their set top box development. As far as numbers - remember that 'enthusiasts' are the tip of an iceberg which includes commercial clients.

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 23/5/05 1:04AM
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In reply to NieA7:

There's no room in the case for a CD drive or even a floppy! The whole computer is about half the size of a normal CD drive.

 is a RISC OS Userolster on 23/5/05 9:28AM
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md0u80c9: "massively-modified OS"

Does anybody know roughly what proportion of the 32-bit changes were done already for Select and how much subsequently had to be done for Adjust32?

 is a RISC OS Userjms on 23/5/05 9:55AM
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Joty - thanks.

 is a RISC OS UserAW on 23/5/05 11:31AM
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The A9 appears to be a whole range of systems. This would mean that the A9home need not be the only configuration to be offered to us.

Hopefully, at some stage, a standard size motherboard will be made available, to allow home construction or OEM builds. (So all these VRPC manufacturers will be able to offer their own real machines too, hopefully cheaper than Virtual ones)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 23/5/05 11:37AM
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Does anybody know what screen resolutions the machine is capable of supporting? The pictures I've seen generally seem to look as if they're 640x480 or 800x600.

 is a RISC OS Userjms on 23/5/05 11:44AM
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jess: The VRPC thing is something that is encouraging about the A9. Although VRPC systems will be able to outperform it, would it be possible to put one together at the same price as the A9home?

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 23/5/05 11:46AM
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jms: The A9home spent most of the day running in 1024x768 in 32bpp. The Silicon Motion chipset used is designed for small embedded LCD based monitors, so if you want hi-res, there's other RISC OS solutions. The SM501 does up to 1280x1024 although it's not known if this is the GPU used in the A9..

[link]

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 23/5/05 12:43PM
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They changed the display to 1280 x 1024 during the presentation, although I didn't see what colour depth it was using.

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 23/5/05 1:14PM
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SimonC:

I would think that an A9 in a standard case could be comparible in price to an A9home plus USB DVD drive. But I would expect OEMs to put things like DVD writers and Card readers as standard, which would raise the price.

I would expect that an A9 based unit similar to a Risccube should undercut a (decent) VAPC in a similar case.

I assume the A9home is intended as a transportable system and for those who have minimal needs for expansion.

I don't think it aims to compete with the Iyonix.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 23/5/05 1:16PM
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Does anybody who can talk about it know what interfaces there are on the motherboard of the A9? It must have at least one IDE, but is it a socket or is the drive hard wired in place?

In reply to md0u80c9:

I don't know why I need to dismount the drive, I just know that the PC bitches at me mightily if I disconnect it without doing so first. It's a pain, if it weren't for that I'd be sharing the drive now.

In reply to Olster:

I meant a version in a different case, after all if it's a standard board (/if/ it's a standard board) it should fit in a whole range of them, some with enough space for drives.

In reply to diomus and SimonC:

Did changing the resolution have any noticeable effect on the speed of the machine overall?

 is a RISC OS UserNieA7 on 23/5/05 1:38PM
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"Did changing the resolution have any noticeable effect on the speed of the machine overall?"

No that I could see, and Ad6 said that there was no performance hit from the various screen modes.

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 23/5/05 1:59PM
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NieA7: It seemed a little sluggish at redrawing when moving windows at the higher resolution. Whether that's just the redrawing or holding up the CPU too I don't know (the person sitting next to me seemed to think the former). When I had a play with one at the Advantage 6 stand it seemed much more responsive, but I'd left the resolution at whatever it was there. Didn't want to risk crashing two important RISC OS developments in the same day! (I'd already managed to crash Firefox :-) )

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 23/5/05 2:02PM
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There was a brief mention during the question and answer session of the launch presentation of Project Simon which, drob-ites will recall, is a small hardware based extra that dramatically speeds up certain graphic operations.

The A9s at the show did not include project Simon but Matt mentioned that it was being "worked on".

It is probably important to keep in mind that the A9homes at the show are the developers version and not the finished product.

Whether Ad6 or CJE will produce A9homes with Project Simon built in or whether it will be an optional extra from an independent party did not seem to have been decided.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 23/5/05 10:31PM
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Predictable new machine response:

(Commentary on stuff said here and on usenet)

People complain it's too expensive, despite being significantly cheaper than the Iyonix, which is already heavily discounted under the current offer.

People complain its graphics are too slow despite it being clearly said its graphics acceleration is being worked on.

John Cartmell goes on endlessly trying to impress upon us how much he knows about it, although ultimately not really saying very much.

It immediately draws comparisons with the Mac Mini because that happens to be similarly priced and also small, even though that's clearly not a RISC OS computer (except via emulation) nor aimed at the same market instead of the obvious competitor - the Iyonix.

Yawn :-|

Perhaps in time some accurate information might start to be bandied about instead. I await in anticipation - not because what has been said by AD6/DRobe isn't comprehensive, but because the above things get real tiresome.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 23/5/05 11:51PM
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I sat through the show presentation and obviously missed the slow screens! The first half of the demo was spent showing programs up and running to show how complete it was, until the audience rang out of "can it do this/run this" questions.....

It was noticeable how open and upbeat the developers were about it and how they were trying to get developers and potential users onboard.

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 24/5/05 6:55AM
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In reference to the slow graphics, the demo I was given was clearly getting chuggy in high colour modes because it was simply doing direct screen access. You'll remember that slow screen access was precisely the same situation (although different architectures) on Iyonix and Omega before acceleration of primitives was implemented.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 24/5/05 7:21AM
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I missed the saturday crush prefering a more laid back sunday though what interested me were. 1 32bit midi module support. 2 The small form factor of A9home and its USB. 3 Possible Aemulator support for A9home.

and this could give me :-

A computer connection for my keyboard (Yamaha 9000 Pro) with the use of Sibelius 7 with possibly Melidi and Musicman if they ever get lyric support.

Of the twittering i've read I am supprised that many expect top flight performance from a bets machine.

 is a RISC OS Userjlavallin on 24/5/05 10:25AM
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With the introduction native Risc OS Box that is both powerful and affordable brings Risc OS with a possible dilemma.

What if it doesn't sell? If after all these years an affordable Risc OS Box doesn't sell then I believe it is probably a clear signal to all developers (software or hardware) that there is no worthwhile Risc OS desktop market.

I have been a long time believer than should a cheap and powerful Risc OS box was to appear then I would buy one. I am now looking forward to standing by this claim.

Good hardware at a Good Price.

With other initiatives bringing powerful open source linux software to Risc OS, I hope we can time the release of good hardware with good software.

Congratulations to all on what I believed was financially impossible - the introduction native Risc OS Box that is both powerful and affordable.

nx

 is a RISC OS Useranon/217.158.168.199 on 24/05/05 2:10PM
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Looking at the interest shown at the show I'd expect that the A9home will sell pretty well. It won't change the minds of those who compare it to things with more MHz and sold in their millions, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't help to bring some people back to RISC OS, and prevent others from leaving.

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 24/05/05 2:28PM
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I think the A9 could have a niche market for presentations (did they have that in mind?) couple it with a suitable projector (with remote control mouse built in) and presentation software and it would be close to ideal (the only serious problem would be lack of a powerpoint player)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 24/05/05 4:57PM
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jess: Isn't that what laptops already do perfectly well, except they also have an integrated keyboard, pointing device, and extra screen so the person giving the presentation can see what he's talking about without looking behind him? They also already have powerpoint players.

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 24/05/05 7:32PM
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Yes, but find me a laptop that runs RISC OS natively. Granted you could go down the Virtual Acorn route, but there are those users that want to do everything the hard way. Jess did say it would be a niche market, after all.

I think the hardware is probably more interesting as a small, discrete, low-power server, possibly handling gateway, print or media services. However for all those tasks, I would tend to think BSD, Linux, or Windows before RISC OS. Plus I don't actually know how the A9home compares in size to a mini-ITX based system. And also, for media tasks, the A9home doesn't have a TV out unlike those mini-ITX boards.

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 24/05/05 8:19PM
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In reply to Rob

The difference is robustness.

If some one drops a laptop will it work?

The A9 home from what I read sounds more idiot proof that way.

 is a RISC OS UserRevin Kevin on 24/05/05 8:20PM
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ninja: If you're wanting RISC OS, then you'd be wanting an application for RISC OS to make presentations for a PowerPoint viewer to display :) Anyway, buying an A9Home exclusively for use for displaying presentations is clearly madness.

RevinKevin: Yes. Certainly, I've dropped mine numerous times, from non-trivial heights, too. And for the people who want to throw their laptop out of a fourth floor window, or have it run over by a Challenger 2 tank, Panasonic make a range of laptops called Toughbooks, ranging from slim, tiny, rugged ones, all the way up to the type you couldn't break if you tried.

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 24/05/05 9:14PM
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Surely the A9Home won't be restricted to that tiny case though? Hopefully it could be fitted into a larger case, one that has room for an internal CD/DVD and floppy drive. I've never understood the RISC OS worlds fascination with external devices and all the wires and cables that come with them. Cheers!

 is a RISC OS Userfwibbler on 25/05/05 2:03PM
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nunfetishist:

Some presentations require a second screen, some don't. (A second screen would be easy enough to add.) An integrated keyboard isn't always of benefit, a remote control system is often more appropriate.

Presumably spending 900 on a projector solely for use in presentations is also madness.

I've seen lots of laptops and palmtops die as a result of being dropped.

Would the toughbooks you refer to be the ones that cost 2000?

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 25/05/05 2:41PM
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