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Omega sighted in Scotland

By Ian Jeffray. Published: 7th Sep 2002, 18:27:06 | Permalink | Printable

We went to Livingston. We saw the Omega. Were we impressed? Read on...

The "RISC OS world" seems like an extremely southern affair and save for Liquid Silicon we don't get to see much happen up here, so it was a very welcome suprise (and thanks to Alan Gibson of Liquid Silicon) that we saw Microdigital come to Livingston. Setting off from Edinburgh down the A71, we mused as to what we'd see actually operating. There's been so much FUD and rubbish in newsgroups and soforth that it's hard to keep track of what's going on and Microdigital's weird website doesn't really lead to a productive understanding of the system. So, now was our chance to get some "hands on" action - great!

We arrived at the place and followed the paper arrow trail up to a small room in the school. And waited. And waited. Microdigital eventually turned up just before 2pm. Hurrah. Omegas were set up and afer some brief fiddling and blaming of the "PC digital projector" being unable to handle the resolution Omega was trying to feed it, we finally saw the beastie booting up! A rather garish splashscreen replaced the normal RISC OS 4 / Select loading panel and then the desktop arrived. All the icons had been redrawn for no apparent reason, but yes, it was RISC OS, running at a not inconsiderable speed. A large bitmap was loaded in to some application or other (1280x1024 on a 4 foot screen viewed at 30 feet distance is pretty useless for seeing what's really going on) but the screen redraw was very nippy indeed. Then they dragged the window... uhoh. The screen redraw is definitely much slower than the RISC PC's VIDC20, which is to be expected given that Omega uses slow main RAM for the screen wheras VIDC20 uses the fast, dedicated VRAM. It's also a vast amount slower than ViewFinder at dragging windows. (Obviously faster than ViewFinder at drawing that big sprite, though!)

David Atkins began speaking, occasionally prompted by Stuart Halliday and deferring to David Prosser when things needed technical qualification. Lots of issues were talked over, and unfortunately this news editor nodded off during some of the more mundane questions (eg "What is an X-something chip") but all questions were given equal standing and answered appropriately. Appropriately, that is, except for the issue of which version of RISC OS the Omega would be shipping with. A lot of waffle basically boiled down to nothing but they didn't convince anyone they were going to be shipping with 4.0 or Select or anything specific. We shall wait and see on that one, but to my mind if Omega doesn't run RISC OS Select then it's not worth anything - we need all RISC OS companies working together, not splitting apart! Weird, though, that they'll be showing Omega at the RISCOS Ltd AGM. (link)

Some more hardware details emerged. The IDE interface is currently running in "legacy" (PIO) mode which gives out about 7-8MB/sec burst. MD said that they'd just about got UltraDMA working (always "just about" with most things!) and that would give up to a cool 40MB/sec which is great. Sound is provided by a PCI soundcard but doesn't work yet (Replay locked up because the soundcard wasn't doing the DMAs properly). No CDROM or floppy were shown, allegedly to stop folks putting dodgy software on to the Omega, but it doesn't look good having never shown an Omega with a working CDROM or floppy now does it? Other tidbits included the faster than originally specced FPGAs for the graphics stuff, 6 (six!) USB ports available, Firewire apparently in the offing etc. No evidence of USB or PCI actually working, though, which is a great shame.

After the main presentation/chat was over, we were allowed to get our grubby mits on the machines and try them out. A simple BASIC drawing test showed a 35% speed gain over a standard 200Mhz StrongARM RiscPC (22% faster than 242Mhz RiscPC, but a nice 42% faster than a 242Mhz RiscPC with ViewFinder!), which is understandable given the 306Mhz CPU. (They also showed FQuake running at an average 20fps, compared to 16fps on a 200Mhz RiscPC and 17fps on a 242Mhz RiscPC)

It was only when you get up close to the wee "Omega 1" case do you realise how gorgeous it really is (it's tiny!). If you're considering an Omega you really must consider getting this version rather than the bland midi tower.

Microdigital said they expected customers to be playing with their new Omegas "Well before Christmas" and hinted at the timeframe based on the Omega price rise due for the start of October. As with everything else, we shall wait and see.

If everything works as they suggest it will, and you've not got a StrongARM RISC PC with ViewFinder yet, then Omega has to be the obvious choice. If, like me, you do have a decent spec RiscPC, then why would you shell out 1300 on Omega? It gets you PCI, but that's only valuable if you have drivers for what you need and personally I've got a USB podule, SCSI, 100baseT ethernet and soforth so can't see any PCI cards I'd want that aren't already available as podules. The RISC OS Select issue really bothers me deeply, too.

You can't fault Microdigital for enthusiasm, though. They're single minded with their view and that's a good thing. Here's hoping they come up with the goods.

Images from the day, here

Microdigital

Update
Microdigital have decided to be somewhat rude about this article and its author on their website. I've persistently tried to phone them to clear this up, but they never answer the 'phone (I hope that's just becuase they're too busy building Omega ;-). They have put up a second article on their site suggesting that this article "misrepresents" the meeting which it reports. We're very confident that it doesn't, and would very much like to clear up anything which Microdigital feel is in error, but they won't talk, and everyone else who was at the meeting and has expressed an opinion to us, is of the view that this article does indeed present a fair view of what happened there, so I think it's very unfortunate for Microdigital to be taking this rather bizarre stance and attack on their prospective customers. Make of it what you will, but speaking personally, it's really putting me right off Microdigital wheras once I had hope of buying a couple of great machines. Come on, guys. There's no need to be like this.

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Discussion

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I hope you /can/ get Select for the Omega when it's released, I don't fancy going back to the old !Configure app, and non-multiuser bits. :-/ -- Ian Hawkins (g0tai)

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 7/9/02 7:34PM
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Of course, the midi tower is more upgradable. Admittedly, it's rather more bland... and I'd *guess* that Select will be avaliable; after all, it is for the Mico, so there obviously isn't any major breakdown in in communication between ROL and Microdigital.

Hopefully I'll see it at the AGM :-)

 is a RISC OS Usermoss on 7/9/02 9:00PM
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You'd *guess* ? Fat lot of use that is. I was there and heard them desparately avoid the question of OS. No confidence in seeing Select for Omega any time soon. Oddly, Microdigital seemed to think it was RISCOS Ltd that would be doing the chasing to get Select on Omega. Weird.

 is a RISC OS Userian on 7/9/02 10:15PM
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Roll on the ROL AGM :)

Chris

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 7/9/02 10:20PM
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I never said my guesses were any use :-)

 is a RISC OS Usermoss on 7/9/02 10:23PM
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Why had the icons been redrawn? Why not? I do it all the time :) -- Spriteman.

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 7/9/02 10:46PM
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Why waste a lot of time doing that rather than getting the product done? That irritates me. Just like waffling on about the packaging or whatever. Just get the bloody thing out to customers!

 is a RISC OS Userian on 7/9/02 11:57PM
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In relation to the images from the day, are you sure that was TopModel running? Looks very much like an application from Aspex Software, perhaps a later version of VRMLEyes. Still a good read though.

 is a RISC OS Userjmcarey on 7/9/02 11:59PM
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Maybe it was VRMLeyes. Doesn't really matter - ttbomk it's the same rendering engine behind it. Microdigital were very poor at explaining what they were showing and preferred just to load random apps and force us to watch 10 zillion raindrops being rendered, or the whole of the Starwars trailer.

 is a RISC OS Userian on 8/9/02 12:21AM
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In fact I don't think DaVinci90/VRMLEyes uses the same rendering engine as TopModel. It actually looks like Microdigital have got their hands on a more advanced version of Aspex Software's VRML viewer, perhaps even the one that supported VRML2. Well I guess the more pertinent question is, did the raindrops make up a shower or a downpour? :o)

 is a RISC OS Userjmcarey on 8/9/02 1:30AM
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Best way to find out then, would be to email Microdigital to find out.

Chris

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 8/9/02 2:52AM
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Personally, the impression I got from David Atkins was that given Select works on Mico, he couldn't think of any reason why it shouldn't work on the Omega. Which seemed reasonable enough to me.

 is a RISC OS Useraardvark on 8/9/02 8:44AM
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Top Model uses the Gemini engine. This is not the same engine as used by the ASPEX VRMLEyes viewer originally. The viewer showed on the screenshots is a version of the ASPEX viewer. It's no secret that the version being demoed by MD came from VOTI but, AIUI, is not currently being developed further.

As far as Select goes at least one point needs to be remembered. Select is primarily aimed at the desktop market whereas MD have ambitions that go further than that. The impression I got from David Atkins at Wakefield was that Select would be nice but isn't crucial to MD's wider picture. Bear in mind that Select wasn't available when MD started on the Omega and IMHO it would make more sense to get ROS4 running reliably first given that Select is based on the ROS4 code. Personally I still can't get Select for my RS so I'm not bothered ;)

 is a RISC OS Userjohnstlr on 8/9/02 10:30AM
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johnstlr, you're actually happy using crappy RISC OS 4.0 ? Have you even seen Select? I boggle that anyone would even bother with Omega if they weren't going to have it run the latest OS. You may as well stick with your RISC PC, or, god forbid, 7500-based machine. MD constantly say "Omega is the rolls-royce" so why are they sticking with an outdated OS. I certainly wouldn't even *consider* an Omega without Select.

 is a RISC OS Userian on 8/9/02 11:09AM
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If only there were student discounts...

 is a RISC OS UserSnig on 8/9/02 3:09PM
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Am I happy with ROS 4? Yes but then I've no need of features like multi-user support.

Do I have a choice? No, because Select isn't available for RiscStations.

Have I ever seen Select? No. I'm very well aware that I'm not in a position to compare Select with ROS4 and I wasn't attempting to - merely offering information as to why MD might seem to be less concerned about Select than some might imagine they would be.

Whether ROS4 is outdated or not is really down to what you need out of the software and hardware. I work for a company where every engineer would consider Select to be extremely outdated. However, given that I also have XP and linux boxes, ROS4 is currently adequate for my needs. In the same way only you can tell whether an Omega is capable of meeting your needs. If it doesn't, don't buy it.

 is a RISC OS Userjohnstlr on 8/9/02 3:58PM
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Corr, all you Select promoters are making me look forward to the post on monday, when my copy comes through. :)

 is a RISC OS UserSnig on 8/9/02 4:41PM
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Good lad.

 is a RISC OS UserPhlip on 8/9/02 7:28PM
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Ian likes his Select, doesn't he? :-) -- Spriteman.

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 9/9/02 9:03AM
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The viewer is a slightly modified version of the VRMLEyes program, attached to a much modified rendering module. Generally speeds are about 2x as fast as the original (some cases up to 8x as fast, some less), and the program is still in development... -- Richard Wilson,

 is a RISC OS Usernot_ginger_matt on 9/9/02 10:37AM
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Pretty pointless showing us stuff that we can't compare against on RiscPC. Yet another MD PR goof.

 is a RISC OS Userian on 9/9/02 11:01AM
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The updated code was written pre-Omega, and the timings refer to this. If you want to do your own speed tests, I'm sure I can find you a copy of the module to play with. -- Richard Wilson,

 is a RISC OS Usernot_ginger_matt on 9/9/02 12:29PM
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That would be nice. Ta. Feel free to send it to Ian or drobe and we'll pass it onto Ian to play with.

Chris, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 9/9/02 12:42PM
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Actually, Chris, could you post me a copy too? I'd like to see why VF was performing so badly against a 'normal' Risc PC (if I read the results above OK.) VF /should/ be able to beat VIDC standing on its head for all but pixel-by-pixel plotting where the bus is the inhibitory factor. -- Andrew Hill,

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 13/9/02 11:10AM
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Sorry Andrew, we haven't been able to secure a copy of Rich's software.

Chris

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 13/9/02 6:36PM
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