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Iyonix vs. Omega

By Chris Williams. Published: 15th Nov 2002, 13:00:47 | Permalink | Printable

Archive Magazine editor Paul Beverley summarises the two contenders

archive magazine As announced this week, the highly regarded RISC OS publication, Archive Magazine has produced a five page article analysing the Iyonix and Omega machines - both awaiting release. Written by Archive editor Paul Beverley, it raises many interesting points about both machines, so having secured permission to reproduce the article online for drobe.co.uk, below is an abridged edition of the Archive report. Obviously, for the full report, you'll have to subscribe to Archive Magazine, who are currently running a special two-free copies offer for anyone thinking of subscribing. On with the show.

Written by Paul Beverley Condensed for online publication by drobe.co.uk [paul@archivemag.co.uk]

Iyonix versus Omega
With the imminent arrival of two new RISC OS desktop computers, the question people will be asking is not "Shall I buy one?", but rather "Which one shall I buy?". Although Microdigital do not have a stand at this month's Midlands show, Paul has invited Microdigital to at least attend with an Omega prototype, just to see how well it competes against an Iyonix.

With the Iyonix, what you see is what you get. You get a 32-bit RISC OS 5 machine powered by a 600MHz XScale processor. The XScale chip is soldered onto the motherboard, so although the OS can be updated using Flash ROM, the Iyonix base system will always be the same. The Omega is a different story because although you initially have a 26-bit RISC OS 4 machine powered by a 306MHz StrongARM, you have the future possibility of being able to upgrade the base system by adding a second processor — initially, as Microdigital‘s website says, "up to 1GHz XScale", but with the promise that "the design is such that any suitable ARM processor could be used in the future". In addition, the 'soft hardware' of the Omega means that they can change and update the hardware of the computer by sending users a program that will reprogram any field programmable based components in the Omega chipset.

26-bit versus 32-bit
Iyonix is quite straightforward in that the whole thing is 32≠bit — processor, operating system, the lot. As discussed fully on riscos.info, current 26-bit software will only work on the 32-bit Iyonix if it's written in BASIC or recompiled if it's anything like C or if it's run on a 26-bit emulator. This is where Aemulor comes in, a 26 bit emulator developed by Spellings Computer Services. You can run your 26≠bit applications by dragging them to the emulator, which will then do as much as it can to interpret the 26-bit instructions and convert them to 32-bit as fast as possible. Old favourites Impression and Artworks sucessfully work on the Iyonix, using Aemulor, running at speeds equivalent to an ARM 600 or ARM 700 powered computer.

As for software recompiled with either Castle's 32-bit compiler or a 32 bit GCC, this is considered 26/32-bit neutral. This means it'll run on either a 26-bit machine (like the Omega and the RiscPC) or a 32-bit machine (like the Iyonix); the diagram below illustrates this:

32-bit diagram
Click on image for a larger version

The Omega will initially run 26-bit RISC OS 4 on a StrongARM processor that's running in 26-bit mode and will therefore happily run 26/32-bit neutral code and current 26-bit only code. To run this neutral code will require a new 32-bit compatible SharedCLibrary module to be softloaded - users of the Castle C/C++ 32-bit compiler package are free to distribute Castle's 32-bit SharedCLibrary module, so no worries there.

RISC OS 5, the variant of RISC OS in the Iyonix, is a derivative of initial internal 32-bit work by Pace Ltd., the corporate owner of RISC OS.

When judging the speed of the two machines, it's more than simply comparing a 600MHz processor with a 306MHz processor. Although the Iyonix boasts a 2.6x speed increase over a 233MHz StrongARM and has a memory bus that's faster than the Omega, there are many other factors involved, such as hard disc and expansion card access speeds - all of which you should check out. The 80321 XScale processor in the Iyonix is actually very similar to the good old ARM7500, in that it's a system on a chip. Normally, computers have a central processor surrounded with separate electronics to provide system memory control and specific input/output interfaces like serial ports and expansions card slots. The 80321 XScale processor instead has all this external circuitry integrated into the actual processor chip, allowing it to provide the PCI interface, DDR RAM control as well as other input/output features. The StrongARM and the 80200 XScale processor, however, are just core processors dedicated to the task of shifting large amounts of data about the computer system as quickly as possible whilst relying on external components to interface them to the outside world. For the Omega computer, Microdigital promise the ARMTwister system which will enable an 80200 XScale processor to work with the original StrongARM processor effectively transforming the Omega into a dual-processor computer. As drobe.co.uk is not aware of whatever Microdigital have planned for the ARMTwister, we'll instead refer you to the Archive article for a full commentary on the subject.

We're certainly not going to try to speculate here about the relative speeds of peripherals because there are even more factors involved than with the processing. You should look at what interfaces are available: How many USB ports, or serial ports do you need? How much space do you need for CD-ROMs, CD-writers, DVDs, etc? Do you need a parallel port? Do you need to use podules? How many (and what speed) PCI slots are you likely to need?

We think we've given you enough issues to think about and discuss, in order to while away the hours and days (not months) until we can get our hands on some actual hardware.

Written by Paul Beverley Archive magazine


Castle Iyonix [specifications]
Microdigital Omega [specifications]

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I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn I think it's time to cancel the Acorn

 is a RISC OS UserSnig on 17/11/02 11:25PM
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I think Snig's stuck in 1998 and has assumed the mentality of an Acorn Board Director. No wait, Bored Director ;)

Chris, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 18/11/02 5:04AM
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Nah. That's WebsterXL mis-behaving. I should really report that.

 is a RISC OS UserSnig on 18/11/02 11:16AM
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Suuure, it's all WXL's fault ;)

Chris, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 18/11/02 12:41PM
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Yes. I deliberatley set out to waste my precious time in sending that comment. :) :) So when will drobe.co.uk commenting work with all RISC OS browsers? :P

 is a RISC OS UserSnig on 19/11/02 9:17PM
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