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Surftec abandons Castle USB

By Chris Williams. Published: 30th Apr 2003, 22:03:44 | Permalink | Printable

Mass storage Digiflash welcomes Simtec kit

Recently we reported that Surftec were whispering details of USB drivers for mass storage devices, specifically compact flash cards used with digital cameras and so on. We've learnt today that development work is in full swing with Surftec teaming up with Stuart Tyrell Developments to open their new site digiflash.co.uk. "Small quantities" of their new digiflash product is already shipping, we're told.

Surftec are eager to point out that their data card reader will work exclusively with Simtec's USB kit despite initially assuring us that they'll be working on drivers for Castle Technology's USB solution and STD working on the drivers for Simtec's USB offering.

"We have been forced to suspend our development of the Castle DigiFlash drivers. For the time being, we have no plans to complete the development of DigiFlash for the Castle/Iyonix USB", Surftec's Neil Farnham-Smith commented to drobe.co.uk earlier today.

Neil's words are echoed on the Surftec front page. The reason behind the sudden abandonment of Castle's kit is due to "recent changes forced upon us that have made developing a product for the Castle [USB] standard uneconomical", says Surftec.

Having shelved the idea of supporting Castle's USB kit for now, Neil grasped for the silver lining by adding to drobe.co.uk, "However the great news is that we are now putting extra effort into the Simtec standard and working closely with Stuart Tyrell to make the Simtec version of DigiFlash a success."

Survival of the fittest
Remember that due to differing software interfaces, drivers written for Simtec USB kit won't work with Castle's USB solution and with third parties developing drivers solely for Simtec's USB, Castle appear to be left with the burden of both developing their USB hardware and providing the necessary drivers to devices that punters wish to plug into their computers. Anyone one would think there's something wrong with Castle's API and please, we hope no one's going to suggest that Castle might turn to borrowing Linux USB code to make up the driver shortfall - certainly not after they learnt their lesson from their first brush with GPLed code.

There's also the critical mass situation too as users decide on which USB hardware to invest in, almost like survival of the fittest. Once the driver pile for Simtec's USB kit grows big enough (mass storage is a big boost), users will be quickly attracted to the Simtec kit which means developers will have incentive to keep supporting the Simtec kit. However Castle have the weight of their XScale powered Iyonix computer at their side which packs 4 USB sockets plus not so long ago their technical director hinted mass storage drivers for Castle USB on the Iyonix user mailing list.

The good news for digital camera owners, and the overall bottom line, is support for USB based flash cards is here. If you're a Simtec USB user. Email to digiflash.co.uk was bouncing at time of writing, we've mailed Surftec for further comment.


Surftec quickly got back to us this evening with some further comment. Essentially, they claim they had the rug pulled from under them leaving the project uneconomical although they say they understand why and have duly filed it all under the "these things happen" label. Nevertheless, having lost three grand invested into the Castle USB side of product, Surftec have as a result halted future planned projects.



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How has developing for Castle kit become unecononmical?

-- Snig Undoubtley doubtful.

 is a RISC OS UserSnig on 30/4/03 10:06PM
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Presumably Iyonix sales don't make it worthwhile, if Castle sold their target 500 machines, then how many of those want USB/Flash storage, 100? Just a guess of course.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 30/4/03 10:48PM
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Or alternatively it's because Castle are already working on mass storage drivers, so surftec see little point in duplicating the effort. But as they didn't mention why, I think we'll just be left guessing ;)

 is a RISC OS UserPhlamethrower on 30/4/03 11:11PM
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Would it be possible for the Simtec crew to create a version of their USB stack to work with the Iyonix hardware (i.e. a drop-in replacement for the Castle stack)?

In which case, would that then mean that any driver written for the Simtec stack could be used with both the Iyonix USB hardware and non-Iyonix machines with a Simtec USB podule, or is the issue more complicated than that?

 is a RISC OS Userape on 30/4/03 11:31PM
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In my humble opinion, the situation seems to be getting sillier by the day.

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 30/4/03 11:41PM
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It should be, the question is whether Castle would pay for it or support it if it were sold as a stand alone procuct.

Any 32 bit clean drivers ought to work.

The question of using GPL stuff, what's wrong with that? (Providing they know it's GPL so they can follow the rules this time)

-- Jess

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 30/4/03 11:42PM
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Just so there is no confustion, or bad press for Castle and the Iyonix PC - my decision was not based on how many Castle USB cards there are, or Iyonix machines.

I have never asked, or been told about how many Castle or Simtec USB interfaces have been sold to date, therefore my decision cannot have been based on that.

One of you has hit the nail right on the head, however for the time being I'll have to leave you guessing as it is not for me to release the exact details of how I came to my decision.

All will become clear in the near future, and also the developer of the original DigiFlash product chose the Castle API over the Simtec API so its nothing to do with one product being better than the other, as far as I am concerned, both have their merits.

I wish to remain friends with Castle, I do not wish my decision to cause them bad press.

-- Neil Farnham-Smith of Surftec Ltd

 is a RISC OS Userneilfs on 1/5/03 12:33AM
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Rather than use GPL stuff, they could use BSD stuff, much more liberal licence. The situation is a bit silly, you'd think all the new USB stuff would be coming out for the latest hardware, not upgraded ancient boxes.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 1/5/03 12:34AM
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thegman: However, Microdigital told me over the phone that they're using Simtec's API and one could assume that drivers written for Simtec's podule work for the Omega. This, of course, needs confirming.

Chris, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 1/5/03 12:49AM
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diomus: I read that on their Newsdesk page too. Talking of the Omega, a couple of weeks ago someone on Drobe mentioned they had been invoiced, anyone paid yet?

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 1/5/03 1:15AM
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I'm about to get an Iyonix, and as I'm into electronics I'm looking at driving some of my projects with USB rather than the parallel port. However, the Simtec stuff seems to be much better documented, with much better examples than the Castle stuff. It would be nice if Castle could make things a bit less painful for struggling developers by providing more docs.

Or have Castle done a huge-mega-site describing every aspect with big pictures and I've just missed it? (Thicko that I am.)

 is a RISC OS Userzeeb on 1/5/03 9:50AM
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What's happened to the Smart media reader then?

 is a RISC OS UserA.W. on 1/5/03 10:23AM
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zeeb: I assume you have seen: [link]

Not as comprehensive as the Simtec docs still though!



 is a RISC OS Userspellinn on 1/5/03 5:44PM
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Are the Simtec modules 32-bit? Obvious choice for Iyonix users: buy a Simtec card if you want the best of both worlds! You could then use whatever you like - and you can't have enough USB ports :o).

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 1/5/03 7:44PM
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Unfortunately that would involve splashing out on a podule backplane as well, which makes it a bit of a pricey option.

 is a RISC OS UserPhlamethrower on 1/5/03 8:10PM
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Aren't USB mass storage devices defined as part of the spec? Surely they all have to use the same API.

So any USB storage device should be able to interact with any card wihtout drivers? That's what my new $15 6-in-1 card reader does with Win/Lin as I know I haven't installed any drivers.

I'd have thought the only work would be a filesystem for the devices.....?

-- #include "sig.h"

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 1/5/03 9:18PM
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I think you'll find that USB mass storage drivers are supposed to use the same "protocol" over the physical USB medium. What this means is they all look the same across the wire so a single driver can be used with them all.

However, this is a million miles away from the API used to write the driver. The API effectively defines how you communicate with the USB interface (ie the simtec podule, the built in Iyonix slots..), not the USB device. You use this API to "talk" the "protocol" as understood by the actual USB device (ie the mass storage driver, a printer, a keyboard). In the RISC OS world there are two APIs, hence the issues that are being raised.

Perhaps a more familiar example is that of Internet communications. All computers on the Internet talk the IP protocol. However the API applications use to talk IP isn't necessarily the same. For example, linux, FreeBSD, and RISC OS all use the BSD Sockets API. Windows uses MS' own Winsock API which, in some places, diverges significantly from the BSD sockets API. This means that an application that use Winsock can't use BSD sockets (not strictly true, but I don't want to cloud the point). It's exactly the same situation with the two USB APIs. Ultimately the same bits and bytes go through the USB interface to the USB device, but how those bits and bytes are passed to the USB interface differs.

I don't know enough about USB on linux, but Windows XP ships with drivers for all the standard USB device types (keyboards, mice, mass storage devices) which is why you don't have to install drivers to use them. It's the same on the Mac. In fact Apple have (and do) worked very hard with USB device manufacturers to ensure drivers are available as standard. This is why the Mac is reknown for it's USB plug 'n' play capabilities.

 is a RISC OS Userjohnstlr on 2/5/03 9:29AM
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USB? not so universal then...

Solutions to this terrible situation:

1) put a simtec podule in your iyonix - but are the drivers 32bit OK? Does the podule support the revisions that intel/pace/castle (whoever actually did the design...) made to the podule bus?

2) Somebody develop an API that supports the different USB hardware... (forget not that the simtec USB is tied to a specific chip(set))

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis_RISC OS on 2/5/03 6:47PM
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No it isn't. It's implemented for a specific chip set, but is portable. -- Jess

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 3/5/03 4:44PM
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Well can someone please port and stop this situation?

OK dreaming I s'pose....

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis_RISC OS on 4/5/03 8:30PM
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With Castle, Simtec, RISCOS Ltd. and Microdigital all giving talks at Wakefield, there should be some interesting questions asked about compatibility!


 is a RISC OS UserMartyn Fox on 5/5/03 7:37PM
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