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Iyonix Review Part Two

By Peter Naulls. Published: 9th May 2003, 20:04:39 | Permalink | Printable

In this final part we look at RISC OS 5 and the bundled software

Continued from part one.

Maturing
With Wakefield imminent, and the Iyonix software base reaching a relative plateau of features, it seems high time to finish our review of the Iyonix's software and Operating System. With Omega's release so near, many of you will be weighing up the pros and cons of each machine, perhaps with a view of purchasing one at the show.

Naturally, we still can't yet give you a direct comparison with the Omega, much as we'd like to (although we will as soon as we can), but we can present the Iyonix as it currently stands in its own right.

What's Changed?
Since the first part of the review was some time ago, it's worth commenting what has changed in terms of the hardware. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer isn't that much. The machine released in November was essentially the machine in its final form, although Castle did recently issue minor DIY hardware additions along with its UDMA update to fix problems with the reset button and sound.

The two contenders for choices for a new machine purchase from RiscStation have apparently dropped out. The Omega's position is somewhat weakened by the appearance of Aemulor and the large quantity of software that has been converted to 32-bit, but I expect this will probably not bother the faithful who have been waiting for the machine.

Six Months On
I've now had my machine since October, and it's proven just as stable as my Select RiscPC. It's true that some users have had stability issues relating to sound, but this has been related to DMA issues which have been resolved. I still use my RiscPC for many things, and will probably subscribe to my third year of Select when my current subscription runs out later this year.

I'm sure that Castle will be keen to tell you the machine has matured, and it's certainly true that punters often hold out before buying into new technology. Perhaps those who've been holding out for six months might now take the plunge.

It's hard to say when I might give up my RiscPC eventually and for many users with an eight year old or so machine, there's going to be a lot of sentimental value attached. Certainly the majority of activities I do on my RiscPC I can now do on my Iyonix, although in some cases I would have to pay for an upgraded piece of software, and in the minority of cases, there's no real substitute. But we'll get to those later.

RISC OS 5?
From a strictly user point of view, there isn't a whole lot to say. It's very much like RISC OS 4.02 for the majority of use, except on a faster machine. There are of course some differences, so let's have a look:
  • Obligatory different icon set, as has become the norm with new machine and OS versions. As usual, if you don't like them, you can load your own. Castle have opted for higher colour icons, taking advantage of the expectation that people will probably be using 16 million or 32 thousand colours.
  • ROM Modules. There are a few bits and pieces in the ROM that you won't find elsewhere. This includes the PCI and USB support, which both have commands to query devices, and for which Castle have published APIs. There's also of course the HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer), although not appearing in its own module, also has a published API which allows you to do various interesting things which I won't go into here.
  • DHCP. RISC OS 5 has DHCP, which you won't get on a RiscPC unless you have Select.
  • Compatibility. Naturally, a portion of your old software doesn't work on Iyonix, due to 32/26 bit issues. But Aemulor addresses some of these issues, although at a speed penalty. And since the first part of this article was published, many more software packages have been converted to 32-bit.


Future Development
There's no doubt that RISC OS 5 development is ongoing; much of publically visible. At one point, Castle provided some kind of update, whether it be the OS itself, drivers or bundled applications almost every week, including over the Christmas period, when they might have reasonably taken a well-earned break.

This has now slowed with the recent issue of the UDMA update, which is intended by Castle to represent a stable version of the OS, and ships will all new machines. Incidentally, the UDMA support is very speedy (currently limited by drive technology rather than the processor), allowing you to load files almost instantly that would take you long seconds on a RiscPC.

I'm sure we'll continue to see more updates - there's more room for improvement for example in the USB arena - there have been hints that we'll see more of this at Wakefield, and moves towards a standardised SCSI interface, the lack of which has been something of a problem back in Acorn days.

Bundled Software
All the usual RISC OS Applications are there, in ROM or on Disc, including some bundled with RISC OS 4, such as !Writer. Nothing very exciting to see here, and perhaps worth noting that !Paint (which has some notorious bugs) in particular doesn't have the vast improvements we see in the Select version. This is something we might see improved in future.

Oregano 2
This is the one people have been waiting for. It's certainly true that Castle couldn't have shipped a machine without a web browser, and perhaps the only (arguable) sensible alternative for the time being is WebsterXL.

If I was writing this review two or three months ago, I could have said much worse about Oregano 2. At that point, it didn't have working scrollbars, and its window was a fixed size, as well as having various GUI oddities. This has thankfully all been fixed, and it is much more pleasant to use.

It plugs many of the holes in HTML rendering, and general browsing ability that Oregano 1 couldn't quite manage, and there are certainly sites I can now visit that I previously had to resort to using IE for. Some of its rendering also looks better, thanks to improved font handling.

Having said that, it's far from perfect. It doesn't feel particularly fast, and it's probably slower than its predecessor, but is bolstered by the faster processor. It can slow to a crawl rendering large tables as it slowly fills in the backgrounds of the cells. In these instances, Oregano 1 often does much better. And finally, its handling of forms is pretty sucky, not allowing drag and drop or clipboard operations as in Oregano 1. I'm hoping these will all be fixed in the near future.

CDBurnLite
This is a cut down of the popular CDBurn, specifically for use with the CD/RW drive in the Iyonix. There isn't too much to say beyond it being much the same as an updated 32-bit version, and indeed, I haven't had much call for writing CDs on my Iyonix at this point, although I'm sure I will in future.

Iyonix Update Watcher
This is program which essentially checks Castle's site regularly for software updates, and allows you to download them if you wish. The watcher does its job, but it's not very exciting, and the execution of its UI perhaps isn't the best. There still remains a strong need for a comprehensive software updater geared towards RISC OS needs, for all versions of RISC OS. Anyone interested in the subject might like to look at this.

LanManFS
Although improved over the version included with older versions of OmniClient, now having long filename suport, it's still lacking compared to LanMan98. The default filetype is annoyingly DOS, it's over-zealous adding ,xxx style filetypes, and it mangles filenames with recent versions of Samba for Linux. Hopefully Castle will address these issues soon.

Other Bundled
There's nothing else particularly surprising bundled with the Iyonix: as well as the usual already mention RISC OS stuff, there's a cut down version of Messenger, various games including Zool and some desktop puzzles, FTPc, PDF (which is nice and nippy in most instances), and finally an improved version of !Printers,mentioned in a previous article.

Other Applications
Of course, there are many other applications out there that now run on the Iyonix. I'll just mention a few in passing.
Zap/StrongED
Although initially only Zap was available, both these excellent editors now exist in 32-bit versions, and run well on Iyonix. Both these were fast anyway on a RiscPC, but on an Iyonix, scrolling is almost ridiculous.
Sound and Movies
There's been a 32-bit version of AMPlayer for quite some time, predating the Iyonix. In any case, it works exactly as expected, playing MP3s flawlessly as it does on a RiscPC. KinoAmp makes good use of the extra CPU, allowing for the first time MPEGs to be played "sensibly" either multi or single tasking. Similiar things can be said of Cineroma, although its development continues and is not yet released.
OvationPro (and others from DP)
There's nothing sloppy about OvationPro's performance on a RiscPC, but again, the Iyonix makes it even faster. And when you do have large image manipulation, there's much less straining, which makes DTP that much nicer.


Screenshots
Here's RISC OS 5 and its satellite software in action, thanks to John Bell for his help in collecting these screenshots.

Configure
Pretty icons label system choices
LanMan
Filer directory
CD-Burn Lite
Control window, Configuring CD Burn, Advanced settings, Defining the CD type, Size matters, Write an audio CD, Add a track, Preview CD layout.
Iyonix Update Watcher
Begin checking for updates, Conecting..., No updates for now
Oregano 2
Castle's homepage, Seems familiar (note the correct table widths for the headlines, something Oregano 1 can't do right).
Paint
Take one spritefile, Select 'Sort', All sorted


Conclusion
If you're considering upgrading to newer computer hardware that exists and runs RISC OS then we hope you'll find in this review all the facts you'll need as you make your decision. The Iyonix is clearly a big break through for RISC OS in terms of hardware, the new architecture is a massive and welcomed leap forward for the platform. How long have we waited for PCI and USB and also a processor to break the 300Mhz barrier? However, in every desktop computer there is an operating system driving the hardware and the Iyonix is no different. Although Castle have engineered a 32 bit RISC OS and made a start on implementing key features into RISC OS 5, they now have a long road ahead of them to catch up with the likes of feature packed RISC OS Select 3.

Make no mistake, the Iyonix is the most powerful RISC OS computer available that end users can get their hands on and as further development of RISC OS 5 gathers pace, we have a lot to look forward to.

Links


Iyonix website

Previous: CameraDesk revealed
Next: Simtec revise USB stack

Discussion

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I agree that they have a long way to go to catch up to select 3 (the feature set looks very impressive). I can't help wondering if this will become a Microsoft story? Building on top of an old OS until it's been morphed out of recognition and very unstable unstable (Windows ME, still used DOS!). Although I believe Castle would not let this happen, surely to get the most from the new processors, the OS should be re-written from scratch underneath, with as much XScale enchanced code as possible, using the HAL to intergrate the changes with the older software (seeing as everyone has converted to 32bit already). I think this is really important to get a really slick and stable operating system that isn't bottle necked by the original RPC code! ----------- Smiler - :D Alex Melhuish

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 9/5/03 9:29PM
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Yes, the Iyonix doesn't suffer the same bus bottle necks as the RiscPC. All the code in the OS that references RiscPC hardware will have been ripped out so the OS works on the more generic XScale fitted motherboard.

Chris, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 9/5/03 10:27PM
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As with Select the internals of RISC OS 5 have had significant modifications (in order to support the HAL, 32bit, and new features such as DHCP, PCI and USB). Be assured that when any version of RISC OS is developed, it gets more stable.

-- ---druck [link]

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 13/6/03 11:15PM
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Nice review - I'm very happy with my IYONIX pc too and thanks to Aemulor Publisher and the odd other 26 bit app performs well.

As for missing things: Well at the time being I'm missing some things like CDROMFS (Select CDFS is not as good!), Win95FS and LanMan98, ImageFS and a 32 bit Browse (yes, the old Acorn thing) would be nice since on my ex-Risc PC I used that browser in 80+% of the cases due to stability and speed and I still use it on my IYONIX with Aemulor. Unfortunately WSS seems to have kind of vanished - what a pity!

As for Select 3 features: Well it does address the odd part I miss to a certain extent (Joilet for CDFS and ImageFileConvert to replace ImageFS) but when I look at the Select features as published by RISCOS Ltd the only nice things that do come to my mind which are not in RISC OS 5 are around the ImageFileConvert like e.g. Thumbnails in the filer. The other Select 1-3 features are either in RISC OS 5 (like DHCP) or available as separate application or not of real interest to me (like rounded buttons, delete protection for !Boot...).

Oops, I missed one: Whell mouse support but no surprise I missed it, since it never worked on Select for me since with PS2Pipe it dot't work but I found that one out the hard way since ROL never mentioned that before offering Select 2.

But the main goodie about RISC OS 5 is that it is 32 bit and offers HAL - that is finally solves the two main initial missions of ROL and thus RISC OS can move forward to new hardware.

In all: IYONIX pc is fast, stable, nice.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 22/8/03 5:47AM
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