Shipping Omega first impressionsBy Chris Williams. Published: 8th Aug 2003, 17:17:26 | Permalink | Printable
What works, what doesn't, who has it and is it worth the wait?Drobe reader and Liquid Silicon customer, Stewart Brookes has today written up his first personal impressions of his new MicroDigital Omega for drobe.co.uk. In the absence of fanfares from MicroDigital, we've felt it's best to hear from end users directly to get their views and comments.
Eureka magazine did publish a review of sorts of the Omega the ARM Club won at Wakefield 2003. However, we gather that the ARM Club's Omega wasn't a production quality machine (no fault of Eureka though), so Stewart's comments offer a public insight into exactly what Omega end users are receiving.
Stewart writes, in his own words,
"Thankfully, the Omega is finally shipping! I've had my Omega for about three weeks now, ordered through the ever-helpful and knowledgeable Liquid Silicon.
It's RISC OS (no surprises there), only faster, smoother, more colourful, how I've always wanted it to be. From the outset, MicroDigital have said that they were producing a 'go-faster' RiscPC, and that's precisely what they've done. Flexible and upgradeable, meeting currents needs while retaining an eye to future expansion.
But how does it perform? Was it worth the wait?
True to their word, MicroDigital have produced a remarkably compatible machine: to my delight, all my existing software has performed flawlessly. From my point of view, this is of crucial importance: in the last stages of cobbling together a PhD thesis, I simply haven't got time for hassles with software being incompatible, or a crucial module not working. Amongst those applications that I've been using most intensively are EasiWriter, RiScript, Vantage, and the invaluable bibliographical reference manager Citation. Similarly, I've encountered no difficulties when using Insignia, WordWorks, and Impression.
Just to be difficult (and take a welcome breather from thesis-cobbling!), I tried a few games, thinking these might prove too stiff a challenge. Rather impressively, Omega took these in its stride too, and coped ably with Alone in the Dark, Zool, Gods, Pacmania, TwinWorld, and Bubble Impact. For games titles that can't be coaxed to work under the StrongARM/RISC OS 4 combination, then A310Emu rides to the rescue, working well with Pipemania and Lemmings. Oh, loading from floppy! Oh, such nostalgia!
Clearly, then, software compatibility is not a problematic issue. In terms of increased speed and performance, this varies from application to application, but a general expectation of upwards of twice the speed of my RiscPC (StrongARM 233Mhz) seems fair for most 'real world' tasks. In several cases, the speed increase is much greater than that, and this is especially so for those applications which rely on hard disc access.
For instance, with Photodesk, a typical operation can be as much as five times faster than my RiscPC. Indeed, this is where the machine really comes into its own: gone are the days of frustrating three and four second delays while the next 'chunk' of the picture is loaded from Photodesk's virtual memory system. Rather, all scrolls smoothly and effortlessly on the Omega, in a 1280 x 1024 mode with 16 million colours (more than my RiscPC can manage). The desktop looks truly gorgeous on my 17" GNR TFT, and there were no problems setting up the monitor because MicroDigital have created a good range of 'generic' MDFs.
Screenshot of an Omega desktop
I should, perhaps, note that the machine ships with RISC OS 4.03. I've not subscribed to Select as yet, but RISCOS Ltd have announced that they are working with MicroDigital to resolve any remaining glitches. Now that machines are in the hands of users, I'd expect a speedy confirmation that all is rosy in that regard. In terms of support from MicroDigital, they have issued a steady stream of updates to improve the Omega's performance, and that bodes well for future advances. Things seem set to get better still over the coming months when 2D graphics acceleration becomes available, and the XScale makes its public debut on Omega. It's been a while arriving, but now Omega is well and truly here, and I'm glad to have such a capable and impressive machine sitting on my desk."
Stewart later told us that networking and USB is still not working however the floppy drive and sound are. It's of course hoped that these missing sub-systems are addressed as soon as humanly possible.
The aforementioned updates to the Omega design are, according to Stewart, carried out by using supplied software to reprogram the much hyped on-board FPGA chips, an exercise that takes about 20 seconds. MicroDigital are incidentally using the Simtec USB stack. A modem is supplied with the Omega but this can be optionally exchanged for a network card.
"Certainly from my perspective, I'm happy to have a working machine now, that I can use now, and to wait a few extra weeks for the finishing touches to appear", Stewart added. Having waited nearly three years for the Omega, MicroDigital's customers must be pretty eager to get their hands on machines right now and hold out for later updates to arrive to enable technologies and interfaces promised by MicroDigital.
Essentially, Stewart confirms what Liquid Silicon had been telling us, that Omegas are shipping to end users through selected dealers. Pause while we take a sigh of relief.
Liquid Silicon (on holiday, we think and recovering from email loss)
Don't forget to contact us if you have any news or information on MicroDigital or the Omega
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