Dual headed desktop with Radeon ViewfinderBy Chris Williams. Published: 10th Sep 2003, 23:14:01 | Permalink | Printable
Still keeping the dust off the RiscPCWindfall Engineering have confirmed this evening that Viewfinder graphics cards powered by the very recently supported Radeon 7500 card now officially support 'dual head' operation. This means two monitors can be connected up and used to display an extra wide desktop with one monitor displaying the lefthand side and the other monitor displaying the righthand side.
According to Windfall's John Kortink, each monitor can display up to 2048 x 1536 in 16 million colours and hardware acceleration is also maintained in dual head mode, so the desktop remains "smooth and responsive".
This is good news for Viewfinder equipped power users who need the extra space and it also makes upgrading to the Radeon 7500 more attractive. The Viewfinder card works with RiscPCs and A7000s by interfacing supported 'off the shelf' AGP cards with the Acorn designed podule bus. The on board VIDC based video system is bypassed and the AGP card is used as the video output.
The trouble is, the podule bus is ancient and slow, so the AGP card in a Viewfinder is somewhat strangled. The Viewfinder does employ caching, which is where regularly used images and sprites are stored on the AGP card's on board memory. This attempts to minimise the amount of data flying across the podule bus and therefore speeds up the graphics display. Desktop backdrops and window furniture are prime cache candidates, as are any images 3rd party applications wish to copy into the AGP card's video memory. Also, RISC OS normally performs all its low level graphics operations in software, however the Viewfinder card employs the AGP card to perform these operations in hardware which offers a substantial speed increase.
So far the two words 'RiscPC' and 'A7000' trouble us. They shouldn't be there.
The Viewfinder card, first launched at Wakefield 2000, was regarded as a real replacement to the RiscPC video system and welcomed by serious users who needed to break out of the aging and frankly embaressing VIDC era. When the Viewfinder appeared on the scene, Castle were touting their Kinetic hardware with no mention of any XScale Iyonix and Microdigtal had yet to start their Omega crusade.
Snap forward to 2003, we're now into a new generation of post-Acorn RISC OS powered computers and in spite of Acorn management's dark plot to royally screw us all over for good, we've finally managed to embrace PCI and USB whilst coping with the modest XScale architecture. Yet, there's still effort being poured into producing hardware for RiscPCs and A7000s - an architecture that's going to be ten years old next year and clearly an architecture that just refuses to die. By the way, it isn't fair to just pick on the Viewfinder as there are other upgrades and cards produced solely for Acorn era kit. However, the more we see developments like dual headed support for RiscPCs and A7000s, the more we question the direction some developers and users are taking.
But why should the architecture die, or more importantly, why do RiscPCs and A7000s deserve such work? Why do we keep using our StrongARMs and why do we endorse development work that solely benefits a decrepit series of computers? Just think, you can pick up a StrongARM RiscPC with a network card for less than a hundred quid if you look carefully. It'll soon cost more to buy an upgrade for a RiscPC than the actual market value of the base machine.
We all want RISC OS to move forward and should we all focus on the latest hardware? Is it too bitter for some developers to swallow that they'll have to produce products that work for Castle or Microdigital kit? "Oh drobe.co.uk's being biased again, they're clearly in X's pocket", you might respond but I'll have to admit in defence that it's been a long time since we were sent any pizza. It shouldn't be about politics or bias, instead it should be about collectively pushing the platform forward. Maybe the whole "let's work together" approach unfortunately makes no economical sense, at least in the real world.
It's the sterling development work from the likes of Windfall that highlights what developers are capable of and what can be sequeezed out of the RiscPC architecture - a feat developers like Windfall and the original Acorn engineers should be proud of. The Iyonix may well be packing a GeForce2 but now anyone can set up a dual headed RiscPC with TV out capability, and it's quite obvious which option is the cheapest. If we can't work together and focus on the latest generation of hardware then perhaps the inter-platform competition will be enough to motivate developers onwards and upwards.
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