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Dual headed desktop with Radeon Viewfinder

By Chris Williams. Published: 10th Sep 2003, 23:14:01 | Permalink | Printable

Still keeping the dust off the RiscPC

thumbnail of the ATI Radeon7500 cardWindfall 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.


Windfall Engineering

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So what happens when you do *screendump?

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 10/9/03 11:23PM
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You get a 4096 x 1356 sprite? I suspect it's all abstracted so the OS thinks the desktop is in a very wide resolution and then the hardware sorts it all out.

Chris, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 10/9/03 11:25PM
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This is fscking unreal, well done JohnK!

Dual head and TV out on a RiscPC - before Iyonix/Omega got either!

I wish I could justify upgrading my VF2...

-- #include "sig.h"

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 11/9/03 12:12AM
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I think we all agree in an ideal world, we'd all have modern kit, and develop for modern kit, but we also all know why this not going to happen soon. On the upside, I would hope that the strengths of a VF-equipped RPC encourages Castle and MD to keep ploughing away to make their new kit appealing in the face of upgraded RPCs.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 11/9/03 12:13AM
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This is astounding! Superb! A terrific move forward. I'm definitely saving to upgrade my VF2 now.

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 11/9/03 12:39AM
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Can you choose where the second head is positioned? I've done multi-head stuff under X before now, and you can say "have head 1 to the left of head 2, running at the same resolution" or "have head 1 above head 2, and have head 2 running at this completely different resolution" and even "Place head 1 in the middle, head 2 to the left, and head 3 to the right, slightly and slightly up with a 500 pixel gap between it and head 2" and other evil combinations. It's great if you have two monitors that can't both do the same resolution, and such.

That is all done with multiple *video cards* though - I don't know if multihead video cards can do it - perhaps they just appear as a frame buffer twice as wide when in the right mode?

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 11/9/03 12:45AM
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This is great stuff by Windfall. Personally I don't think there's anything wrong with giving "decrepit" machines new upgrade options - not everyone wants to fork out $7000 for an Iyonix. It's good to have budget options available as well as the state-of-the art hardware.

If only Acorn had ditched VIDC for AGP long ago - things would be much different now. Wasn't it the horrifying cost of developing new VIDC chips that killed the Phoebe?

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 11/9/03 12:48AM
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Perhaps someone who is allowed to be on JohnK's cliquey Windfall mailing list could determine if the two heads can be arranged vertically, rather than horizontally?

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 11/9/03 12:48AM
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I thought IOMD2 was what finished Phoebe off?

nunfetishist> My GeForce4MX440 card can do what you ask. I have the main head on a monitor at 1600x1200 and the 2nd head is a telly at 1024x768 to the upper right of the monitor. Works superbly well.

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 11/9/03 12:53AM
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I imagine the market for video upgrades for RISC PC's and A7000's is quite a bit larger than upgrades for Iyonix and Omega's...

Nice to see Windfall continuing to support and improve this excellent gear. -- Cheers Steve

 is a RISC OS Userknutson on 11/9/03 2:08AM
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i can recall a ?wee way back? ;o) VIDC being described as a fast and flexible graphics/sound processor, despite chewing through a fairly big chunk of processor/bus bandwidth while doing it?s stuff. it offered risc os hardware a huge range of ?cost? advantages at the time too - some of which have been cursed for being in risc os at all (hardware independence, anybody :o) i understand that is pretty much sorted now. these people deserve medals.

kinda gave me the warm fuzzies though to see intel/via/nvidia and friends adopting the unified memory idea. and they still haven?t gotten anywhere near what we had in a basic a305.

the comment that hardware development for the dated risc pc is still strong, that nobody is developing for new machines, iyonix/omega ? hmm, one of the ideas behind new risc os hardware using pci was that risc os supporting companies wouldn?t have to do much more than develop drivers for cheap cast-off pc hardware. saving a lot of development time and money, which could then be passed on to the risc os user-base. are you sure it is a surprise then that no new hardware has appeared for these machines ?

viewfinder is a great idea. would go out and get one today if i could afford it. then again i might just wait until somebody develops a risc os computer that has an AGP slot built right it. subtle hint? anybody ?

let?s look at dual-head for the iyonix/omega since the article is 'sorta' about dual-heading a risc os machine. pci matrox g200 cards are available that support up to 4 monitors from a single slot. there is a dual head pci matrox g450 available. at least one company makes a pci geforce 440MX card that supports dual head. now that we know risc os can be massaged into really strange desktop areas and that there is suitable hardware? drivers anyone ? --

 is a RISC OS Userlostamarble on 11/9/03 3:51AM
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whoops, top of that got sliced. i am a windbag :o) --

 is a RISC OS Userlostamarble on 11/9/03 3:53AM
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Has he hacked the wimp so that toggle sizing a window will toggle it to fill one screen, rather than 2? Mind you I don't use toggle size much. More likely I want to adjust size something while keeping it on the same screen if it's already wholly on that screen. It could be toggled by holding down a hot key in case you wanted in to adjust over two. Mind you, that would be easy with a Wimp PreFilter on Wimp_OpenWindow if you knew the monitor boundary. Overall though, it looks very good - I can never get enough desktop space, even 1280x1024 is like trying to do exams on those silly little tables you get for GCSEs at our school. Unfortunately monitors are large, and LCDs are expensive. If castle got this into the iynoix without increasing the price, I'd be tempted though. I reckon 2x 1024x768 would be better than 1280x1024.

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 11/9/03 11:54AM
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knutson hit the nail on the .. er .. head when he mentioned the number of RiscPCs vs number of Iyonixes. What JK has done is 'tweak' a current project to make a bit more money out of it.

Now, 'all' someone has to do to make the Iyonix match that is write a driver for a suitable PCI video card. -- Spriteman.

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 11/9/03 1:53PM
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One would assume that the 2D aspects of the various NVidia cards would be similar to what is already present on the GF2MX in the Iyonix (esp the GF4MX which is really only a glorified GF2 anyway). As such, it would probably only take a small amount of co-operation to take the software aspects from Viewfinder over to Iyonix... One has to say that with GF4MX's being pretty cheap these days (almost down to GF2MX prices) it would be an extremely sweet enhancement to the Iyonix as it begins its second year!

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 11/9/03 2:23PM
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Looking at the "why aren't there that many upgrades for the Iyonix" debate, is it possibly because it's [perceived as] relatively simple to write a driver for a PCI card and there's not much money to be had in drivers - people will always want to source their own cheapo cards and not buy a bundle etc....

Also, maybe it's because you have most of what you need already - decent graphics, USB, 4x IDE, Gigabit ethernet, sound/MIDI etc?

I got a really nice motherboard the other day for a PC - 6x USB2, 100bT, sound, RAID etc. only have one card in the machine now - AGP graphics....

-- C'mon, mod me down, PUNK!

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 11/9/03 4:50PM
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Am I right in thinking that the IYONIX has a 2 slot Acorn style podule on it?

If so then would the Viewfinder card work with the IYONIX?

And would it be possible to fit the Viewfinder on a PCI card as well? -- British by birth English by the Grace of God. [link]

 is a RISC OS UserRevin Kevin on 11/9/03 6:57PM
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The Iyonix can have a backplane fitted to accommodate two podules. The Viewfinder would fit, but it would be fairly pointless to use it because the podule bus is far slower than the PCI bus. The Viewfinder hardware is a podule-to-AGP interface board, so it would be fairly pointless to make a PCI-to-AGP board when there are PCI video cards available.

The best solution would be to write a driver for a two-head PCI graphics card. -- Simon Wilson, Boulder, Colorado

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 11/9/03 7:07PM
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nunfetishist and imj:

The dual head feature supports two monitors in the same resolution, side by side only. John is talking about supporting non-identical monitors, but only in the same vertical resolution (!). Ideally, two different monitors would be best, with the option to position the second monitor at the top, middle or bottom of the first's screen, but we'll have to wait and see. -- John Pettigrew, Cambridge

 is a RISC OS Userjohnpettigrew on 12/9/03 10:12AM
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As a Small note, you can use standard RiscPC EASI Podual Expanders in the Iyonix.

simo is exactly correct, what we need to see is Generic drivers for most PCI devices, then center down on specifics.

I heard that Pinnical was on the lookout for a better Computer system than a PC, so this kinda thing would do the Iyonix and Omega (if it does PCI) a great enhancement.

Also what about a multi EASI - PCI adaptor for the RiscPCs, using the Iyonix API? this would push development on PCI drivers much further!

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 12/9/03 1:20PM
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Would it be possible to have two separate displays (Workspace style)?

(Or even 3 if the standard one were used too)

I'm glad to see the developement - the thing that makes it interesting to me is the digital video connector. (A little bit of an oversight on the Iyonix I think)

-- Jess

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 13/9/03 9:24AM
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If anyone is interested in further discussion of graphics card issues for any machine, I have set up a mailing list which you can join by emailing risc-os-graphics-cards-subscribe@smartgroups.com

But dont expect to receive anything until 18-Sep-2003 as Smartgroups are currently down for a stupidly long maintainance session.


 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 16/9/03 1:39PM
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