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Try our PC laptops says RiscStation

By Chris Williams. Published: 8th Nov 2003, 19:37:47 | Permalink | Printable

Forget ARM. Emulation is where everyone's at

RiscStation laptop sagaThe RiscStation laptop saga has taken a further twist this week. We've learnt that the Tyldesley based hardware company has written to RiscStation laptop deposit holders in a bid to promote their new PC laptop range as an alternative solution. The PC laptops in question run VirtualRiscPC-SE and RISC OS 4 alongside Microsoft WindowsXP.

After many setbacks, the RiscStation laptop was expected to ship within six to nine weeks after the May 2002 Wakefield show. Since then nothing, besides a failed mailing list and some entertaining claims from a RiscStation spokeperson, has been produced. Instead customers have complained of poor communication from RiscStation and the unfortunate struggle to get back their deposits. The RiscStation laptop was originally expected to run RISC OS 4 natively on a 64MHz ARM7500FE processor.

Below is a copy of the letter sent to RiscStation customers:


5th November 2003

Dear Customer

Re: RiscStation Portable

In parallel with our hardware developments we have constantly been assessing the viability of RISC OS software on Intel and AMD powered hardware, and we are delighted with the results. RiscStation Ltd is now able to offer high quality portable and desktop hardware that gives you the power of RISC OS 4, Microsoft Windows XP and Linux running on processors of up to 3Ghz and beyond!

The performance of these machines in RISC OS mode is now greater than that of StrongARM based units.

* Enjoy the benefits of the very latest in technology.
* New features such as iLink, USB2, wireless connectivity, DVD writing etc. (depending on specification).
* Harness the power of multiple operating systems and embrace new systems such as Linux.
* Never be caught short again with one system's inability - just switch to the OS of your choice and carry on regardless.
* Quality, tried and tested equipment with customer support for Hardware, Windows and RISC OS.
* Experience truely eye-opening StrongARM performance within the RISC OS 4 environment.
* RISC OS Select subscriptions are valid on our new hardware, install your RISC OS Select in the normal way.

We are pleased to offer six portable specifications as follows:


Option One
Celeron 2.0Ghz Processor
256mb Memory
20gb Hard Drive
CD Drive
Internal Floppy Drive
Modem
Networking
14.1" Screen - 1024x768 resolution
On board 32mb Graphics
Built in - (S-Video)
Firewire
On board Sound
Microsoft Windows XP Home Operating System
Virtual Acorn RPC-SE (including RISC OS 4)
Linux and Software Suite
1 year collect and return warranty *
Cost UKP777.00 without VAT UKP912.98 inc. VAT

Option Two
AMD Athlon 2000+ Processor
256mb Memory
30gb Hard Drive
DVD/CDRW Combo Drive
Internal Floppy Drive
Modem
Networking
14.1" Screen - 1024x768 resolution
On board 32mb Graphics
Built in - (S-Video)
Firewire
On board Sound
Microsoft Windows XP Home Operating System
Virtual Acorn RPC-SE (including RISC OS 4)
Linux and Software Suite
3 years collect and return warranty *
Cost UKP964.00 without VAT UKP1132.70 inc. VAT

Option Three
Intel Pentium 4 2.4Ghz Processor
512mb Memory
30gb Hard Drive
DVD/CDRW Combo Drive
Internal Floppy Drive
Modem
Networking
15.1" Screen - 1024x768 resolution
64mb ATI Graphics
Built in - (S-Video)
Firewire
On board Sound
Microsoft Windows XP Home Operating System
Virtual Acorn RPC-SE (including RISC OS 4)
Linux and Software Suite
1 year collect and return warranty *
Cost UKP1172.00 without VAT UKP1377.10 inc. VAT

Option Four
Intel Pentium 4 2.66Ghz Processor
512mb Memory
30gb Hard Drive
DVDRW/CDRW Drive
Internal Floppy Drive
Modem
Networking
15.1" Screen - 1024x768 resolution
64mb ATI Graphics
Built in - (S-Video)
Firewire
On board Sound
Microsoft Windows XP Home Operating System
Virtual Acorn RPC-SE (including RISC OS 4)
Linux and Software Suite
1 year collect and return warranty *
Cost UKP1265.00 without VAT UKP1486.38 inc. VAT

Option Five
Intel Pentium 4 2.66Ghz Processor
512mb Memory
80gb Hard Drive
DVD/CDRW Combo Drive
Internal Floppy Drive
Modem
Networking
17.1" Screen - 1280x1024 resolution
64mb SISM650 Graphics
Built in - (S-Video)
Firewire
On board Sound
Microsoft Windows XP Home Operating System
Virtual Acorn RPC-SE (including RISC OS 4)
Linux and Software Suite
1 year collect and return warranty *
Cost UKP1209.00 without VAT UKP1420.58 inc. VAT

Option Six
Intel Pentium 4 3.06Ghz Processor
512mb Memory
80gb Hard Drive
DVDRW/CDRW Drive
Internal Floppy Drive
Modem
Networking
17.1" Screen - 1280x1024 resolution
128mb ATI Graphics
Built in - (S-Video)
Firewire
On board Sound
Microsoft Windows XP Home Operating System
Virtual Acorn RPC-SE (including RISC OS 4)
Linux and Software Suite
1 year collect and return warranty *
Cost UKP1636.00 without VAT UKP1922.30 inc. VAT


* Extended warranties are available

Desktop options will be made available shortly.

Furthermore, as a token of appreciation for your continued support, if you order one of the above portable options or the desktop options and have placed a deposit with us for the RiscStation RISC OS portable you will qualify for vouchers worth up to UKP100. If you order and have paid in full you will receive vouchers worth up to UKP200. All vouchers will be redeemable against purchases from our sister company CTA Direct.

If you require any further information or would like to order one of the options we have made available to you, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone: 01942 797766, fax: 01942 797711 or email: sales@riscstation.co.uk

Yours faithfully

Roy Heslop
Managing Director



When we last spoke to RiscStation on the phone a few weeks ago, Roy Heslop did confirm that his company were looking into selling some PC laptops. After also admitting that RiscStation aren't financially in a position to continue their work on a native laptop, we presume this week's promotion to sell PC laptops with an emulated RISC OS is a bid to raise enough cash to make RiscStation viable again. You may have noticed that RiscStation are considering a range of desktop PCs, therefore clearly showing confidence in their own range of desktop RISC OS machines. Also, contary to the above letter, Linux isn't exactly new and we're told there are no immediate plans for a Linux version of VirtualRiscPC-SE.

The recent rash of emulated RISC OS systems running on mainstream PC hardware is something we really didn't predict and the VirtualAcorn guys must be making a mint. For dealers, it's too easy and convenient to take VirtualRiscPC-SE off the shelf and package it up with an equally off the shelf PC and provide all the gentle gift wrapping RISC OS users need before they become enveloped in the Wintel world. We note that no RISC OS dealer is bundling essential software with their PCs, like anti-virus, anti-spam and firewall protections.

And have RiscStation and MicroDigital forgotten their overplayed 'memorandum of understanding'? They appear to have discarded the plan to produce a laptop and assorted hardware together - now's it every man for himself. Let's compare MicroDigital's and RiscStation's PC prices even though it's almost like compare PC World with Dabs. Today in the realms of RISC OS, where we're begging for competitive hardware and benchmarks, we're wasting our time peering at PC hardware specifications. It's probably a good thing that VirtualRiscPC-SE is available separately from VA.

The RiscStation high end 17" offering packs more features than MicroDigital's M5 model, although RiscStation's lap warmer will make a larger dent in your bank account. At the bottom end, the RiscStation 14" machine just about matches the MicroDigital M1 battery devourer. At least MicroDigital admit the weight of their machines despite neither of the manufacturers, sorry, dealers suggest battery life times.

Was RiscStation RISC OS' last hope for a native portable? If so, did RiscStation incidentally realise this? It's amusing to consider that the Iyonix and the elusive Omega will probably be our last native machines and that the only way for RISC OS to bust the not-so-golden-any-more 1GHz processor barrier (whilst the rest of the world is shifting into gear for greater than 4GHz), is to piggy back on WindowsXP. It's also amusing to consider the penetration of RISC OS 4 and RISC OS 5. Recall back when we were crying out for a 32bit OS to save us all and how a 32bit OS will see RISC OS on faster, newer hardware and how a 26bit OS is going no where. Of course now, RISC OS 4 has a ridiculous potential for desktop and laptop penetration whilst RISC OS 5 broods away on the XScale Iyonix. Every sale of a PC running RISC OS 4 is money to RISCOS Ltd., so there's some money going back to the OS developers at least.

Sadly, in the letter sent to customers, RiscStation has overlooked the whole deposit returning thing and we see no offer has been made to help out users who want their money back, except for some vouchers you can spend at RiscStation's sister company (also run by Roy Heslop, what a coincidence). It's true that some users will enjoy using RISC OS and WindowsXP side by side on a PC laptop and it may be more suitable for them than the prospect of using a 64MHz ARM7500FE model. However, that's probably a decision best left to end users and not to RiscStation.

Links


RiscStation website - no details or useful information as yet on the new portables, naturally Many thanks to Roger Wylde and John McCartney for their great help in getting details to us. Top marks!

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Discussion

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A couple of points to add:

(1) If the higher end options (i.e. those with the "better than StrongARM" performance) really are the processors they say they are, battery life will be abysmal. I was more impressed than I expected by the performance of MicroDigital's Alpha Pro as compared with a StrongARM Risc PC, but the speed tests we did were accompanied by mains power to the laptop of course.

(2) Chris mentions market penetration of RISC OS 4 and RISC OS 5. However, another interesting comparison might be RISC OS Select subscribers as against Iyonix owners. Given the functionality still lacking on RISC OS 4.02, it's starting to look rather dated compared with RISC OS 5. How many Windows users (as opposed to RISC OS enthusiasts) will splash out for VARPC-SE (not cheap in itself) *and* Select?

dgs

 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 8/11/03 9:24PM
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"It's amusing to consider that the Iyonix and the elusive Omega will probably be our last native machines"

ARGH. Please tell me this isn't true.

 is a RISC OS Usermoss on 8/11/03 10:06PM
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It would be good if someone could confirm this, but I read that when laptops with *desktop* processors run from batteries, they are hard-wired to run at half the maximum clock speed. Only the mobile (M) processors are able to run at the full clock speed on batteries. This is due to the sheer amount of power the desktop processors dissipate at the maximum clock speed.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 8/11/03 10:08PM
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Amusing? poor choice of word.

I don't see why Castle can't make RO5 available on existing SA based portables.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 8/11/03 10:17PM
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jess: Your big problem there, of course, is that there are no existing SA portables.

 is a RISC OS Usertakkaria on 8/11/03 10:34PM
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takkaria: nearly all current palmtops have an ARM core, whether it be an Intel StrongARM, XScale or a Samsung. There are also the Psion Netbooks (1 & 2) with StrongARM and XScale processors respectively.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 8/11/03 10:38PM
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ksattic: I am assuming that because the article is about laptops, jess' use of "portables" was used to represent laptops and not PDAs and the like.

 is a RISC OS Usertakkaria on 8/11/03 10:48PM
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Yep, fair enough. The surprising thing about the Netbook 2 though is that it has a better spec than the Riscstation portable was supposed to have!

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 8/11/03 11:01PM
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Just put a RISC PC in a briefcase with a TFT screen, plug it into the mains and off you go. Or find a spare monitor about and use that, for a cheaper option.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 8/11/03 11:18PM
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I'd just like to point out that a great many current PC laptops out there from different manufacturers will reduce the CPU speed (as ksattic points out) by as much as 500Mhz (and more). This *includes* Mobile series processors from Intel.

Second point to note is that when running the emulator the CPU will be 100% busy, all of the time. So you're going to have miserable battery life, a hot lap, and a noisy fan.

Fun.

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 8/11/03 11:28PM
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It's my pleasure to announce the new RISC OS machine, which I have had under secret development since I saw the case in town yesterday. I'm thinking of leaving the RISC OS platform too, but before I go I will attempt to flog RISC OS users some of these to make a fast buck off y'all.

[link]

It runs RISC OS as well as, amazingly, Windows XP at FULL SPEED. Pricing to be arranged. Support included.

Please be aware that the buttons on the front only work when the machine is in Windows mode.

 is a RISC OS UserJessFranco on 8/11/03 11:59PM
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I was thinking of the netbook

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 9/11/03 12:23AM
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The PC laptops CAN run at half speed in powersaving mode (even my ageing Mobile Pentium III 500 does this) but they aren't hard wired to do it - it is optional, otherwise they'd just ship with a slower processor!

Most PC laptops these days are meant more as a space-saving dekstop replacement, rather than actually a portable machine.

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 9/11/03 1:55AM
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simo: Some PC laptops with desktop processors are hardwired to run at half the processor's frequency when on batteries, but I can't speak for them all. I'm not aware of any PC laptop with a mobile (M) processor that cannot be persuaded via software to run at any of the allowed frequencies, whether on batteries or mains.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 9/11/03 2:54AM
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I hate emulators. rage

I hate that ARM chips are so slow.

I hate that RISC OS is dated.

Anyone disagree?

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 9/11/03 4:32AM
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*sigh* There goes the last real chance of getting RiscOS on a laptop.

 is a RISC OS UserFedorenko on 9/11/03 5:48AM
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JessFranco>

Maplin stock the MegaPC, costs 299ukp. ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 9/11/03 8:58AM
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A RISC OS system running under windows is fine for anyone who has to run windows anyway. (eg at Work I have VA5000 on my PC - which funnily enough has the same case as STD's A6). But it is very poor for anyone not needing it.

Since it has been reported that VA/RS/VRPC runs under linux with Wine, woud a cut down linux distro with just enough to RUN VA/RPC and a setup utility be possible?

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 9/11/03 9:44AM
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And people said emulators were good for the platform

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 9/11/03 10:06AM
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Let's just hope they sell enough so we can get our deposits (and full payments) back and go off and use it to buy something portable that doesn't use Windows.

My only hope comes from the 'Castle Buys RISC OS' FAQ as published in Archive Sept 03 (and elsewhere earlier). Otherwise time to look elsewhere for a mobile computing solution.

Quoting from Archive (inc typos etc ;o) Question: 'Is anyone working on an ARM laptop now? Answer; As with previous attempts, the major stumbling block is sourcing a case which has a long enough lifespan to be able to ensure continued supply. This doesn't rule out the possibility of selecting one of the many ready-made A4 sized industrial tablets based on fast ARM9 and XScale technology.

 is a RISC OS Userblahsnr on 9/11/03 10:23AM
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Just a quick point of clarification...

The life span of the batteries in the announced laptops are rather good - in excess of 90 mins for most cases, so they "the life span is pretty dire for chips better than the SA" is bumpkin.

If you remove the WinXP crap from the laptop and run a Linux distro of your choice on there with WineX and VA, they are extremely good value. My current laptop has a Celeron 1.2 on, I get an hour out of the battery and frankly, it's not very good, but is a hell of a lot better since moving to the 2.6.0 kernel. I've used the machines as is and with XP, the machines really fly with VA and OS 4/Select on. The testing with WineX and VA is even faster.

Note : Virtual Acorn have said in an email to me that they are unable to support VARPC under Linux currently, but that they have reproduced an article on their website which is soon to be updated for WineX.

Of course, it goes without saying that it would be nicer to have a real RISC OS laptop, but for the moment, this is what we have.

 is a RISC OS UserNodoid on 9/11/03 12:31PM
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Rather good? What? 90mins is "rather" crap. My SONY laptop goes for around 5 hours in normal usage, 3 hours when running VRPC.

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 9/11/03 1:08PM
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Most modern CPU's have a user configurable option to set the maximum processor speed when running on batteries (typically 50% of full power speed). However, they stop their clock entirely when nothing is happening. This feature was also implemented in the Stork laptop to save power.

 is a RISC OS Usergraeme on 9/11/03 3:55PM
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imj : what does "in excess of" mean? Please remind me. From memory, these boxes are all 3 hour battery life jobs (of not longer)

 is a RISC OS UserNodoid on 9/11/03 8:41PM
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Hmm! Another question is what is a 200 quid voucher for CTADriect actually worth?

Their website,<a href="[link]">[link], says <blockquote>We have such a vast range of items in the accessories and peripherals section that putting them all on the website would be an impossibility! </blockquote> They obviously havent seen farnell's webite!

 is a RISC OS Userajpullan on 9/11/03 9:55PM
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(Why does preview allow blockquotes, but posting not?)

 is a RISC OS Userajpullan on 9/11/03 9:58PM
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To be fair, Farnell commit several people full-time to website generation, already have the information to hand in electronic form for the catalogue business (again many many more people), and have a profit margin several times greater than any RISC OS or non-RISC OS computer dealer (including the likes of even DSG/PC World).

'course some of us do better than others (says he pencilling in time tomorrow to get the new A6 graphics in and the STD news section up to date ;) )

 is a RISC OS Userstdevel on 9/11/03 10:19PM
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Emulation. Blah.

 is a RISC OS UserJWCR on 9/11/03 10:26PM
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In reply to stdevel: I'd have thought any company that sold computers would at least use them to run the company! I'd also have thought stock tracking / pricing wouLd be a basic requirement. If you dont know how much it cost how do you know how much to charge? Following on from that, how hard is it the extract that info to a file and stick it on a website?

I've found quite a few small companies sites like this. Just a few basic pages about the company etc and a link to a file of their price list. OK it's often in excel format, but even converting CSV to HTML isn't that hard.

After all, what costs more? Ten fifteen minute phone calls every day from people trying to find out what you sell (assuming they bother to call at all of course, I know I wouldn't) or an hour every week or so keeping the prices upto date?

 is a RISC OS Userajpullan on 10/11/03 9:06AM
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>ajpullan I'm not trying to justify someone else's methods - I'm just pointing out how comparing them against a 8-figure company might not be quite fair.

Having said that, I've recently placed orders with several "big name" distributors for items they claim to have in stock. Three charged our account then could not deliver, another 6 or 7 claimed to have stock but refused order, 2 even accpeted the order and had us holding for three weeks each before finally admitting they didn't have access to stock thet their website claimed.

One Farnell Group company are still producing WEEKLY flyers with these items in, despite having discontinued the item three months ago! Their website also accepts orders for these items. So much for Farnell-in-One being the Benchmark.....

I've telephoned around 20 smaller suppliers (again who have "real time" price lists), and have found one who actually has a small stock of what he claims - and he's doing very nicely out of us thankyou.

All I'm saying is that not providing a general listing is "a poor show", but real-time listing is nigh on impossible for smaller companies who are relying on larger distributors - and even the eight-figure companies who can put 12-15 people full time on provision of this often get it horrendously wrong.

 is a RISC OS Userstdevel on 10/11/03 9:32AM
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WineX? Isn't that a proprietary fork of WINE? What's wrong with these VirtualAcorn people anyway - can't they write stuff for non-proprietary APIs?

The user experience would be so much better if VirtualWhatever ran on an open toolkit rather than through some translation layer which tracks a perpetually moving target (the Win32 APIs) whilst providing users with a bizarre interface to their own system - fancy a virtual C drive, Linux users? And surely the benefit of WINE and its derivatives only kicks in when you don't have the source, unless your company is called Corel, of course.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 10/11/03 5:09PM
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Virtual Acorn was not written to run on Linux, it was written (in my spare time) to run on Windows the platform I'm most used to using. Because of the hard work of others, Virtual Acorn can also be run under a Wine environment on Linux, if that's your OS of choice. Virtual Acorn may well get ported to Linux at some stage but it is not currently high on my list of priorities.

If you have a serious need to Virtual Acorn natively on Linux, you could donate say 10k to pay for my development time to produce a port. Or if you prefer, use ArcEm, do some work on Riscose, or write your own machine emulator.

 is a RISC OS Usergraeme on 10/11/03 5:42PM
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Whoever wrote the article parser to recognise variants on RISC OS needs to update the exception list!

 is a RISC OS Usergraeme on 10/11/03 5:47PM
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Does wine require any M$ code to run VA? If not is a complete mini-linux distro just to support VA/VRPC a possibility?

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 10/11/03 7:33PM
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Not that I'm disputing CTA's capabilities or their management's abilities, but CJE have managed to get a fairly good site set up. Now, CJE have got, what, over 2000 items in their online catalogue? If CJE can manage to do that, why can't CTA? Does anyone know if CTA publish a catalogue in dead-tree format?

 is a RISC OS Userphilpem on 11/11/03 11:37PM
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CJE probably sell an awful lot more RISC OS products than CTA do. (CJE specialise in RISC OS related products, whereas CTA do not).

dgs

 is a RISC OS Useranon/195.217.253.5 on 12/11/03 11:40AM
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