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Castle ponder GeForce 4 graphics upgrade

By Mark Stephens. Published: 19th Sep 2005, 23:48:35 | Permalink | Printable

In house pre-beta driver, no cause for alarm

Castle logoCastle's Jack Lillingston dropped into London usergroup ROUGOL this evening, although he was giving nothing away on his company's plans for the South East Show. One of the nice things about ROUGOL is its informal atmosphere, so Jack did a less formal, off-the-cuff presentation and it gave lots of people the chance to all sorts of questions. And the conversation eventually turned to the future of graphics cards on the Iyonix.

Jack started by showing the new cases which are available - the X300 (which replaces the Panther) and the Aria (X400). The original Iyonix was the X200, so there is a clear pattern (except for the Panther). He showed how easy they were to open up and demonstrated connecting his USB Sony phone as a 500MB storage device and accessing the stored files. Jack expressed a general preference for using Sony items in the product range as the firmware remains very consistent between releases and batches. Castle have found more intermittent behaviour in devices from other manufacturers.

The new Iyonixes contain the original hardware design from 2002, which has been tweaked three times since the original version to sort out USB and some minor timing issues. While Castle may have some promotions on the high end machines, they have focussed on bringing the cost down on the entry-level machines, which is why these models do not include as much bundled software, such as Writer, and may or may not have anything to do with the introduction of AdvantageSix's cheaper A9home. Castle believes a lot of their target market already have a large library of software and would prefer a cheaper machine, though.

The Aria does not include a floppy drive as standard which did cause confusion for one of the audience, who had received her machine that morning with Aemulor supplied on floppy disc for her by the dealer (presumably they had it in stock). Jack suggested that the best solution for upgrading from a RiscPC to an Iyonix is to use a USB device or a network connection, which the Iyonix would auto-detect.

A GeForce 4 cardIn response to questions about graphics cards, Jack congratulated Simon Wilson on his excellent 3D driver port which may allow Castle to speed-up some areas of the desktop, although he saw it as being more attractive to games writers. Castle have been looking at Nvidia GeForce 4 cards as possible replacements for the current GeForece 2 cards due to their ability to handle interlacing. John Ballance has a 'pre-beta' driver running on his machine with a GF4, for instance. Castle haven't decided whether they will move to them as standard - they only want to make changes if it gives most users a clear benefit.

One of the nice features of the usergroup meetings is the little facts that come out: If you weren't there, you will not know that the Aria can actually have 3 drives inside, although it's not officially specified and not recommend as a constant feature due to potential heat generation from the drives. The X100 has also had an improved design on its cooling slots and a different graphics card allowing it to run much cooler.


Castle website Example GF 4 PCI graphics card

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I almost bought a GeForce FX 5500 card this weekend, but held off till I speak to someone at Castle about it. I'd really like a GeForce FX (which are the last cards with a plain PCI interface, I believe), but a GeForce 4 would be good also.

The 3D driver already includes support for these cards and should work fine, although you do of course need an updated nvidia module to bring up the card under RISC OS.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 20/9/05 12:16AM
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It is worth stressing when talking about nvidia cards that Geforce 4 and Geforce 4MX are NOT the same thing. I suspect Castle are looking at the Geforce 4MX cards which are essentially a Geforce 2MX (current Iyonix card) with slightly better performance. The reason this should not be confused with the Geforece 3 or Geforce 4 series "proper" is that those cards introduced modern pixel and vertex shaders. The "proper" Geforce 4 cards were the TI series (TI 4200, 4400, 4600, 4800) which I don't believe were ever released in PCI format (although I could be wrong). The Geforce 4MX was basically a branding excercise so that people buying cheap cards thought they were getting a "Geforce 4" (ie. better than GF3). The 4MX has now been replaced by the MX4000 part, as far as I am aware. Which of these are available in PCI is something I haven't checked.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 20/9/05 12:27AM
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I hope Castle are considering alternative options like using advanced GeForce FX5500 cards which feature dual screen possibilities, TV out and DVI capability - I'm sure Adrian would like to implement Geminus on such a beast. Or switching to ATI cards, which apparently have a lot more documentation available.

My favourite option would of course be a new IYONIX based on the IOP333 with PCI Express ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 20/9/05 1:11AM
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Maybe they should consider Radeon cards instead, not for any technical reason, but I believe they are a bit more forthcoming with specs/APIs etc. Maybe we would see some more 2D/3D acceleration.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 20/9/05 9:34AM
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Jack did mention that Castle might jump straight pass the GeForce 4 range of cards and instead move onto 'Something more powerful'. I think this was mainly down to the end user not seeing much benefit from upgrading from a 2 to a 4. Someone did mention at some point the possibility of using a dual head card, but I can't recall if that was Jack or someone else.

At the meeting Jack also give some details on Castle's embedded products, including talk of a multi-core ARM9 CPU that ran a version of RISC OS 5.

 is a RISC OS UserLeo on 20/9/05 10:04AM
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Castle would probably prefer to stay with GeForce cards because they only have to modify an existing driver instead of forging a new one when changing to an updated card model. Why go Radeon when they can still purchase GeForces? Likewise for the high end cards: supporting the latest whiz-bang cards' featureset would be a sizable software-side financial investment which might only result in a meagre number of sales that wouldn't have otherwise happened.

A floppy drive + cable cost only about 7. Removing them from the 'Aria' is going to do little to cut the total cost of the unit or increase Castle's margin per unit. Then again, some people just hate floppy drives : )

 is a RISC OS UserClades on 20/9/05 10:11AM
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ksattic: Matrox has cards with a plain PCI interface too. From 32 bit PCI and 32 MB to very high end ones with 64 bit PCI and 256 MB. (Iyonix has 64 bit PCI slots.) So far as I know is Matrox not to difficult with their specs/APIs etc. But their strength is 2D not 3D.

 is a RISC OS Useregel on 20/9/05 10:19AM
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In reply to Clades' comment. There doesn't seem to be anywhere to mount this "only 7" floppy drive. That, I suspect is the reason it's missing. Of course, If you could source a card reader plus floppy drive all in the one unit, that would be a different matter and probably more than 7 extra.

 is a RISC OS Usercharles on 20/9/05 10:58AM
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With graphics cards, cost obviously plays a factor. The GF2MX and 4MX (if you can still find them) are 20$ parts (ie. about 20ukp thanks to the oddities of UK pricing). Matrox's (excellent) 2D products tend to be quite pricey compared to this, for limited visible difference (as far as home users are concerned). I haven't checked, but a FX5500 would probably be about double the current price. Right now, with no 3D games, there's little need for the 3D features, but a card with DVI outputs is essential. ATI's low end boards offer fanless + DVI combinations, but it can still be hard finding PCI form cards. I think changing chip manufacturer at this may not be ideal, so I guess the obvious thing to do is to find the cheapest Nvidia card with DVI. Then look at 3D from there if there is market demand.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 20/9/05 11:09AM
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egel: Matrox used to be fairly open (even putting part datasheets online). Information on their current parts isn't readily available. Of course, there's no reason why someone couldn't approach them and attempt to negotiate access to documentation under NDA.

 is a RISC OS Userjmb on 20/9/05 2:49PM
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arawnsley: "With no 3D games, there's little need for 3D features". The converse is equally true, although your point stands mostly because there's probably not much of a games demand on RISC OS anyway.

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 20/9/05 3:06PM
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SimonC / arawnsley:

If there were 3d Enhanced Cards....I am sure someone would make a game for it (Wonders how hard such a thing could be..then gives up) :@)

Being an ATI man, I would prefer to see at least a standard ATI driver (if there is such a thing)

I am still waiting for the SE show though before I make any decisions...

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 21/9/05 12:58PM
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em2ac: Surely there is now that the Mesa port has been made usable (at least for the Iyonix). We still won't be able to have anything like the current PC games, but it should (says someone who doesn't know much about these things) make possible a lot more than is currently possible. It's a question of whether or not anyone wants to try.

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 21/9/05 3:41PM
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Certainly 3D stuff should help a lot. However it is worth pointing out that we still had trouble performance-wise with old games on the Iyonix. As many may know, we have a mostly complete port of F16 which has been optimised a reasonable amount by several coders over the years. It ran well on a Pentium90 class machine (if I recall, I may be wrong), but we still struggled to get an average about 10fps on an Iyonix. That is why that project never really went much further. Obviously hardware 3D opens up lots of possibilities, but 3D without CPU is always going to be a problem for ported titles. Games are notorious for pushing all aspects of a system, and I think we'll struggle.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 21/9/05 5:41PM
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PS, RiscPC performance on F16 was about 6fps average

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 21/9/05 5:42PM
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arawnsley: Sounds pretty depressing. What made the Iyonix port so poor?

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 22/9/05 12:28AM
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Hard to say, Simon, but on average the Iyonix is about 1.8 times the speed of a fast RPC, except in certain areas like disk access (where the Iyonix is much stronger). The figures, whilst disappointing, fit that model. It's CPU bound, I think :< I was hoping for more, due to faster memory, but I guess that wasn't really the bottleneck.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 22/9/05 2:09AM
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arawnsley: I was sure that someone had made a 3d card in the past (back in the early 90's / late 80's), or was that for the Beeb?

Also did the viewfinder help..using it's API?

Either way, you seem to be the gaming company...keep it up!

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 22/9/05 9:58AM
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arawnsley: I was really wondering why a P90 was so much better than the XScale. That's what I find dissapointing, if optimisation largely involved working around floating point stuff. Or did the P90 have any graphics acceleration when the Iyonix didn't? I can't remember what was around at P90 times.

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 22/9/05 10:32AM
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Floating point ops must be the key to this, since in Dhrystone terms the S/ARM is nearly 3x as fast as a P90, let alone an X-Scale: 204 Dhr. 2.1 MIPS versus 75. The S/ARM figure is for the original 202Mhz version (source: Naval Ocean Systems Center, San Diego).

 is a RISC OS Userbucksboy on 22/9/05 11:01AM
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