Castle visits London usersBy dgs . Published: 11th Jun 2004, 16:15:12 | Permalink | Printable
News that was spilledAnd now, drobe.co.uk correspondent dgs reports on the extra information he managed to prise out of Castle during their recent post-Wakefield ROUGOL visit
What's in a GB?
Some RISC OS publications still occasionally mix up bits and bytes, but I really did mean byte when I asked Castle's Jack Lillingston if I could buy an Iyonix from Castle with a full gigabyte of RAM installed. That's 1024MB, whereas the standard Iyonix is 512MB, and the low end versions are 128MB.
A number of RISC OS users, particularly overseas, feel confident about sourcing 1GB memory modules for their own Iyonix systems. However, at the time of ROUGOL's May meeting, Castle were temporarily unable to guarantee supplies of 1GB memory modules that they had tested in the Iyonix themselves. However, Jack agreed on the spot to investigate future supplies of these 1GB modules. The results are now in, and Castle can supply them for 249UKP. Alternatively, you can always source your own, but do be careful to ensure that they are Iyonix compatible - your local RISC OS dealer should be able to help.
For most RISC OS users, 1GB RAM is something of an unnecessary luxury - many are quite happy with 128MB. However, it can provide some advantages when running Linux, or if you load large numbers of high resolution images into Photodesk.
Iyonix video input
Jack also confirmed that enthusiastic Iyonix owners could have the PCI-TV card pre fitted in their Iyonix, and fully tested prior to despatch. This is convenient if you want the whole system tested and fully working before it leaves Castle's workshop, rather than procuring and fitting the card yourself. As at Wakefield, Jack demonstrated at ROUGOL the PCI-TV card displaying live input on the RISC OS desktop from a Sony video camera, although the most common use will be for television pictures.
For those wanting to watch television, or perhaps DVDs in the near future, on their Iyonix, there was also some good news on the noise front. Jack confirmed that Iyonixes currently sold do not come with a fan on the graphics card. Castle were at one point forced to fit graphics cards with fans to some Iyonix systems, because of difficulty obtaining supplies of the right cards. This only causes a very small increase in the extremely low noise output of the Iyonix, but it's good news that it's no longer the case.
More Iyonix extras
One extra that I've since learnt is available for the Iyonix is a PCI based network card, supporting 10Mbit, 100Mbit and 1000Mbit ethernet, and giving a second network connection in addition to the one already provided on the motherboard.
We asked Jack again about the availability of a proper PCI SCSI card for the Iyonix. This is now even more important, given the appearance of the Panther variant of the Iyonix, which does have space for lots and lots of hard disks or other devices, but doesn't have space for even an old slow podule-based Acorn SCSI card. Sadly there was still no positive news, although we were told that Gary Partis still has plans to produce such a card.
Castle are also happy to supply Iyonix systems with CDRW/DVD or CDRW/DVDRW drives in place of the normal CDRW drive, provided the extra cost is covered.
Jack Lillingston's talk at ROUGOL came at a crucial time, between his theatre presentation at Wakefield, and the formal announcement of the Merlin project for the future development of RISC OS 5, which came a couple of days later. It seemed that the Merlin project had been planned long before, but wasn't ready for formal announcement until after the meeting. During his talk, Jack did mention the Merlin consultant process and also went into a little more detail about the organisational details behind the programme. In particular, Castle now have a quite substantial development office in Cambridge, in addition to their long-established site in Framlingham.
This all follows on from Castle's late 2003 merger with Tematic, and Peter Wild joining Castle as a director and Chief Operations Officer. Tematic were already based in Cambridge, and employ a number of ex-Acorn staff including Peter himself.
Jack also talked about the deal for tens of thousands of Iyonix units for a customer outside the desktop market, that had already been mentioned at the Wakefield show. Details remained vague - Jack answered a question about whether the customer were "related in any way to seafaring", by saying "the customer is not a shipping company", which was somewhat inconclusive.
What Jack did explain was that the order, whose status is still unclear, was not a one-off purchase of a specific number of units, but a long term relationship where units would be ordered on a regular basis. Those familiar with the modern IT industry will know that a long term relationship is far more worthwhile than a simple one off hardware purchase. We all remember Acorn crowing about their one off deals with Oracle and other big companies, but these didn't seem to delay Acorn's demise.
It was also made clear that the customer in question weren't buying exactly the same Iyonix computers as we all know and love, pale blue button included. When pressed, Jack confirmed that the sales would be of "XScale hardware running RISC OS 5". This makes it pretty certain that the units will be based on Iyonix technology, but how they're packaged and what features will be included are still unknown. Either way, they're not aimed at desktop users.
Pluses and minuses
After Castle's departure from ROUGOL, most visitors I spoke to seemed very happy indeed that Castle had seemingly clinched a massive deal that could make Iyonix technology the best-selling RISC OS computer since the A5000. (An exercise for the reader is to explain why the A3010, which was very roughly a third of the price of an A5000, had sales only a tiny fraction of the more expensive machine).
My personal response to the huge enthusiasm for Castle's "big customer" was more restrained. Acorn also talked a great deal about big customers who would pay for all the development that us desktop users needed. In the end, it was a mistake to think that set top box development would be more profitable than desktop computer development. Anyone who bought Pace shares can tell us how successful that idea was.
Let's hope that Castle always remember the desktop market is still full of people who are very enthusiastic about RISC OS, and who still make the production of RISC OS desktop computers very profitable. Iyonix purchasers, just like A5000 and Risc PC purchasers, include everyone from students spending their student loans, to pensioners; and a great many people in between.
On the positive side, Castle did seem clear in their commitment to the desktop market. Jack described the organisational setup as Peter Wild leading the sales to other businesses, whilst himself and John Ballance look after the desktop RISC OS market. This gives significant weight to Castle's dealings with us enthusiasts. The very busy Iyonix mailing list sees regular posts from John Ballance, but also from several other Castle staff who obviously have involvement in the development of RISC OS and related software. That's in addition to a large number of third party developers, some of whom have access to the RISC OS source code.
Whichever way you look at it, Castle have put a considerable amount of effort into making sure that Iyonix owners get comprehensive hardware and software support directly from the people involved. This seems to be working well, and the feedback we saw at ROUGOL's meeting was several dozen Iyonix owners who seemed very pleased with Castle's solution.
Studies have shown that the average RISC OS user likes a good curry
Jack Lillingston setting up the presentation
Some Iyonix compatible hardware
Iyonix modifications in progress by John Ballance
ROUGOL website - more photos appearing here soon
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