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South East Show Report

By Chris Williams. Published: 2nd Nov 2002, 21:52:58.

Dominated by Iyonix news

The event
We travelled a total of 300 miles in horrid wet weather, we battled our way through the streets of Guildford and we armed ourselves with little more than a fancy digital camera and our usual cutting wit. Today was the RISC OS South East show, held in Guildford in Surrey, and we knew all the pre-show hype was going to pay off for the stand holders present; it was a packed and buzzing show. We recommend next year's show is moved to a much bigger location. It felt like a gold rush with people itching to get their hands on preciously sought after information and the feeling of impending stampede to the first presentation theatre session looming. There was really only one thing on everyone's mind and we're surprised the whole event wasn't renamed to the We-Want-To-See-This-Iyonix show. Onwards and upwards.

The core Iyonix news revolves around the public presentation. The first presentation in the modest sized theatre today was held by Jack Lillingston of Castle Technologies, the developers of the new true 32bit XScale powered Iyonix computer, as first reported here. The stage was set with two projector screens and an Iyonix PC and a RiscPC sitting beside one another as the Castle Managing Director trickle fed the eager audience Iyonix details and specifications. Here's what was revealed.

Mother of all boards
According to Castle, the Iyonix motherboard is a totally new design with a Technical Reference Manual in the works. The 80321 ARM XScale CPU, clocked at 600MHz, is the driving force behind the machine but let's not forget the GeForce2 MX400 PCI video card, gigabit networking support and the fact that you can fit up to 1GB DDR RAM (rated at 200Mhz which beats the daylights out of the 16MHz RiscPC bus). There will be two 32bit PCI slots and two 64bit PCI slots as well as slots for two hi-speed podules and space for four UDMA 100 harddiscs.

Case dismissed
The Iyonix is housed in a small and neat MicroATX tower, something this editor was happy to see. It has two USB ports on the front of the case and two at the back. The front of the case boasts two 5.25" and three 3.5" drive bays and a recessed reset button. Also on the front is the 'soft' power button. The button can be used to power up the computer however the machine is capable of powering itself down, taking little under eight seconds from control-shift-F12 to power off apparently. The back of the case hosts the usual ports: mains power, two serial ports, networking and access to PCI and podule slots. Finally, Castle stressed that the 250 watt PSU powering the system is extremely quiet, featuring a two speed cooling fan which steps up from normal to high speed when the system temperature reaches a particular point (Jack suggested a figure in the 30-35oC range), although it's rare that the machine will ever have to engage high speed fan mode, at least according to Castle.

Riscing the effort
During the end of the presentation, the Iyonix was demonstrated using the projector screens. RISC OS 5, the 32bit and hardware abstracted operating system running on the Iyonix, looked very familiar with an iconbar, pinboard, filer, etc. The OS is supplied in FlashROM, which is copied during computer startup into main RAM similar to Castle's previous Kinetic hardware. Now to the burning question, where did RISC OS 5 come from? Castle state that it's Pace derived and copyrighted; remember that Pace own RISC OS after purchasing the IPR to it when Acorn Group broke up and RISC OS was at about version 3.8. RISC OS 5's features are, as stated by Castle, based upon RISC OS 4.02, you can expect long filenames for example. There are some features new to RISC OS 5 such as USB printing support, 48MB wimpslots for applications (ie: each application can ask for up to 48MB of memory, rather than being limited to the usual 28MB) and font manager with (16bit) unicode support. drobe.co.uk would very much like to see RISC OS Select (RISC OS 4.24+) features integrated into RISC OS 5, and we're not the only ones. In a question put to Jack regarding Select and RISC OS 5, the managing director explained that he wanted to develop a core system that his company had control over. Only once the core computer system had been developed, could other features be filtered in.

Supporting your own
As detailed here, 26bit software won't work on a 32bit machine, unless it's in BASIC or converted to be 26/32bit neutral, meaning it'll work on 26 and 32bit systems. However, Castle do list the following applications as 32bit ready: Techwriter (Easiwriter), Fireworkz, Ovation Pro, Vantage, OHP, Oregano 2 (oo err), Draw, Paint, Edit, PDF, InterGIF, Kino, SparkFS, Zool and more. Castle's C/C++ development suite is still available at a reduced price until 31st December. The suite contains an updated C/C++ 26/32bit compiler and associated tools, the ABC compiler, dissasemblers, the PRMs and other manuals, development environment for Zap and StrongED users and more (note: StrongED and Zap at this point in time are currently 26bit only). Castle stressed that if you were a developer, the development suite CD is an absolute must if you want your software to work on an Iyonix.

Some theoretical speed comparasions, provided by Castle.
SA Risc PCIyonixBetter by
Hard Drive2MB/s32MB/s16.0x
Expansion bus6MB/s264MB/s44.0x
Podule bus1.5MHz4MHz2.7x
Resolution (16M)800x6001920x14405.8x
Screen draw4.32 sec0.99 sec4.3x

Castle refused to give out a launch date, refused to name a price and refused to accept orders. What they did give out, apart from free t-shirts with purchases and free window stickers for all (woot), was a good deal of hope and confirmation that Iyonix will be sitting on a computer desk near you. Soon. Also, amusingly, at the start of the Castle presentation, a short snippet from "Castles in the sky" by Ian Van Dahl was played by the Iyonix. Finally would it be cruel of us to mention that the Iyonix on display during the end of the presentation crashed and froze when Icon Technology's Mike Glover attempt to push the Iyonix hardware by making his Easiwriter software resize all the text in a 24MB document? Despite the full reboot required, Jack and Mike kept their cool.

Aemulor.com was showing off its 26bit emulator on an Iyonix oddly hidden under the stand table; we've never heard of shyness in computers. The Aemulor was demonstrating Artworks (a 26 bit graphics package) running on the 32bit system and running at about the speed of an ARM610 RiscPC. We were told that software that relies on the OS a lot will not be as slow as software that tries to do everything itself. Apparently, Aemulor uses both an interpreter and a JIT (Just In Time) to achieve emulation of 26 bit on a 32bit system. Of course, we'll comment technically when we have proper details when the software is released. Neil of Aemulor.com has by the way posted some interesting comments here on drobe.co.uk.

This editor tried taking some photos of the show with a spiffy digital camera. To make up for the lack in photographic skill, we've added some humorous captions. Enjoy.