RISC World

Omega Men

Laurence Granville shines a torch on the Omega

A couple of quick questions, what is four times the speed of the current Kinetic RiscPC, but will cost the same amount? What will be able to run all current 26bit applications on a 32 bit operating system? What does away with the old Acorn chips such as VIDC and MEMC? What have MicroDigital been doing for the last two years? The answer is Omega.

The Omega
The new Omega computer

So what eactly is the specification of this new computer? Well you asked....

  • Motherboard
    • ATX form factor, Dual processor design : Intel StrongArm 110 rev T
    • Optional daughter board processor: Intel Xscale 80200, 733MHz
  • Memory
    • 64Mb PC133 SD RAM, Expandable via 2 x DIMM 1Gb max.
    • 10MB Flash Memory Operating system + modules
    • 240 Byte battery backed up CMOS RAM
  • Lightning + video chip :
    • Hardware JPEG and MPEG decoding
    • 2D and 3D acceleration
    • (VRAM via main memory)
    • 240MHz DAC
    • 2048 x 1536 x 24 bit colour@72Hz monitor dependent
  • I/O ports and interfaces
    • Parallel printer port 25 pin D connector
    • PS2 Mouse interface
    • PS2 Keyboard interface
    • 2 RS 232 Serial ports up to 460KB/sec via 9 pin D connector
    • 4 USB Ports @12mbit/sec
    • ATA 66 Ulta IDE interface via 2 IDE 40 way connectors supports 4 devices
  • Expansion
    • 4 x 32bit x 33MHz PCI slots
  • Modem
    • 56k internal modem
  • Real time clock
    • Day, date, month, year, time and BST time.
    • Multiple alarms
  • Operating System
    • RISC OS v4.03
    • Will support 32 bit operating system when available
  • Hard disc drive
    • Capacity 20GB
  • Hard disc drive management system :
    • IDEFS 32 bit Hard Disc Management System
    • Password protection, protect and unprotect, Read Only, and No Access
    • Drive partitioning
  • CD ROM drive
    • 52 speed
    • For customers placing advanced order a CD-writer with CD-Burn can be supplied for an extra £50 instead of the CD-Rom drive
    • Floppy disc drive : Supports all Acorn/PC modes
  • Audio System
    • PCI Sound Blaster compatible card
  • Physical dimensions
    • 180mm wide x 360mm high x 280mm deep
  • Case
    • Mini Tower
    • Colour silver and light grey
    • Control buttons blue
    • Twin fans
    • Full emission and safety approvals.
  • Software
    • Sound Editor, Edit, Paint, Draw. Risc OS 4 utilities
    • Pipedream4
    • Fireworkz Pro
    • EasiWriter
    • Language : BBC Basic
  • Optional extras
    • Midi tower with 300Watt PSU
    • Colour blue and light grey

As you can see from the first picture the Omega is quite small, although a larger case can be supplied as an option. So how does all this fit into such a small case? The answer is below.

Inside the Omega
Inside the Omega

Why is this important

The Omega is the most exciting RISC OS machine ever, even more exciting and important than the Risc PC. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly it is much faster, even running the same 233Mhz StrongARM as a Risc PC it outperforms it by a factor of four. This is due to the Lightning graphics card, the main processor no longer has to do all the work involved in updating the screen buffer, this is now done with dedicated hardware. You may be surprised to find that 75% of the load on your current machine could be just for the screen display.

Not only is the machine faster but it finally gets rid of the old Acorn VIDC and MEMC chips. Although these were fine chips in their day (the early 90's) they are now seriously slow and underpowered. The old 16Mhz memory bus from the Risc PC has been binned and we now have a 66Mhz bus running modern 133MHz memory which again makes the machine faster. The Omega represents the much requested Hardware Independance. We no longer have to rely on outdated chips. Not only that but the Omega has been designed with clever hardware which allows the operating system to think it is still running on the old chipset.

And perhaps the most important part, you will be able to fit an XScale (StrongArm2) processor card. This means we could have a 1GHz RISC OS computer some time next year. However there is one big problem with the XScale. It no longer supports the 26bit operations required to run RISC OS and many RISC OS applications, such as ArtWorks and Impression. This is the really clever bit, the Omega solves this problem. The old 26bit code runs on the StrongArm, new 32bit code runs on the XScale. No switches on the case, no messing around. The computer simply directs code to the relevant processor on the fly as you are using it. Some parts of RISC OS are already written in 32bit code, as more and more of the OS is converted the Omega gets faster and faster. While this is happening you can still run all the old software you want. The Omega is the future, I'm off now to go and order one, perhaps you should to?

Product details

Product: Omega
Supplier: Microdigital Ltd
Price: £999.00 + VAT
Address: 37 Titus Street, Saltaire, Shipley, West Yorks, BD18 4LU
Tel: 01274 618774
Fax: 01274 619482

Laurence Granville