RISC World

The new Iyonix PC

Insider takes a look at the information available so far...

A couple of weeks before the Acorn South East show, in Guildford, Castle Technology Ltd suddenly unveiled a new computer and a new version of RISC OS (RISC OS 5) with a rather tantalising website at The initial details were very sketchy, but as is usual this caused a loud amount of speculation to be pumped onto the newgroups. As the Guildford show approached this speculation reached fever pitch as more and more people joined in the debate. Those that did know tried to keep a low profile, although it has to be said not totally successfully. It soon became clear that a number of key developers already had prototype machines and were busily converting their software to run on this new 32 bit only XScale based computer. One should remember that the Iyonix is a 32 bit only machine. This means that is has no hardware support for 26 bit applications such as Impression, ArtWorks, Datapower etc. As an interim measure a 26 bit emulator for the Iyonix called Aemulor was announced. This would allow the Iyonix to run older software at roughly the same speed as the original RiscPC.

Some background History

In order to understand Iyonix its worth having some of the background history behind the project. The first important historical point came at the Acorn South East show at Epsom race course in the autumn of 2000. This was the show where the MicroDigital Omega was announced. Anyone who went there may well remember the large number of Omega posters on display on many stands. The result was that Castle Technology Ltd didn't sell many computers at the show. Anyone who hung around to the close of the show would have seen the Castle van leaving almost as full as when it had arrived. Plainly if Castle were going to continue to sell machines something would have to be done, the seeds of the Iyonix (or Tungsten as it was sometimes called) project were born.

Some of the details are sketchy for the following period, and even Insider doesn't have all the information. However at the 2001 RISCOS Ltd AGM in Paces' premises in Yorkshire Paul Middleton said that RISCOS Ltd had been doing some work on an X-Scale based podule for use in RiscPCs. At the time it was considered that this might be another type of processor upgrade, much like the Kinetic. However in actual fact it seems that this was a prototype version of what would become the Iyonix PC. The next important milestone occurs late in 2001/early in 2002. Since the new Castle machine would be XScale based, and the XScale is a 32 bit only processor (well it does have a 26 bit mode, but it is not supported) a 32 bit version of RISC OS would be required. An approach was made by RISCOS Ltd to try to licence the only 32 bit OS that that then existed, the one produced by Pace Microtechnology. It seems from the speech made by Paul Middleton at the RISCOS Ltd 2002 AGM that this approach was not successful.

Anyone who attended the Guildford show will have seen the theatre presentation by Castle Technology Ltd. This clearly showed a slide that announced that the new RISC OS 5 was "Pace derived", so one might well assume that although RISC OS Ltds' approach to Pace didn't work, a later approach from Castle Technology Ltd must have. Keen Insider readers may well remember the following from the Insider column from RISC World Volume 2 Issue 2:

As an endpiece last time I wrote the following "ask yourself a simple question, if you were Pace and could see that a small company which has a licence for a version of a product you own could be a possible competitor would you want any 32-bit RISC OS stuff released at all?" I am delighted to say the answer to this is yes. I am sure those involved will make a full announcement about 32 bit RISC OS when the time is right. One should of course remember that a 32 bit OS may well need a new computer to run it on, as well as new software.

It might be wise to keep those words in mind over the coming weeks.

The Iyonix itself

Details regarding the Iyonix are sketchy in some areas. So far Castle Technology Ltd have not provided a release date or a suggested retail price. Despite the appearance of the machines at Guildford the OS is not finished, and was marked as an Alpha release on the machines on show. However what was on show was most impressive. It booted up very quickly, ran large high colour, high resolution desktops with ease and performed far faster than any RiscPC could. It will be very interesting to see how it compares with the MicroDigital Omega when that is finally released. A number of important applications were demonstrated running on the Iyonix including Draw, Paint, Vantage and Techwriter. The Aemulor emulator was also on display running complex applications such as Artworks (which is 26bit only) on the new 32 bit RISC OS. Potential customers, though, should remember that MicroDigital have said that an XScale equipped Omega will also be able to run 26 bit apps without requiring a software emulator.

The Iyonix looks very promising and certainly seems to perform very well. We will all need to wait for more concrete information to emerge regarding the machine over the next couple of months. In the mean time I am reproducing a Castle Technology press release below.

Castle Technology gave more information on the recently announced Iyonix PC 32-bit system to a packed audience at the RISC OS SE Show last Saturday. For those unable to visit this event some of the main details are:

  • Entirely new motherboard design with:
  • 80321 XScale processor
  • GeForce2 MX400 video card
  • Up to 1GB DDR RAM
  • 32-bit and 64-bit PCI expansion
  • H-speed podule bus
  • UDMA 100 Hard drive
  • MicroATX mid tower design with:
  • 5.25" and 3.5" drive bays
  • 2 + 2 USB ports
  • 2 Serial ports
  • RISC OS 5 with RISC OS 4.02 feature set plus:
  • Long file names
  • USB printing
  • Unicode support
  • OS in FDlash ROM

Many applications have been converted to work in 32-bits, for example Fireworkz, Ovation Pro, Draw, Pain & Edit to name just a few. Speed increases range from 2.0x (podule bus) to 30.0x (expansion bus). If you were unable to attend this show then a full summary of Castle's presentation on the Iyonix PC can be found at the Acorn Cybervillage..

To win an Iyonix PC for yourself please register on the Iyonix PC web site.

Mike Williams ( on behalf of Castle Technology

It is very interesting to note what is stated, and what isn't. As an example the hard drive is listed as being a UDMA 100 model, which is what one would expect. However note that the press release does not state the drive will be connected to a UDMA 100 interface. Also note that although the machine has serial and USB ports the parallel port seems absent. The choice of processor is also very interesting as it is one of the integrated XScale models. In some ways you could look at the Iyonix as a super A7000 replacement. Castle have said that the machine will ship with a 600MHz processor. It would seem from looking at the development machines that this is soldered to the motherboard, unlike the Omega which has a socket for its faster XScale chip.

And finally

I have to say that personally I like the Iyonix a great deal and I am very impressed with the work done by Castle. However I also like the Omega and I am impressed with MicroDigitals work as well. I eagerly await having both machines on my desk so I can compare them. As a final note a colleague of mine made an interesting comparison the other day, he compared the Iyonix to the Phoebe. We will have to wait to see how apt this comparison actually is.