RISC World

eQ Labs Interview

Andrew Harmsworth

eQ are a group of programmers bringing a certain "digitalness" to the RISC OS world. At least, that's what it says on one of their many websites. eQ have brought the RISC OS platform a number of new utilities over the last year or so - perhaps the most famous being the first MPEG video player to have sound support - and I was curious to find out more. I contacted Alexander Chukov, and was able to conduct an interview via email. It would seem that eQ have extensive skills both in hardware and software.

AH: On your website you have details of your Russian laboratory. Mostly these are A7000 machines. What is their primary purpose, and how often are they used?

AC: The Primary purpose for the A7000s was RISC OS developing. However now we use them as low price ARM developer boards for our experiments in ARM technologies. We now have own ARM board with Cirrus Logic (EP7312 CPU). Soon all the info about our ARM boards will put onto the eQ labs site.

AH: On you list a number of finished RISC OS projects, as well as some that are in progress. !rdesktop works well. Indeed I have been using it regularly myself since release. As it is still under development, what are your priorities for its future? Does the development of such a program help the RISC OS platform compete, in your opinion?

AC: Yes !rdesktop is still under development, while I want to try to add some other ideas to rdesktop. !rdesktop is needed for RISC OS while it helps us work on remote Windows PCs with software which isn't available for RISC OS.

AH: I just downloaded version 0.2. This now supports 1024x768, which is great. And it's still fast! What other changes were made? Other than great new icons!

The new RDesktop icons

AC: An overflow bug in rdp tcp sources, and this version was compiled using the ARM Developer Suite. This has super tools, very good C, optimisation, inline functions and a built-in assembler. I made a simple re-target library for RISC OS, and can now compile sources with this. Soon as I will have free time, I will put all on eqlab site.

AH: Kino2 sounds interesting. How well does this work at the moment?

AC: It can play divx and mpeg4 video well, but needs more testing as we still have a few bugs.

AH: LoopLinux also sounds great, as many people have been put off experimenting with Linux on RISC OS hardware, due to its installation. How is this going?

AC: This is also working well. I have tested it on RS and A7000 machines. For installation you need about 300 Mb free space on the first ADFS(IDEFS) partition. Installation is simply a case of unpacking or copying from the CD !linux folder. There are pre-installed linux images inside this folder.

AH:Your USB4LPT and stack are clearly a neat solution. What USB hardware can it support?

AC:Any hardware which is compatible with the USB 1.0/1.2 standard. If RISC OS users need it, we will write drivers for RISC OS.

AH: Currently you only have access to ARM7500FE-based hardware. Is this a reason for this, or would you like to use StrongARM RiscPCs, or even the forthcoming Iyonix/Omega?

AC: Ah, the 7500FE, this is historical solution. Two years ago eQ R&D wanted own hardware platform, and we decided that the 7500FE was a good CPU for it. Now we have own boards with EP7312, it is a more powerful CPU and is cheaper than the PS7500FE.

AH: Tell me, please, what is the EP7312, I've not heard of it before. What does your board do?

AC: EP7312 is a Cirrus Logic multimedia CPU, also known as Maverick, with an ARM7 core. The CPU clocks 74MHz, but also can be changed to 37 MHz and 90 MHz using the internal PLL.

We made developer boards for software and hardware training. At first we made it for the university (TSPU), but it can also be used as an embedded computer for industrial aims and another locations where computers are needed. In the next version we will put standard memory modules (DIMMs) and maybe later will try to install a EP9312 (ARM9 core, 200 MHz). Currently it can run eCos and our own boot systems, but running linux is also possible. Unfortunately it can't run RISC OS as there's no 26 bit mode in Maverick. However maybe a version of RISC OS 5 could be used.

AH: eQ clearly have skills with numerous computer platforms. How confident are you that RISC OS, which you appear to support the strongest, offers the best possible future for your needs?

AC: I like RISC OS, as OS, as GUI. It is very nice while placed in ROM/flash. But I don't like the RISC OS Ltd/PACE politics - no free documentation (like Microsoft MSDN). And the license price for systems is bigger than another commercial OS/GUI.

AH: Regarding !rdesktop. Over here in the UK, several developers are looking at developing an alternative, new ICA client for RISC OS. Would you be interested in helping with this? They are willing to pay.

AC: yes, it seems like a good idea.

AH: Every time I go to using !rdesktop (even 0.2) it crashes out with the usual text display error. Can you repeat this bug? It's my website - is it something I've done?!

AC: On the Riscstation I have looked at as well, I think I know what the problem is, and will fix it soon (font cache problem).

AH: Peter Everett has released KinoAMP, which uses Acorn's AMPlayer module to decode and play sound, whilst the video decoding is based on your Kino. How pleased are you with the combined result?

AC: It's nice :) for ARM7500FE it's a bit slow, but on the StrongARM its a good and right solution.

AH: You have a number of CDs available for RISC OS. To whom do you intend selling these?

AC: In December (hopefully). Now we have finished our big project (our ARM boards), all our time before was for this project, it why our other projects were "under developing":).

AH:Thank you for your time, and considerable effort writing in English. Good luck with your many projects - the world will be watching with interest!

Since this interview was conducted, Alex has uploaded a history of eQ, and eQ R&D to their website. And as for what eQ stands for...

The Name eQ is a play on words:

IQ, for Intellectual Quotient
e-xxx for "electronic whatever"

eQ then stands for the "digitalness" we bring to the World.

Much has been made on the use of RISC OS as an alternative computer platform in Russia. eQ seem to have a broad and high level of skills, not confined to RISC OS itself. It seems to me that projects such as the solar-powered transportable computer, and even RiscStation's laptop, could greatly benefit from eQ's expertise. With a 32-bit RISC OS finally around, we can but hope that the likes of eQ are able to put it to good use.

For further information, and contact details for eQ, please see:

Andrew Harmsworth