RISC World has had an Omega for several months now...
As I am sure most people know RISC World took delivery of an Omega after the RISC OS Southwest show earlier this year. Those who attended may well have seen the machine running on the APDL stand. This machine is the full size version with the rather plain dark grey case, as opposed to the smaller silver version. However a big case does mean more room for expansion.
RISC Worlds Omega
At present we have the Omega hooked up to a 17" monitor, although for the purposes of "having a play" we did hook it up to Aarons 21" daily display which is usually attached to his RiscPC. What was interesting was the improved picture quality, a RiscPC can manage to do 1600x1200, but only in 256 colours and at a low and somewhat flickery refresh rate. The RiscPC also suffers from a slightly "fuzzy" image. There are no such problems with the Omega, it can do a flicker free 1600 x 1200 display in full 24 bit colour. The Omega also seems considerably more responsive in high res screen modes. All the RiscPCs seems to struggle a little bit, with drags not being as smooth as they are in lower res modes. Again there seem to be no such problems with the Omega and it feels as fast in 1600 x 1200 as it does in 800 x 600.
Of course one of the first things you have do with a computer is take it apart so you can see what is inside. The Omega motherboard is not large and leaves plenty of space inside the case. One thing we did find very amusing was the inclusion of an exhaust fan in the case. Is an ARM powered machine is going to generate that much heat? No.
Inside the Omega (PCI sound card removed for clarity)
MicroDigital seem to have solved the problem of RISC OS addressing over 256Mb of RAM and the motherboard has space for two memory modules and can support up to 1Gb of memory (2x512Mb). The Omega also solves the age old problem of the slow RiscPC IDE bus, with transfer rates up to almost 40Mb a second as opposed to the 1.5Mb you get from a RiscPC. The floppy drive performs much the same as any other RISC OS computer, being able to read Acorn and DOS formatted floppies. Both the hard drive and the CD Writer have performed with no problems.
Close up of the Omega motherboard
Since we have had the machine for a number of months it has been updated a number of times by MicroDigital. An update arrives in our e-mail (which is on a PC), we copy it over to the Omega, run it and then after 10 to 15 seconds during which the upgrade is carried out the machine needs to be restarted. Every upgrade has performed without any problem, and every time the machine gets upgraded it seems to run faster. Since much of the Omega hardware is programmed into the FGAs quite major changes can be made to the "hardware" without having to even open the case, much less return it to a dealer for the update to be carried out.
The Omega comes with vanilla RISC OS 4 installed as standard. If you are a Select subscriber then you should be able to run Select on the machine. RISC OS 4 performs just the same as it does on any other machine, only faster. Every single bit of software we have tried just works, only faster, in some cases much faster. We really have tried to find something that doesn't work and even some really rather nasty RiscPC demos have run without any problems.
The Omega software bundle consists of a version of DrawWorks, Masterfile, Ovation, AudioWorks, TableCalc along with a complete disc image in case something goes wrong. There is also the usual small freeware collection with StrongED, Zap and a couple of games.
It's actually very difficult to say a great deal about the Omega. It's designed to be a RiscPC replacement, and that is exactly what it is. We can't give you any great stories about things not working, because it all seems to just work fine. The updating process has gone smoothly, all the programs we want to use have been copied over and have worked first time. The best way to view the Omega is as a fast RiscPC with all the RiscPCs problems (slow hard drive, only 2Mb VRAM etc) removed. You turn on the Omega it starts, then you use it and when you have finished you turn it off. Our experience so far is that it's as reliable as only a RISC OS machine can be. As a RiscPC replacement it's very good, in use it feels twice the speed of a standard StrongARM RiscPC. If you have an older machine with an ARM610, ARM710, or even an Arm7500 based machine, then the difference will be even more marked.
What can we say? Well the Omega is not sexy, it's not funky, it doesn't have any wonderful tricks up it's sleeve, it just gets on and does the job, which I suppose is the main point of its existence.
Hugh has just proof read this article and raised a good point, if the Omega is so good, why is RISC World still assembled still using a RiscPC? There is a simple answer, networking. The Omega doesn't have a network card, although we do have one on order. Aaron can't work without having the PC and the RISC OS machine networked (Damn right! -ED). When the network card arrives he expects to push the Omega into front line service.