RISC World

Iyonix 2 for Wakefield?


It's been a few months since my last article was published in RISC World, and since we are now at the start of a new year I thought it only reasonable that I should update you with what could be the most interesting news of the year, the possible launch of a new version of the Xscale powered Iyonix at Wakefield in May.

A quick history lesson

To re-cap, the Iyonix, designed by Tematic and sold by Castle Technology, was launched in the fourth quarter of 2002. The machine was very well received by the RISC OS user base and has been selling steadily since. With the acquisition of RISC OS Castle and Tematic were finally in a position to push RISC OS in the direction a number of players have wanted to go for years, embedded systems. The Iyonix motherboard is ideal for use in a number of environments because of its low power consumption and the rather obvious advantage that in a correctly designed enclosure it does need any active cooling. It has been suggested by a number of sources that although the Iyonix board does fit a number of criteria, it doesn't fit one very important one, size.

In order to push into more lucrative markets a smaller board would be required. As RISC OS users will have noticed Castle and Tematic have now merged under the Castle Technology banner. Castle have also managed to lure Peter Wild, a very experienced hardware designer, back to RISC OS, Peter would seem just the man to help miniaturise the Iyonix motherboard.


Readers with long memories may well remember the announcement some years ago of the Neuron boards from Castle Technology. These boards were designed for embedded systems, and had a very small footprint, the third of the size of a sheet of A4 paper. Although a number of boards were planned only the Arm7500 version seems to have entered production. Although the Neuron 100 (as the Arm7500 board was called) was the right size, it was underpowered and did not push RISC OS into the hoped for markets. An Xscale powered board would be roughly 10 times faster and might well fit the needs of a number of high profile potential customers. With Castle Technology having an existing product, rights to RISC OS, and the people to do the job it would seem that it is time for a new smaller more powerful solution to be offered to customers.


It has been made clear from a number of statements made that Castle see the future of RISC OS in embedded systems, and indeed it is very hard to disagree with them. Readers should remember that Pace produced almost as many RISC OS set top boxes in 3 years, as Acorn did desktop computers in 10 years. So if embedded systems are the future for RISC OS why bother with a desktop computer?

There are a number of reasons. Firstly it's a marketing tool, any potential customer is going to want to see the product they are considering working. What better way to show them than to produce a full working desktop computer. They can then see the board in action and also see that the company behind the board have the expertise required. Secondly Castle has always supported the desktop market, it's where they came from, are they really likely to forget all the loyal users who have supported them over the years just because of the need to expand. Thirdly, and it's purely an economic argument, it will not cost a great deal extra to design the board so that it could be used either in an embedded situation, or inside a desktop computer. The extra components that make a desktop computer, case, drives, power supply etc are not greatly expensive and a manufacturer does not have to hold massive stocks.

So what might a new Iyonix be like?

Assuming a new machine is launched using a new board Insider would expect it to offer similar or greater performance to the current Iyonix. The on-board USB will need to be working so that a stand alone PCI card is not needed, this would mean that only one card, the graphics card would be required. With the addition of a right angled connector onto the PCI interface and the use of a low profile graphics card a very slim desktop case could be used. This would limit expansion, but then it would be a simple matter to offer two models. One in a new stylish slimline case, and one in a larger desktop case. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, you can always fit a small board in a big case, but you can't do it the other way round.

Insider would be surprised if the current Iyonix is not replaced by a MkII tower version at Wakefield, most likely at a similar price but offering an improved specification. As for the idea of using a small desktop case with little expansion options I have done some costings and in my view a price of around £1000 would be quite sustainable. A version of the Iyonix at around this price point would also provide a true high performance RISC OS machine at an entry level price point.


Since I wrote this article at the start of January a couple of odd things have happened. Firstly it has been suggested that Castle Technology have been buying up low profile graphics cards, although I have seen no evidence of this myself it is possible. The other interesting item to cross my desk was the new Wakefield show advert, designed by Richard Hallas (I am regretting forwarding this to Insider already - ED), someone who is known to be close to Castle Technology. The advert shows a phoenix rising from a broken Iyonix logo, I have reproduced the relevant section below.

The phoenix from the Wakefield show advert

Is this the first case of subliminal advertising for RISC OS computers, time will tell....


Aarons addendum

I asked Richard for his comments about the Wakefield advert, and hinted at some of Insiders conclusions, Richard found it very funny and had this to say about the choice of the Phoenix and the Iyonix logo.

"In actual fact, the 'phoenix rising out of the ashes' idea came about because of the near-death-experiences of the show itself. As with last year's event, there was every possible chance that it wouldn't be able to happen at all, so the fact that it is going ahead is where the idea came from. But having thought of it, it also seemed fairly appropriate to include a reference to the Iyonix, which could be seen as saviour of the RISC OS hardware market. (Maybe next year's poster will include the phoenix depicted on a computer monitor, in deference to VirtualAcorn's efforts with emulation!)
Besides, I needed to get some RISC OS-related imagery into the poster as well, and the Iyonix logo seemed quite apt for making eggs in a 'RISC OS cogwheel nest', so that worked quite well.
Also, Castle is one of the sponsors of this year's show, whereas MicroDigital has stated that it doesn't expect to attend, so that was quite helpful for me: it meant that I could use the Iyonix logo without having to devise a way of getting omega symbols into the design as well! (If necessary I'd have made the phoenix's claws into omegas, or had it clutching an omega or something like that.)
So that's the full story of the image. There are no intentional hidden messages at all in the design; it was just meant to be eye-catching.
Of course, it may be considered a 'tantalising' image if people choose to interpret in a particular way (and I'm sure they will...)! But Castle had no input or influence over the design; nor did RISCOS Ltd (or anyone else), even though the nest is a big cogwheel. The image may entice a few more people to make the effort to attend the show in the hopes of seeing something exciting, but that's what the advert is there for, after all!