Mark Rowan introduces our new Iyonix column.
Aaron emailed me not so long ago pointing out two rather profound facts:
In a moment of inspiration we put two and two together and so here I am, introducing RiscWorld's new column: Iyonix Issues.
With the formal out of the way, I'd like to say from the very start that I want this to be an interactive column - if you have something you want me to cover in a future issue then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my best to write about it... even if it's just to suggest a better name for the column!
This column is going to be more than just another review of the Iyonix. It is primarily aimed at current users of Castle's new machine and aims to bring you news and opinions on current developments, as well as other issues such as compatibility, expansion, and usability. Of course, this does not exclude potential users, or even 'outsiders' who are interested in following the progress of the new flagship RISC OS machine as it develops and matures. There's some interesting times ahead for Iyonix, and I for one am excited to be a part of them.
Towards the end of February, John Ballance of Castle announced that a new version of the operating system had been released. RISC OS 5.05 would bring users' Iyonixes up to the latest standard, incorporating bug fixes, a new video driver to cope with a greater range of the nVidia graphics cards used in the machines, and a much improved USB stack.
However all did not appear to be plain sailing for users who upgraded. In true computing style, problems that had not shown up during hours of testing by Castle manifested themselves in many different forms on their users' varied machines. Reports of USB devices refusing to work and programs crashing flooded the support SmartGroup for many days.
My own initial reaction was to hold fire until all the issues had been sorted out - a piece of wisdom imparted many a time in computing circles. However I was very tempted by some of the new features of RISC OS 5.05, particularly the built-in ability to scroll windows using the scroll wheel of a compatible mouse, and the fact that Paul Reuvers' new HID program (which requires 5.05) would allow me to configure any number of keyboard shortcuts and actions using the 'special' keys now prolific on many modern keyboards.
After a few days upgrades were issued to those few apps which crashed on loading (DialUp, Bookmaker, and PCITV featured most prominently). It turns out that a minor upgrade to one of the internal components of RISC OS had highlighted some bugs which a couple of these apps silently contained, until the new version of RISC OS brought them to light. Iyonix Linux also required a new kernel image to cope with the new video card drivers, which was promptly supplied by Peter Naulls.
With the news of these updated apps I decided to take the plunge and install the 5.05 update. The operation was painless - I downloaded a 2MB file from Castle's website using the supplied IyoUpWtch update program, which contained a readme file and a single application. Under Castle's advice I also downloaded an equivalent archive for RISC OS 5.03 in case I had to revert to the previous version. It was then simply a case of running the application, which reflashed the ROM chips on the Iyonix motherboard in a couple of minutes. One quick reboot later and I was up and running RISC OS 5.05.
So far I haven't noticed any problems, and I've updated the apps I mentioned earlier. The wheel on my mouse, previously just a handy worry bead, now works wonderfully in all the apps I could get my hands on. The computer does appear to be faster in some operations, particularly when opening the root directory of my digital camera's flash memory card. This operation used to take 4 or 5 seconds; it's now around a second until all my photo files are displayed. Other users have also reported decreased boot-up times and more responsive desktops in general usage.
For those still wondering whether to take the plunge, I would suggest you have nothing to lose by trying, as long as you have a copy of RISC OS 5.03 from the Castle website to fall back on. Reports on the SmartGroup suggest it was only the vocal minority who had problems with their Iyonixes anyway; the majority of upgrades worked fine, and those with problems either didn't follow the instructions correctly, or they're running some pretty exotic kit.
New Iyonix machine
Just before the recent and very successful RISC OS Southwest show, Castle announced a new product. No, it wasn't the fabled Iyonix Mk II or the Iyonix Laptop which are often speculated about, but instead it's a new case for the current machine. Exciting.
However there is actually a lot of careful thought behind the new case, and it means much more for the Iyonix as a whole than first meets the eye. The case, sold containing the usual Iyonix bits under the name "Iyonix X100", was reportedly developed in response to requirements made by Castle's corporate customers. Who these customers are, no-one knows but Castle, but they must be buying an awful lot of Iyonixes to warrant the development of a completely new case design. This can only be good news for RISC OS as it shows that there is a very valuable market beyond the enthusiast circle.
The 2 Iyonix cases now available
The case is a desktop configuration and, from the initial photos posted on their website, looks a smart little affair with more styling than the standard tower Iyonix. Space for legacy podules has been removed, allowing a much smaller form factor (closer to a one-slice RiscPC at my own estimates). Most interestingly, the case is touted as being compliant with USA radiation standards. RISC OS has historically never enjoyed much success Across the Pond, but if Castle feel they can justify the costs of developing a case which specifically permits use in America, then that is surely a good indication of their faith in the Iyonix's success overseas.
One notable downside which the new case brings, at least to me, is that it's no longer reliant on convection cooling. One of the major selling points of the Iyonix tower-version for me is its near-silent operation, as I sleep with the computer at the foot of my bed at university. It's quiet enough for me to be able to leave it switched on overnight with barely the slightest whisper to lull me to sleep.
The Iyonix X100 is a desktop computer design, meaning that a more powerful fan must be used to extract hot air from its internals. Hence the X100 can no longer be touted as a 'silent' Iyonix. I'll bet it's still damn quiet though.
Saying goodbye to old friends
Sad though it is, when I bought my Iyonix I very quickly had to say goodbye to my family's trusty RiscPCs as I was moving to university. I had barely six weeks in which to transfer my entire computing setup from the RiscPCs to my Iyonix, and iron out any problems which may arise - not to mention getting used to new software and hardware, which in some places is vastly different to Acorn's legacy machines.
The question foremost in my mind at that time, which I'm sure a lot of you who either have bought or are considering buying an Iyonix have wondered, was "will the Iyonix be a suitable replacement for my RiscPC?"
This comes at a time when I've just purchased a PC laptop to run Linux and VirtualRPC-SE under Windows XP (which enjoys the novel status of being installed on my laptop simply so I can take pleasure in ignoring it). I am genuinely questioning whether my Iyonix will be able to cut the mustard, as they say, or if the new machine will render my Iyonix a waste of space and - more importantly - money. Well there's nothing wrong with honest questioning, and I hope to have some answers for you by the time I next write in this column.