RISC World

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It's easy to write, 'cos what we say, is total...

Welcome to the first letters page of 2008, actually you're welcome to the first letters page of 2008...Anyway, for a change lets not bother with my usual pre-amble and leap straight in to our first letter...

Dear Aaron,
Unless I missed them, might it not be a good idea to produce an article (series?) about hardware upgrades, as I cannot find very much about this subject. A number of users might find it useful to be shown how to replace drives, boards, ROMs expansions and other 'bits' within the RPC and other RISC machines. What types to buy to upgrade your machine, where to get it from and perhaps even a best buy section?
Keep up the good works!
T. Shevels

You've raised some interesting points here. Lets start with the RiscPC. In volume 7 Issue 3 we ran an article on how to build a RiscPC into an A7000 case. Volume 6 issue 4 had an article on extra cooling for RiscPC machines. For information on building a RiscPC into a PC case see the series starting in Volume 6 Issue 6 and concluding in Volume 7 issue 2. Volume 6 issue 3 had a feature on stripping down and cleaning a RiscPC.

If you go further back into the mists of time there are also articles on making your own Turbo StrongArm and overclocking the RiscPC VIDC20. These articles all provide a good place to start. If you don't have the particular volumes then they are available as back issues on both CD and data DVD.

As for "upgrading" a RiscPC, well there isn't really a great deal you can do these days. You can fit up to 256Mb of RAM, provided you have RISC OS Adjust, but you will only get the memory from RISC OS suppliers these days and it should come with instructions. You could replace the CD drive with a DVD reader, that's just a cable swap and a couple of screws. Again you would be best advised to purchased from a RISC OS dealer as a number of modern drives no longer work with RiscPCs. As for expansion cards, very few (basically UniPod or Blitz) are now available new. Anything else would have to be second hand from eBay, or a show charity stall. You would generally be lucky to find a specific item without spending a long time looking.

Moving on to the more modern machines, the A9 is a sealed box and can't be internally upgraded. The Iyonix takes standard PC parts, so you can increase the RAM, change the CD drive and replace the harddisc. You can also build an Iyonix into a PC case much easier than you can a RiscPC as the Iyonix uses a standard Micro ATX sized motherboard (meaning all the screw holes and power sockets are in the correct place). In terms of expansion the Iyonix also takes standard RiscPC podules, but (and it's a very big but) the software on the podule needs to be 32bit. So far only 1 podule can be used and that's the Castle SCSI card. As well as podules the Iyonix also takes standard PCI cards, this means you can add an extra graphics card, sound card and also a TV receiver. However just like the podules the PCI cards need 32bit RISC OS drivers written for them, so you can count the number of PCI upgrade options on one hand.

Given the very limited number of upgrade options available and the fact that many components are only available 2nd hand, or from a specialised RISC OS dealer, I think it would be difficult to write an article that related to items you could definitely buy.

Having said all the above, if enough people ask for an upgrade guide for a specific machine we will see what we can do...

Now an update on a subject from last issue...

Dear Aaron,
I reattach the zipped !SqzUnSqz, with some minor corrections to mistakes that were bugging me. I note from your CD ROM, that there may be some advantage to being able to unsqueeze such files, since there are different !Squeeze compression versions, it appears, which may not be compatible with all versions of RISC OS. If you have any further trouble with this, please inform me.

Many thanks for your continued efforts with, what is, a very useful application. For those that might have missed the last couple of issues letters pages, let me recap. A lot of applications that are compiled using the various C/C++ tools available for RISC OS are compressed using a special algorithm. This makes the main application a bit smaller and also means that it's "protected" so that its more difficult for someone to examine the contents. On modern machines this really doesn't make much sense, we are no longer trying to compress files to fit on floppies and it's not difficult to examine a program in memory once it's been decompressed to run. Provided of course that it can be decompressed.

And there lies the problem. Some applications that have been compiled with the Castle C/C++ suite simply won't decompress on non Iyonix hardware. This is most annoying - especially given that some of the applications concerned are quite capable of running on RiscPC class machines. Martin's solution was to write a program that would de-compress the application permanently - replacing the compressed components on disc with de-compressed ones. This would then allow the application to run. Martin and I have banged a number of e-mail backwards and forwards about this problem and in the Letters directory you will find the l latest version of !SqzUnSqz, which is designed to un-squeeze any Absolute code that is dragged to it.

Both Martin and myself would be very interested in any feedback.

Finally one of our RISCWorld letters page regulars shares his views on RISC OS...

Dear Aaron
There has recently been a lot of 'light hearted' banter on CSA about RISCOS vs Windoze vs MACOS. I have to have a quiet smile whenever these arguments appear.
I used to work in a large Durham HE college as Senior Technician and my main job was to produce various graphical output for the staff and students across many disciplines. Whenever they needed anything 'tricky' they came looking for me and my trusty Acorn SRP11! This was bought in 1996 along with a colour printer and assorted software including Poster from 4Mation (this was probably the best ever graphics software around for £90!) and a PC card with Netlinks software which enabled connection to the college network and internet.
It seemed even the simplest bits of drawing and pictures were beyond the office PC machines at the worst within a busy time-frame, if not completely. Over the years 1996-2003 when I retired, I must have produced thousands of drawings. Now if a college that size relied on RISCOS for its graphics surely many others could do likewise?
What is more, the said machine was donated to me when I left since no one else could use it and it was nearly 8 years old, despite several upgrades. It now sits on my desk at the ripe old age of 11 yrs running RO4.02 and awaiting the installation of 3 new drives (HD/DVD/Floppy - bought to ensure its long survival!) and RO4.39. It is on the web using DialUp/MPro/Netsurf via and runs a UNIPOD, a SCSI+HP 4C Scanner, digital camera and PC card with Win95/Office97 (for netware) and dozens of ROS software packages. And sitting next to it is a RiscStation 7500. The only part to break down was the monitor, which I recently replaced with an LCD from Video7.
I wouldn't have a PC given never mind buy one. The college spent millions on replacement PCs and Windows. By then time Windows loads up, I can have the results printed onto paper! OK I admit the browser leaves a lot to be desired, but those sites that I cannot load at home a very few (and can easily be accessed at the library). So to all those johnnies bemoaning the ''missing links' in RISCOS, quit bellyaching and enjoy what is 'The best OS in the world - probably!

It's a reasonable sounding point and depends greatly on what the user wants to do. For me I simply cannot (and have not) run RISC OS in isolation, there are just too many things that I can't do on a RISC OS only machine. For example I can't convert video files for my multimedia player, sync my mobile phone, print to my colour laser (without a PC and UniPrint). You can see my comments in the editorial for a deeper picture.

Is RISC OS "the best OS in the world"? That I don't know. I find RISC OS very useful, but also very limited. What do other readers think?

To contact the RISCWorld letters page please e-mail us using the following e-mail address. The deadline for letters being published in the next issue is 14th of March.

Aaron Timbrell