The RISC OS shows are a great opportunity to actually see kit in action and talk to vendors. In 2016, we are really fortunate to have the widest range of hardware options ever available, ranging from fast and compact and super cheap Raspberry Pis, through ARMX6 (with their ability to support really large screens) and PiTop laptop, to high end desktop X15 machines. All were on display at the recent London show. I wanted to upgrade my main RISC OS machine (currently a 2012 PandaBoard) with a Titanium, and walked away with a shiny new TiMachine from RComp. Here are some first impressions for you….
Both RComp and CJEmicros offer finished machines based around the Titanium motherboard. You can also get the motherboard directly from Elesar and build your own system, and both RComp and CJEmicros have DIY options.
RComp’s offering is called the TiMachine and comes in either a standard black case or what they describe as a spangly box. The idea here is actually quite neat - your Titanium inside a ‘Titanium’ box. The box itself is fairly compact (I would describe it as large shoe box), with a nice blue power light and runs really quietly. There is an occasional hum from the DVD drive or the hard drive but otherwise this machine is pretty silent (I believe the cheaper box may be slightly noisier). My 2013 MAcBookPro laptop is definitely more noisy in my office.
When Apple ships their machines, they include some stickers and labels so you can personalise the machine. It would be nice to have something with the TiMachine, which can otherwise look a little ‘generic’ from the outside. My 2016 Apple laptop is on order, so I will be able to compare and contrast in few weeks….
I was upgrading from a Panda, and the first thing I noticed was ‘I am on a real machine again’. The TiMachine has a DVD drive and loads of ports at the back. The only other machine in my office with 2 ethernet ports is the high end MacPro server I have for continuous software testing.
There are also 2 DVI monitor slots (one with a cover on). I tried plugging my monitor into it and get a screen displaying a big Ti symbol.
It is also very nice to have a DVD again (especially as much RISC OS software or updates still comes on DVD or CD). There are lots of USB slots and audio input/output and lots of ports at the back. As Elesar says in their marketing, there is generally at least 2 of everything.
The Titanium motherboard includes an SD card for adding in Linux which is quite fiddly to access once you put the system inside a case. If you want this I would recommend you order it at the time of purchase and get the vendor to fit it when they build the system. I would recommend Linux for ‘light’ use or curiosity. I stick to my Pi3 and Mac for running Linux.
Switch on the machine, and the machine rapidly boots into a desktop screen (I generally stick to 1920x1200 pixels at 16 million colours). Coupled with a big screen, Titanium is currently the state of the art in terms of running RISC OS, with a very fast processor and board, SSD drive and high resolution. It runs all the standard applications extremely quickly and will handle any RISC OS task in its stride. Go back to an older RISC OS machine once you have used this machine, and you will notice the sluggishness. Chris Hall has posted some excellent statistics on speed of various machines and also has a really good discussion of the different machine options available. Things that used to bug me on the Panda (such as when doing Filer big copy operations are much smoother on this machine).
The only thing I would have liked faster is the Otter browser which still personally feels sluggish to me and does not run the sites I currently need to use (Trello, BaseCamp and Fogbugz). But Otter is definitely heading in the right direction and opens up a lot of sites to RISC OS.
On the IconBar the RISC OS icon in now the Ti symbol from the periodic table and I am running a June release of RISC OS 5.23 - if you buy a machine from RComp, they include you in their update scheme where they offer for RISC OS. RComp package up RISC OS for you and add in lots of additional applications. You can also buy in as a non-RComp customer. If you are upgrading from an older machine, you will find that this now includes lots of useful third-party software as standard (including image editors, development tools, other languages, etc). Some of it is probably more of interest from a historical perspective (old browsers) but there is lots of genuinely useful stuff in there. There is also a copy of PlingStore and PackMan opening up a wealth of free and commercial stuff. So there is no shortage of things to run on the machine. I bought the machine at a show so also got the RComp BundleCD included (also worth considering as an additional purchase).
There were some initial concerns about software compatibility and support (especially with the handling of colour). But CJEmicros also had their update for !PhotoDesk at the show and the other issues seem mostly sorted. It should only be a concern if you are running specific old/unmaintained software. I have not had any issues in my daily usage.
The TiMachine has a nice 'Getting Started' Manual with the machine and RComp asked me how I wanted the machine set-up so that the machine could come ready to run out of the box. They also sell a nice range of monitors (I have a new 27 inch BenQ) monitor, and they will setup both for you when they send it out. A 27 inch monitor with a 2048x1152 pixel 16million colour display is a really nice working environment (but it does spoil you when you then have to switch back to a laptop screen). If you have any problems after purchase, I have found RComp very helpful and supportive.
In conclusion… I really like my TiMachine and I have been switching tasks back from my Mac onto RISC OS. Writing and answering emails in !Messenger on this machine is a real pleasure. It is clearly a premium desktop machine at a significant cost. So, if you just want to dabble with RISC OS occasionally and want a very compact solution at a silly price, it is hard to argue against the RaspberryPi. If you want a proper desktop machine, and you can justify a premium machine which makes RISC OS really shine, RComp’s TiMachine is a very polished and attractive proposition.
If you have a new machine (Pi, ARMX6, PiTop, Titanium, RapidO), what are your thoughts?
Some photos of the TiMachine on Flickr
Chris Hall’s excellent benchmarks and discussion on different machines