John Ballance and Jack Lillingston of Castle Technology today co-hosted a press briefing on the company's new "Kinetic RiscPC", codenamed Stealth.
The new Kinetic RiscPC machines start at just £1173 inc VAT, upgrades for existing RiscPCs with trade in discounts against StrongARM boards and RISC OS 4 ROMs are available for a mere £299 from May 20th onwards.
The Kinetic upgrade is basically a new plug-in vertical processor board which replaces the existing ARM processor inside any model of RiscPC. The daugherboard includes a 233MHz StrongARM chip, a minimum of 64MB of super-fast SD RAM and Castle's own secret chips which remove some of the reliance on Acorn's propietary IOMD chip.
Use of on-board SD RAM chips will greatly improve speed by removing one of the bottlenecks wich coders have been moaning about for ages - the memory bus. Existing RAM in the main board needn't be discarded. The same VRAM chips are still used for display and once the Kinetic's own RAM is filled, the motherboard memory is used as overflow to execute programs.
According to Castle's own figures, screen redraws are up to 2.5 times faster than on an ordinary StrongARM RiscPC fitted with RISC OS 4. These figures have yet to be independantly backed up but the demo of Iron Dignity certainly did run more smoothly than on existing hardware. Further, activities such as printing are twice as fast as are other things which rely upon parallel port access (e.g. Iomega's Zip drives). The performance of new-build Kinetic machines and older RiscPCs which are upgraded to Kinetic spec should be identical since at present, new-build machines are undergoing the same upgrade during production as existing machines will.
A new set of RISC OS ROMs must also be installed with the upgrade to allow the operating system to utilise the extra memory onboard the Kinetic card at the same time as original RAM in the main motherboard slots. Although the OS is marked v4.03, Castle were quick to point out that the version shipping with Kinetic boards is different to the strain found in the RiscStation which is also branded v4.03.
The great thing about all this is that it's going to be on sale at this year's Wakefield show. Castle are surely worthy of praise for keeping so quiet about this development which has set a brand new goal for other manufacturers to work towards.
Typical Specs and Prices:
- Kinetic RiscPC 70MB (64 SDRAM on Kinetic board, 4MB on motherboard and 2MB VRAM) 10GB HD, 40x CD & monitor £1173 (inc VAT)
- Kinetic RiscPC 138MB (128 SDRAM, 8MB on motherboard and 2MB VRAM), 30GB HD, 40x CD, modem & monitor £1408 (inc VAT)
Kinetic Upgrades (for any exisiting RiscPC)
- Kinetic 64MB for RiscPCs with no trade in discounts: £399
- Kinetic 64MB for RiscPCs with StrongARM board and RISC OS 4 trade in: £299 (other trade in options are available, ask Castle for details)
Unlike with some other upgrade routes, Castle say the Kinetic will run all existing software that will run on a StrongARM RiscPC. This claim has yet to be thoroughly put to the test but initial tests with a few games and graphical demos downloaded from the 'net at the press day proved favourible.
The browser will be supplied free of charge on new Kinetic RiscPCs. Microsoft browser-war comments aside, people do expect to get a decent browser when purchasing a new machine these days.
In another interesting development, John Balance, Castle's technical director said he would be looking into John Kortink's new ViewFinder card which claims to give AGP graphics capabilities to the RiscPC via a podule card converter.