We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious!
R-Comp have at last revealed more details about the new computer they demonstrated1 at the 2014 London Show, including a more official announcement of the name that was dropped into the 2015 South West Show reminder.
The name used at the London Show (and since, until the new name was adopted) was ARMini.MX – which logically followed on from R-Comp’s two previous computers, the BeagleBoard-based ARMini, and PandaBoard-based ARMiniX. However, even at London, the name was said to be provisional, and subsequent feedback has suggested that some people felt the name wasn’t easy to pronounce, and nor did it suitably distinguished the machine from those previous ones – so a new name was definitely on the cards.
That new name, as previously revealed, is ARMX62.
The heart of the machine is a Freescale i.MX 6 series processor, and while the announcement doesn’t specify which member of the i.MX 6 processor family it is, when he unveiled the machine during his theatre talk at London 2014, Andrew Rawnsley confirmed that it’s a quad-core processor (although RISC OS is unfortunately able to use only a single core). That makes it the i.MX6Q (or i.MX 6Quad), the only member of the family with four cores, which runs at 1.2GHz and features a 1MB L2 cache.
The i.MX 6 series is based on the ARM Cortex A9 architecture which, being a part of the ARM Cortex-A range, uses the ARMv7 instruction set – the same instruction set used by the processors found in BeagleBoard and PandaBoard-based systems, such as R-Comp’s ARMini and ARMiniX, or CJE’s PandaRO. In fact, while the OMAP3530 found on the BeagleBoard is based on an ARM Cortex-A8, the OMAP4430 found on the PandaBoard is also based on the ARM Cortex-A9.
What that means in simple English is that if you are using software that runs without problem on either the BeagleBoard or PandaBoard, it should also run without problems on R-Comp’s new beast.
Other key specifications include that it comes with 2GB RAM, a native SATA hard drive of at least 120GB, gigabit ethernet on board (rather than over USB), and “full bandwidth” HDMI/DVI graphics delivering up to 1920×1200 at 60Hz.
In the announcement, Andrew Rawnsley explained what the machine’s specifications mean in terms of real-world performance by giving examples of how it compares to other RISC OS computers:
- Emails that take some 30 seconds to process on ARMini and 7-10 seconds on ARMiniX are handled “effectively instantly” on ARMX6; there is no noticeable delay.
- Compiling RISC OS itself can be a slow process on an IyonixPC, taking almost 50 minutes. On an ARMiniX, it takes around 20 minutes. On ARMX6, that time is reduced to 9 minutes.
Another benchmark (which was itself supplied by one of R-Comp’s beta testers, and predates the most recent speedups), suggests that processing a large map for use with RiscOSM is about 9 times faster on ARMX6 than on a BeagleBoard, and twice as fast as a PandaBoard.
Throughout the ARMX6’s development, ensuring the computer’s reliability and stability has been a key consideration – something that was of the utmost importance for the machine’s industrial users, who will have them in use as servers, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing facilities to dozens of external businesses. One example given by Andrew during his London theatre talk was a customer that services hundreds of medical centres, who therefore needs data to be available at all times.
Andrew explained in the announcement that when the London Show took place the first prototype server was already in use, which means the computer was already considered stable – and, indeed, the one on display at London was available for anyone and everyone to play with, and it remained solid throughout the day. The release goes on to say that within a few weeks of the show taking place the first complete server system based around the ARMX6 was shipped to a UK business, and that that has been running ever since – and many more servers went live in December with commercial customers3.
Since London, the ARMX6’s reliability instilled enough confidence that its performance could be pushed further – and this, it seems, revealed long-standing issues in RISC OS itself. This has in turn led to a range of fixes that have found their way back into the RISC OS source tree, hosted by RISC OS Open Ltd, and should therefore benefit other RISC OS users – PandaBoard users in particular.
So what about price and availability? The suggestion at London was that it would be in the region of the price of the ARMiniX, which is £699 including VAT. The final price is likely to be slightly higher than that, but for pre-orders the ARMiniX price is being honoured, and the plan is to do so for a while yet; at least while lead times are such that the machines aren’t available ‘off the shelf’ so to speak. Once that point is reached, however, the price is likely to increase slightly – so if you want to order one at £699, you should head over to the ARMini website to grab the original flyer for the new machine (found at the top of the page) and send it off in the direction of R-Comp’s HQ in Cheshire with a deposit of £150.
- For all intents and purposes, from the point of view of most RISC OS users, the new computer is an R-Comp product. However, Andrew has made it clear from the start, and continues to do so in the latest announcement, that the computer “isn’t just an R-Comp Interactive story” – there are a number of RISC OS companies and individuals involved in the development of ARMX6, and he stresses that it is this that has made the undertaking possible.
- A nice, straightforward name that still allows RISCOSitory to make the MSX connection, by referring to it as
ARMSX6ARMX6 (previously ARMini.MSXARMini.MX). It also brings to mind the Mazda MX6, though it remains to be seen whether Andrew will find some way to use a small (and slightly unappealing) Japanese car produced between the late 1980s and late 1990s to promote the new computer.
- Those customers, it seems, were previously using A7000s and IyonixPCs – meaning (in the latter case for certain, and possibly also the former case) that they were previously customers of Castle Technologies, who brought the IyonixPC to market, and who had previously taken over production of RiscPC and A7000 computers from Acorn. Castle were known to have large customers outside of the traditional RISC OS market, and it was to satisfy the needs of these customers that the IyonixPC was itself developed.