Computers: System that holds the right cards

Danny Penman
Thursday 14 April 1994 23:02

UNLIKE the new PowerMac from Apple, Acorn's Risc PC can be made PC-compatible by simply plugging in a handy-sized new processor board, rather than trying to fool the computer into thinking it is an IBM clone by using emulation software. For a couple of years a leading Acorn systems supplier, Aleph One, has been developing a hardware solution to running PC programs: a card with an Intel PC chip and related circuitry which plugs in and can use Acorn's disks, screen and other peripherals and can operate as a window in Acorn's own Risc Os operating system. This has led to the latest, neat little hand-sized card which plugs in as easy as an ordinary three-pin power plug - a doddle compared with trying to tyre-lever in a PC add-on card.

The modular design of the new computer allows a PC 486 processor to be added using a card which costs pounds 99 if bought with one of the computers or pounds 199 if purchased later. Using hardware instead of software means the computer can run PC Windows programs as fast as a stand-alone PC with the same processor chip. The cards will not be available until September, but customers who buy now will be given a voucher.

Acorn, like Apple, has had to provide a way for users of their machines to run PC applications because they dominate the computer market. However, the company is confident the new computers will seduce traditional PC users into using them as Acorns rather than IBM clones once they are able to compare the two systems.

The computer uses the company's proprietory Risc-based - reduced instruction set computing - hardware and software. Risc processor chips are faster, cheaper, and consume less power than the normal complex instruction set (Cisc) central processors. Intel's state-of-the-art Pentium chip consists of 3.1 million transistors whereas the equivalent Risc processor, the Arm 700, requires only 40,000.

Risc is the buzz-word of the moment - with the likes of Apple, IBM, and Motorola collaborating to develop the new technology behind the PowerPC and PowerMac platforms. But Apple is also a partner of Advanced Risc Machines (Arm) together with Acorn.

Initially, the Risc PC computers will be available in three configurations. The entry-level machine, at pounds 1,468 (including VAT) comes with 2 megabytes of main memory and a 210-megabyte hard disc; the mid-range machine at pounds 1,644 has 4 megabytes of ram; and the top configuration, at pounds 1,996, comes with 8 megabytes of ram and a 420- megabyte hard disc.

All three configurations are based around the Arm 610 processor running at 30 megahertz which the company claims is faster than a 486DX2 based IBM clone running at 66 megahertz. Future proofing ensures the machines can be upgraded for about pounds 100 with the ARM 700 and 800 chips when they become available later this year.

Because the new computers are developed from the company's Archimedes platform and use the same operating system, more than 3,000 Acorn software packages are already available - besides the whole wealth of PC Windows programming.

Acorns have always delivered high-quality graphics direct from the main processing board - unlike PCs which need an expansion card - but the number of colours that it can deliver - and so the brightness and realism of full-colour pictures, for instance - have been restricted compared with Apple Macs and the newer PCs. The Risc PC machines can now support more than 16 million colours. They are also Photo CD compatable and allow full-motion video - video clips, live television - to be displayed with the company's Replay software.

Together with all the technical 'future proofing' features, the modular art deco case design ensures the computer is sufficiently expandable to last well into the next decade.

The Risc PC 600 is designed to replace the A5000 as the Company's top-of-the-range computer. Acorn says it is planning to continue production of all existing computers, including the A5000, which sells at about pounds 1,600 with 4 megabytes of memory and an 80- megabyte disk. But clearly there will be some price reductions.

Price cuts can also be expected for the mid-range A4000. The only computer likely to remain at the current price is the A3010, which already has a street price of little more than pounds 350 and will continue to target the television plug-in and games markets.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in