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Native versus emulation in 2016 (Part 2)

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:47, 16/12/2016 | , ,
In part 1 we outline our plans to pit a Titanium (running RISC OS 5) against VirtualRPC (running RISC OS 6) on the latest MacBookPro laptop. Here are the scores, Titanium first each time.
Titanium versus VirtualRPC
Processor - Looped instructions (cache)
3762909 2115%, 524989 295%
Memory - Multiple register transfer
27373 16896%, 9184 5669%
Rectangle Copy - Graphics acceleration test
3253 1344%, 3067 1267%
Icon Plotting - 16 colour sprite with mask
42279 2113%, 26035 1301%
Draw Path - Stroke narrow line
11622 745%, 5337 342%
Draw Fill - Plot filled shape
17204 1179%, 6021 412%
HD Read - Block load 8MB file
115924 3887%, 608316 20399%
HD Write - Block save 8MB file
84216 2769%, 530070 17430%
FS Read - Byte stream file in
2493 1204%, 2634 1272%
FS Write - Byte stream file out
2553 1329%, 1170 609%
The 2.9gig Intel processor is not quick enough as an emulator to outperform a 1.5gig ARM chip on the Titanium but they said the new Macs have very fast SSD drives and that gives the Emulator an edge on block filesystem operations. You can compare these figures with those on Chris Hall's website (and try the tests yourself).
Does RISC OS performance on the MacBookPro vary if you run fullscreen or from battery?
A second question I posed last time was whether there would be any changes. Let us run it 3 times (in a window, in fullscreen mode and in fullscreen mode unplugged to see)...
Processor - Looped instructions (cache)
525238 295%, 522668 293%, 522822 293%
Memory - Multiple register transfer
9090 5611%, 9370 5783%, 9160 5654%
Rectangle Copy - Graphics acceleration test
2947 1217%, 2913 1203%, 2899 1197%
Icon Plotting - 16 colour sprite with mask
20316 1015%, 20308 1015%, 24903 1245%
Draw Path - Stroke narrow line
5396 345%, 5531 354%, 5457 349%
Draw Fill - Plot filled shape
5994 410%, 6098 417%, 6045 414%
HD Read - Block load 8MB file
592095 19855%, 559651 18767%, 567762 19039%
HD Write - Block save 8MB file
481882 15846%, 527207 17336%, 522039 17166%
FS Read - Byte stream file in
2593 1252%, 2657 1283%, 2653 1281%
FS Write - Byte stream file out
1141 594%, 1168 608%, 1192 620%
So no notable differences between modes.
This article was partly intended as a bit of Christmas entertainment and the advantages will vary with your exact usage or requirements (the Mac laptop does use a lot more power for example, whereas the VirtualRPC solutions does provide a 'free' Apple Mac as part of the package). And you could always run Jeffrey Lee's excellent VNC server with the free VNC viewer built into the Mac as another combination.
Is this a fair test? Mazzeo's Law says that the answer to any big question is 'It all depends'. It will not give a true answer for every single use case but I would argue that it is a 'valid' test in that it makes a reasonable and repeatable comparison. The Acorn Emulator offers several different chip emulations (700,7500, StrongArm) and may well be better suited to colour modes with less than 16M colours. Stay tuned for Part 3 which will see if these result in a faster Acorn experience (or feel free to test yourself)...
My main conclusion is that both my systems offer a very viable RISC OS solution which allows me to use my favourite operating system at home (my Titanium) or on the move (my laptop).
And in the future...
I generally replace my work Mac every 2-3 years and the rumour mills like to speculate that Apple may move to ARM chips in the future. At the moment, Apple uses Intel chips, and you can currently use a program called BootCamp to intall Windows directly onto Apple Laptops. Commerial software from VMware, and Parallels, and the free VirtualBox allow you to create virtual machines using the Intel hardware. This is much faster as it does not have to emulate another chip. Running RISC OS on a high end ARM laptop with a solution like this would be very appealing....
3 comments in the forums

Native versus emulation for running RISC OS in 2017 (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Stephens on 10:49, 7/12/2016 | , ,
This old chestnut has been around for many years now, and I think it always will be. But Christmas is a time for chestnuts, so let us see if we can put a new Iconbar spin on it by comparing the latest Apple and Elesar hardware for a 2016/7 take on the question....
I have both a shiny new TiMachine (using the Titanium motherboard) and a snazzy new MacBookPro on my desk which I am going to pit against each other. This article is split into 2 parts. In part 1, I am going to explain all the details and part 2 will give you the actual results.
RISC OS on native ARM hardware
ARM options have exploded in the last few years and you now have a wide range of machines on which RISC OS can be run directly (RapberryPi, Pandaboard, ARMX6, IPEGv5, Titanium). Exact performance will vary between machines and also depend on the type of disk you have (SD card, Zip drive, SSD drive).
If you are upgrading from a RISC PC or Iyonix, all of them will give you a welcome speed boost. I have several RaspberryPis, a Panda and a TiMachine and they all provide solid platforms for running RISC OS.
RISC OS on a MacBookPro
The latest version of the high end Apple laptop was released in October 2016. They added some additional features to excite/annoy you (touch sensitive screen to replace function keys, only USB-C sockets). The current machines use Intel processors (Skylake release) with fast RAM and SSD drives. So RISC OS is run using an emulator program (running on macOS) which converts ARM code into Intel code. There are ways to speed this up, but it is slower than it would be if running on ARM directly. The critical question is whether the faster speed of the Intel processor can compensate for the extra work involved.
If you want to run RISC OS on Mac you have a choice of the commercial VirtualRPC (which runs RISC OS 4/6) and the free RPCEmu (runs RISC OS 5). Both programs emulate a complete RISC OS machine (either running full-screen or in a Window) which can also access the macOS filing system. I find VirtualRPC to be faster in my tasks so I will be using that for this comparison.
How to compare?
We are going you use the benchmark program ROMark which you can find on Chris Hall's excellent website, where he has lots of data on performance for different machine running RISC OS. Any benchmark is going to be a proxy because everyone will use their machines in different ways and it does not include details which may be important (such as power usage, budget, need for speed, personal sentiment, etc). VirtualRPC cannot do 1920x1200pixels in 16 million colours, so we will use 1680x1050pixels in all tests to provide a common reference. The tests give very slightly different results on each run but are reasonably close each time.
It does give us a fairly good proxy for comparing different machines in a reasonably consistent way. It will also allow us to look at several options, particularly on the MacBookPro. Is RISC OS faster in full-screen or window mode? What happens if we are on batter power? We will be finding out...
See you in Part 2 for some numbers. Anyone prepared to make any bets?
9 comments in the forums

First Impressions of RComp's TiMachine

Posted by Mark Stephens on 14:52, 11/11/2016 | , , ,
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
RComp’s website
CJEmicros’ website
Elesar’s website
4 comments in the forums

Getting FAT32FS working on a RiscPC with a Castle USB Card

Posted by Jon Robinson on 13:57, 28/6/2014 | , , , ,
I have a RISC OS 4.39 RiscPC with a CastleInfo USB card and Compact Flash card reader attached. This uses Castle‘s !SoftSCSI to access the flash cards.
For a long time, I have been frustrated by its inability to mount any flash card larger then 2 GB in size. I really wanted to use a single flash card, to back up my 40 GB hard drive, as having to use a pocket full of 2 GB cards is a real pain.
I had been put off experimenting with Jeff Doggett‘s FAT32FS before, because I had read somewhere that it only works with the USB stack on the Iyo.
But, as it‘s the only solution, I did have a go at trying to get FAT32FS working on my RiscPC, recently. And, luckily, it turns out that the USB podule card on the RiscPC, is sufficiently similar to the one in the Iyonix, that it does, in fact, work.
It did take a bit of experimentation, however, to work out how to do it.
Continue reading "Getting FAT32FS working on a RiscPC with a Castle USB Card" | Comment in the forums

RISC OS 5.20 released, free Portsmouth show in planning

Posted by Jeffrey Lee on 20:15, 30/7/2013 | , , , ,

RISC OS 5.20 released

First seen at the recent Midlands show, RISC OS Open Limited have now officially released RISC OS 5.20 into the world. This stable release of the operating system is available for the Iyonix, ARMini/BeagleBoard, and for the first time for RISC OS 5, RiscPC and A7000/A7000+ IOMD-based machines, including Kinetic RiscPCs. In addition, a stable version of the base hard disc image is now available as well. All users of RISC OS 5.20 are required to at least upgrade to the new version of !Boot as the 5.1x era !Boot will refuse to run on the newer OS.
There are far too many changes for me to attempt to cherry-pick the interesting ones to list here, so to find out what's changed between this release and the last I suggest you check out the change summaries that ROOL link to from their press release above.
This new release can be downloaded free of charge from the ROOL downloads page, or you can purchase physical ROMs (for IOMD machines) or installation CDs (for other machines, or for Kinetic cards with flash ROMs) from the ROOL store. And if you go down the download route, please consider donating to one of the open bounties to help reward ROOL and the RISC OS developers for all their hard work.
The Raspberry Pi and OMAP4 ports are yet to reach "stable" status, so are still only available in the form of (potentially) unstable development builds and (for Raspberry Pi) official beta releases available from the Raspberry Pi Foundation website. In particular, the latest Raspberry Pi release, RC11, has been updated to RISC OS 5.21 and so is roughly equivalent to the stable 5.20 release that's available on other platforms.

Portsmouth show in planning

Not content with just managing the OS source code, ROOL are planning to host a free RISC OS show in Portsmouth, to be held on one of the Saturdays in September (most likely the 21st or 28th). The show is to be free to both visitors and exhibitors, but in order to make it happen ROOL need to know who can turn up and when - so whether you're a visitor or an exhibitor, please get in touch with ROOL and let them know your availability.

17 comments in the forums


Posted by Jeffrey Lee on 17:30, 20/10/2012 | , , , , , , , ,
Here's a quick round up of some of the recent activities in the RISC OS world.

London Show reminder

Next weekend, Saturday the 27th of October, is the date for this years London show. The show is to be held at the usual location of the St Giles Hotel in Feltham, London, and will be open from 11AM to 5PM. Tickets cost £5 on the door.
Although the theatre presentation schedule isn't yet available, the exhibitor's list is. Apart from all the usual subjects you should also keep an eye out for ROOL's first official, stable release of RISC OS for the Raspberry Pi.

ROOL updates

As mentioned above, the first stable release of RISC OS for the Raspberry Pi is expected to be unveiled at this years London show. The port has come on a long way since it was first shown at last years show, and is now pretty much on par with the other platforms with regards to features and usability. The distribution is to be available in the form of an SD card complete with ROM image, !Boot sequence, and a selection of pre-installed software, based around the work Chris Hall and others have placed into the Pi alpha distro.
Other news from ROOL in recent months includes:

  • The release of SDFS, an SD card filing system for all the modern machines (BeagleBoard/ARMini, PandaBoard, Raspberry Pi)
  • The release of several 32bit compatible NIC drivers for the RiscPC/A7000 (previously the IOMD port of RISC OS 5 had no drivers available, except under emulation)
  • Work on step one of the multi-stage filing system improvements bounty has begun
  • There have also been several performance improvements over the past few months - faster remapping of memory and shorter drive mount times, resulting in significantly shorter boot times for modern machines, faster font plotting, and last but not least a SmartReflex driver to allow the BeagleBoard-xM/ARMini to run at its full speed of 1GHz instead of 800MHz.

GCC 4.1.2 release 2 released

Hot on the heels of release 1 of GCC 4.1.2, the RISC OS GCCSDK team have released release 2, with a focus on fixing the bugs that were found in the initial release.

Emulation news

  • Aemulor Pro now freely available for ARMv7 machines
    A new version of Aemulor Pro, compatible with all the modern ARMv7 machines (BeagleBoard, ARMini, PandaBoard, etc.) is now available to download free of charge from the Spellings website at http://buyit.spellings.net/. A Raspberry Pi compatible version is expected to appear in due course.
  • ArcEm 1.50 alpha available
    The ArcEm team are back with a new website and a new alpha release. Compared to the previous 1.00 release there have been many significant improvements. In particular the RISC OS version is now ARMv6/ARMv7 compatible, and fast enough to play most Arc games at full speed on an Iyonix. Members of R-Comp's ARMini/BeagleBoard/PandaLand support schemes also have access to a more polished version of the emulator, and several games to play on it, under the moniker !AcornMode.
  • Atari emulator Hatari ported to RISC OS
    In recent weeks Franck Martinaux has released a RISC OS port of version 1.6.2 of the Atari ST emulator Hatari. The emulator is reported to run at full speed on BB-xM, and is available from Franck's website at http://www.norisc-nofun.co.uk/software.html.

18 comments in the forums

Archimedes is 25!

Posted by Richard Goodwin on 07:53, 1/6/2012 | , , ,
Arch 4The Register has a nice write-up charting the rise and fall of the Archimedes range. OK, so some of it was cribbed from Chris Whytehead's Acorns site (with credits), but it's nice to see a 4-page writeup on a major tech website.
We have cake here in the office, but apparently it's not for this, it's for something else going on next week.
Comment in the forums


Posted by Sion on 19:00, 25/3/2012 | , , , , , , , , ,

RISC OS 5.18 released

RISC OS Open have announced the release of their latest stable release of RISC OS, version 5.18 to be precise. This update features no less than 340 improvements since the last official release and has been officially vetted by CastleInfo Technology for the Iyonix PC and R-CompInfo Interactive for their ARMini.
The new ROM image should be able to upgrade all versions of RISC OS from version 5.07 or later and is provided with a flash programming tool (for Iyonix users), which also takes a backup of the previous version just incase you wish to go back.
The OMAP3 (i.e. ARMini) version of the operating system now supports hardware CMOS memory fitted on a carrier board plugged into one of the headers on the motherboard. This permits saving of common configuration settings which will be retained when the power is off. CMOS memory carrier boards are available now from the ROOL store and are suitable for use on the original Beagleboard, Beagleboard-xM, and Pandaboard.
As the ROMs now several new modules, some of the module location numbers have changed. Because the *UNPLUG settings only remember the module location numbers you may need to review any unplugged modules after the upgrade to ensure the desired ones are unplugged, and that crucial modules are not left unplugged by mistake.
For the full release notes and download/installation instructions, please see the ROOL press release.

Raspberry Pi released

The Raspberry Pi Foundation have launched their much anticipated, and dirt cheap computer, the Raspberry Pi. The machine is currently being sold through a number of electronic retailers, namely Farnell, RS Components, and Allied Electronics. However overwhelming demand for the device means that it may take a month or two for production to ramp-up and all backorders to be filled.
The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The foundation plans to release two versions, priced at £16 and £22. The Raspberry Pi is intended to stimulate the teaching of basic computer science in schools and has been designed for use with the Linux operating system, although a port of RISC OS to the machine is already underway.
The design is based around a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC, which includes a 700MHz ARM1176JZF-S processor, VideoCore IV GPU, and 256 Megabytes of RAM. The design does not include a built-in hard disk or solid-state drive, instead relying on an SD card for booting and long-term storage.

MPlayer ported to RISC OS

Chris Gransden has ported the popular cross-platform media player and encoder MPlayer to RISC OS, this significant advancement means that RISC OS can now fully play MP4 and other mainstream video formats.
Chris’ port is a direct build of the Linux sources and does not feature much RISC OS integration as of yet. It makes a good attempt at playing most MPEG, VOB, AVI and WMV formats, plus many others. You can expect reasonable frame rates up to 480p resolution on recent RISC OS hardware which currently includes Beagleboard and Pandaboard based machines.
Bundled along with the MPlayer download is MEncoder, which is a simple movie encoder, designed to encode MPlayer-playable movies.
You can download this latest version of MPlayer from the riscos.info website here.

Updates galore

Version 3.38 of OpenVector, OpenGridPro and DrawPlus has been released. These applications are all open-source enhancements to Draw, providing enhanced layering and object library capabilities as well as the ability to draw advanced grids and other object layouts. This release features improved compatibility with Cortex-A8 hardware such as the ARMini and BeagleBoard. Compressed drawfiles and libraries can now be loaded when alignment exceptions are enabled. Consistency of layered merging has also improved.
Version 1.71 of PlayIt, a disc-based engine for playing sound samples, has been released. It is used as a resource by several audio players including DigitalCD. This new update contains no new functionality but several significant bugfixes, increased 26/32bit neutrality, and changes for ARMv7 compatability.
BarFree from Bernard Veasey has been updated to work on RISC OS 5.18, BarFree copies revised ‘Messages’ and ‘Templates’ files to your ’PreDesk’ directory within its own directory called ‘Free’ to enable different style Free Space windows.
Charm has been updated to version 2.5.3 to add support for 'new' and 'delete' keywords for allocating and releasing storage for records. Charm is a high level programming language with a compiler than generates efficient code with a small memory footprint.

3 comments in the forums

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