City Audio Services: RISC OS

RISC OS: CAS has used RISC OS for most of its computing needs from the start. Despite owning and trying a series of Microsoft based computers we've not yet found a reason to dump the hardware, whilst having very good reasons for keeping it. Currently we use two RISC PCs and one MS Windows PC. The RISC PCs are not exactly as they were out of the box, but given that they are now well over ten years old, more like fifteen I think, that is no surprise. The surprise is that they are not only still working, they are for many operations still functionally faster than the MS Windows box that has a processor nominally well over ten times faster. What is more, the OS is not only very stable, it is incredibly resilient and maintenance time is very low indeed! I can't actually recall ever reinstalling RISC OS because of an OS failure. How many times have I reinstalled MS Windows? And in fact this site is being written on a RISC PC simple because the editor (StrongED) is so easy to use.

Recording: Our recording hardware uses an i16 card driven by our own i16 software. The card is old now being limited to 16 bit. But that is perfect for what we do, and arguably sufficient for almost anything. The card uses external Midiman CODECs although this isn't really necessary. What is different is that the machine is rigged for low noise: the board power demand is only a few watts so a simple fanless power supply suffices.

Editing: Editing is performed with Prosound and StudioSound. In practice I still find Prosound a very fast editor to use. Its main limitation is that it is not virtual, when an edit is performed the track is rebuilt on the disc. To reduce the time this can take with large files the machine is equipped with a Kinetic processor card with 256Mb of memory fitted to it. This allows us to use a 200Mb RAM disc for editing and the track rewriting is greatly speeded up. Time delays are rarely now any problem. Incidentally this amount of memory may seem pathetic to users of other OSs. But don't be fooled by the way MS Windows devours memory, you can run RISC OS in only a few Mb as it is so efficient!

Optimising Disks: To maximise disc access speed we use an APDL Blitz card. This can't work at its maximum as the Kinetic card shuts down DMA. But it is respectable and whilst disc write times when saving a large file can be significant, these are tolerable.

Programming: The RISC PC with RISC OS is an excellent machine for programming and where we have supplied hardware it has all been RISC PC/RISC OS based, simply because developing bespoke software for it is quick and easy.

Problems: This set up does have one major bug caused by the Kinetic card. For some reason there is a problem allocating memory with the result that you cannot run loads of software at once. Not all packages reveal problem but many do, including Prosound and StudioSound. So we use two machines, one for recording, one for just about everything else. The latter is equipped with a Kinetic fitted with less memory (which avoids the problems), a ViewFinder graphics card to increase the screen resolution and various other bits and pieces.

The main problem of course is that the system is now simply old and getting left behind. Despite valiant efforts from some quarters and continued availability of the OS it is hard to advise others to adopt it. But what a shame that is, when this was, I believe, the first 32bit multitasking operating system, when the company that created it at the same time created the ARM processor, when the system hit the streets seven years before Microsoft released Windows and when a 230MHz processor can, even now, be more productive than a 3GHz dual core running Vista!

We're not likely to drop RISC OS any time soon unless forced to. If you are a RISC OS user and want any advice, we'd be happy to help (assuming we can of course!).