Enhancements and diversification - Online Media, Risc PC updates and handhelds (1994 to 1996).

In mid 1994 Acorn's interactive multimedia division, Acorn Online Media, was formed. The aim of this group was to provide technology and products for interactive multimedia client hardware. The group was initially working on set top boxes and had a prototype box based around a Risc PC motherboard and complying with the Oracle Media Objects standard. There will be more about Acorn Online Media and the STB later.

In 1996 Acorn Computers and Apple joined forces, to create Xemplar Education. This company was created to push Acorn (and Apple) machine to the education market.

The Acorn computer range remained unchanged until July 1996. First, the Risc PC range was overhauled. A new range, the Risc PC 700, powered by an ARM 710 chip that was clocked at 40 MHz was introduced. The Risc PC 600 received a boost when the ARM 610 was speeded up, the clock speed going to 33 MHz from 30 MHz. The minimum Risc PC 600 spec was also boosted, to 4 Mb main memory and a 425 Mb hard drive, and the price lowered, to £999 ex VAT, with a 14" monitor. Both variants of the Risc PC featured full hardware 16 bit sound and an on-board mixing point for internal, external and CD sound. The Risc PC 700 was available in three models. The first had 4 Mb of RAM, no VRAM and a 425 Mb hard drive. The second had 4 Mb of RAM, 1 Mb of VRAM and a 425 Mb hard drive. The third had 8 Mb of RAM, 2 Mb of VRAM and an 850 Mb hard drive and cost £1499 ex VAT, with a 14" monitor.

Second, the A7000 was launched. This was intended as a replacement for the A4000. It featured an ARM 7500 (containing an ARM 7, IOMD and VIDC20 on a single chip), up to 8 Mb of RAM attached to the motherboard (expandable via a single SIMM socket, capable of taking a 128 Mb SIMM), a 425 Mb hard drive and either a 32 bit expansion bay or a 5.25" drive bay. It was not possible to add VRAM or a second processor. The case was styled in a similar fashion to the Risc PC, but was much smaller, limiting expansion. Three models were available. The first, A7000 Net, featured 2 Mb of RAM and an Ethernet card, but no hard drive and cost £749 ex VAT, with a 14" monitor. The second model, the basic spec, featured 2 Mb of RAM and a 425 Mb hard drive and cost £799 ex VAT, with a 14" monitor. The third model, the expanded spec, featured 4 Mb of RAM and a 425 Mb hard drive and cost £875 ex VAT, with a 14" monitor.

All three ranges featured an update version of RISC OS, version 3.60. This featured an improved FileCore, allowing the OS to access up to 4 Gb drives (for IDE) or 16 Gb (for SCSI), up from 512 Mb. The applications that were removed from ROM for version 3.50 were returned to ROM, and the Toolbox development modules were included. The other major addition was built-in networking features, via Acorn Access. This included a TCP/IP stack.

A number of new products were announced during 1996. The first was the Set Top Box 2, released by Acorn Online Media. This was based around a 32 MHz ARM 7500 chip and had 2 Mb of memory, expandable to 32 Mb. The second was the Network Computer, from Acorn Network Computing. This contained a 40 MHz ARM 7500, had 4 Mb of memory (expandable to 16 Mb) and the storage device was a Smartcard. This machine complied with the Oracle reference standard. The third was the Stork, from Acorn Risc Technologies. This was apparently a Risc PC in portable form. Again, it used a 32 MHz ARM 7500, had 8 Mb of memory (expandable to 256 Mb) and a 425 Mb hard drive. The fourth was the NewsPAD, again from Acorn Risc Technologies. This was a graphics table style machine, with no integral keyboard. It had a 40 MHz ARM 7500, 8 Mb of memory (expandable to 256 Mb), featured two PCMCIA slots and could be attached to a docking port. I haven't got very much information about these four machines, so if anyone knows anything about them please e-mail me using the contact link at the bottom of the page.

The final product announced in 1996 was possibly the most exciting. This was the long awaited StrongARM Risc PC.

Next: Exciting times - the StrongARM Risc PC and the A7000+ (1996 to 1997).


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Robert McMordie

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