David Bradforth with a new hardware column
I think I'm right in saying that, for RISC PC users, the most significant upgrade to date has been the Viewfinder card, expanding the deluge of screen modes on offer. Unfortunately, at a touch under £200, Viewfinder is for some a pipedream; but there are other ways in which you can upgrade your RISC OS computer through hardware purchasing.
Largely by virtue of my association with PC Home, several bits of kit have come through the office lately that certainly have more than a sporting chance of being useful with RISC OS machines now, or in the not too distant future. Here we've taken a look at just one item (then added a short review of the APDL Special Edition Mico), but over coming issues the Hard Wired will grow to give you an idea of the sorts of things you can find when following our advice.
Multi-Functional Headset 310
A new set of headphones from the Trust stable
Anybody who spends a large part of their day writing will find benefit in a set of headphones. I tend to find that having music playing in the background can help me to better concentrate on what I'm writing. At the time of writing, my ex-girlfriends favourite album is playing a pretty awful song, but it's helping me to remain more focused with what I'm doing.
A decent set of headphones is, therefore, well worth its weight in gold, and cheaper alternatives tend to only partially cover the ears, very often not allowing you to keep your music from the people around you. This can upset other people, and is usually a false investment - headphones that fully cover the ears are preferred, and usually ensure that nobody else is inconvenienced by your (lack of) musical taste.
Multi-Function Headsets tend to combine the ability to listen with the ability to record, through a microphone built into the headset. Two separate inputs - of the standard Jack variety - are provided, allowing you to plug directly into your RISC OS computer's sound output and, if you've got one, an input socket.
The quality of sound offered through the headphones is superb - while writing this review I'm listening to a classic Roxette track, with nothing missing compared to listening on my stereo.
Overall, the Multi-Function Headset 310 from Trust performs well with all RISC OS computers (especially the Mico which, as far as we know, has a sound input jack), is good value for money and now an essential addition for night working on the magazine and elsewhere.
APDL Special Edition Mico
Power computing for the same price as a BBC Micro Model 'B'?
The APDL Mico
If you're one of the few people left using only a BBC Micro or Master series computer, it's about time you upgraded. You see since the time of your computer - and the last Master 128 was made in June 1993 - things have moved on considerably, and instead of considering memory and disc space in kilobytes and megabytes, we're thinking in terms of megabytes and gigabytes.
It's for people in that situation that APDL's recently announced special offer of £399 for a Microdigital Mico should immediately come to be of interest.... equally so if you're still using any machine prior to the launch of the Risc PC (A3000 series, A4000, A5000, A3XX series, A4XX series, A5XX series - get the point). The Microdigital Mico is considerably faster than all of these, and will immediately please you.
Shipping with RISC OS 4.03, 8Mb RAM, a 48xCD-ROM drive and at least a 4.3Gb hard disc - it depends upon the availability at the time APDL ship the machine - the Mico is powered by an ARM7500 processor running at 56Mhz. The specification is similar to that of the RiscStation, but the Mico is quite a lot cheaper.
The Mico ships with a set of speakers (removing all fears I had of reported sound problems), together with a special CD-ROM featuring Ovation, Masterfile III, fonts, clipart and a special edition of DrawWorks. If you wish, APDL will customise a machine to your own specifications, such as additional memory, a CD writer, internal modem, and more if your heart desires. Some items are special order only, and may take time to order - so if you do want one for Christmas be sure to place your order soon.
In use, the Mico runs just like any other RISC OS 4 computer. In terms of speed, it's considerably faster than the A7000 but the machine I looked at offered similar performance to the A7000+ and RiscStation; both of which are more expensive. If you wish to take advantage of that old PC VGA monitor there should be no problems connecting it to a new Mico, indeed the monitor from the PC I have on the desk next to this computer ran it fine.
To conclude, the APDL Special Edition Mico - at just £399 - is the cheapest RISC OS 4 computer on the market; running straight from the box as soon as it arrives. If you think that RISC OS 4 alone costs £100, then you are really only paying £299 for the computer, what a bargain! Once you plug the speakers into the right hole, there's no trouble with sound; the latest games - Desktop Repton namely - ran without fault and whilst I found the machine slower than my daily Risc PC (StrongARM variety) it should prove to be a most worthwhile upgrade for current users of any non-ARM7500/ARM700/StrongARM series computers. Congratulations APDL, it's a winner!