Originally Published: Monday, 6 November 2000 Author: Ross Sanders
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

A Different Approach: The Search For RISC

Ross is looking for a completely different computer, and thanks to the portability of Linux, he's got his choice of processors. Wanting a change of pace, Ross begins his journey to the RISC world with a single step. While he's got a ton of demands, he's hoping to find the RISC-based system of his dreams. Whether you're guiding Ross on the path to RISC greatness, or merely along for the ride, it promises to be a great adventure. Check it out!

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I perused the usual Linux sites the other day and one thing struck me as rather interesting.  Have you ever noticed that most of the Linux sites are devoted to running Linux on the x86 series of computers and its myriad of different forms?  I personally have an IBM compatible, one that I built myself more or less organically.  Matter of fact, I have 2 such computers.  I would guess that at least 60% of computers running Linux are x86 types.  I don't have statistics to back me up, it's just a guess based on observation of all the information dedicated to one type of system over the others. 
Since I'm getting ready to consider a new system, I would like you to accompany me on the shopping trip. I'm looking for that most rare beast:  a RISC system that's inexpensive and yet powerful enough to meet my requirements.  I'm decided to put this shopping adventure into a series of articles. I'll look at 3 different types of systems that would likely actually be inside my price range and support the tasks (hardware) I wish to attach. 
My requirements?  First, I am creating a gaming world and I  prefer a system with good rendering capabilities both on the CPU level *and* the GPU level, (not just placing the load all on the GPU).  More important, it must be able to quickly handle large amounts of imaging and astronomical data as well as control a telescope's stepping motors.
Most of you would say a PC can handle all that easily... and I say yes and no.  A PC could easily handle the stepping motors. That's no problem even for a 286.  However,  there is a great deal of floating point instructions required by imaging and astronomical calculations that a RISC based system is more efficient dealing with than a CISC based system.  CISC systems have a great deal of overhead built into processing an FP instruction.  A RISC based system can do it in a single clock cycle.
So my basic requirements are as follows: good memory (start with 128 probably but room for 512 if need be or even more.)  Room for extra PCI cards such as one possibly for the CCD camera (some don't need that but some do, I'm still shopping around on that one).  RS-232 port for the stepping motors (required since that's a custom setup and that's all the speed that's needed).  Good video that can handle decent 3d rendering and OpenGL support for the games stuff.  That kind of video isn't necessary so much for displaying CCD images, but it's a nice help when you have scroll images bigger than your physical screen. 
Now, for the kicker.  For those of you who already have one of the 3 system types I'm going to be looking at:  PMac G4 & other PPCs, Alpha, and Sparc, I want you to give me feedback on what you think I should look at in this situation based on your *own* hands-on experience with the listed systems (this doesn't include 'RISC sucks' just to clarify).  My next 3 articles will be compilations of opinion and facts I've gathered on each of the 3 system types.  The last will be my final decision on what is right for me in this situation, and I will give all the whys and wherefores as to how I made my decision.  In the end I hope we will have all learned something about Linux and RISC based systems, and had some fun  as well!
These are only my starting points, feel free to offer more related to RISC and Linux.

Ross is currently out of his mind, please leave a message and he will get back to you (beep) wolf_fire@ithink.net

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