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Click Here to read more about the ARMbo(o)k laptop

ARMbok laptop

Hello!
I'm ARMbok,
your new RISC OS laptop.

I cost from 399inc VAT, so...
Why not read on to check me out?


Award 2018/19 The ARMbook, or "ARMbok" as he has become known to his community of friends/fans (following a typo in an early newsletter) was first announced at the London RISC OS Show 2018, with useable prototype hardware and software. It immediately caught public imagination, winning the Most Innovative/Intreresting project trophy in the RISC OS Awards that year. It launched to eager early adopters the following summer, with new features and facilities coming live each month or so, until official general availability in October 2019.


It is one of the most exciting RISC OS projects available right now, not only because of what it offers, but because of the magic that made it possible. Spoiler - all you guys who supported our previous computers and support schemes directly made this project possible. Thank you!

Project History

Ever since Acorn launched the A4 back in the early 1990s, RISC OS users have patiently dreamed of another native-ARM, portable system. We were teased with projects like Stork and the RiscStation laptop, but it never came to be.

There have, of course, been stop-gap projects such as the popular RISCBook virtual systems from RCI, and more recently “Pi-in-a-box” DIY options. But what we all hoped for was a sleek, svelt, ARM-based “proper” laptop.
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And now here it is, thanks to the recent move to Open Source (itself enabled by your support for the ARMini and ARMX6 family) which has renewed interest in our beloved OS. For the first time in, well, a very long time, there is support for RISC OS from hardware manufacturers in the Far East, enabling this exciting development. Who’d have thought?

Software development took 12 to 18 months covering everything from hardware support, disc i/o, sound, laptop panel control (brightness etc), battery management, networking, graphics acceleration, legacy software support and much more. It was quite a project - probably twice the scale of the ARMX6.

Click Here for the original show leaflet introducing the ARMBook laptop.

About the Hardware

The laptop hardware is rather tasty too. It’s ~1.2Ghz CPU coupled with 2GB RAM can outpace an ARMX6 (depending on the test) so it’s no slouch. It has a high quality IPS 1080p (1920x1080) ~12" screen. Storage varies, up to 200GB+ and there are USB ports for connectivity, plus the usual extras. A wired network adapter is included at no extra cost.

Battery life is worth mentioning here. We have measure nearly 14 hours of battery life on a single charge using RISC OS. This included doing a range of activities, but also a fair bit of idle time too. If you power USB peripherals from the laptop, this will be reduced, although we did use fairly high brightness. Interestingly, even when at what you'd class as "emergency" levels (0% or 1%) we still saw a good hour of battery! We frequently run the battery down to 0% with no ill effects, which will please anyone who's used some other laptops. He also holds his charge for long periods (months) without significant drops - opening a new laptop after three-four months on the shelf still shows 95-97% charge.

Indeed, this phenomenal battery life has resulted in something quite liberating - for the first time we've been able to use a laptop as a truly mobile unit. With every other laptop we've owned, we're always carefully to stay close to a mains socket, and run the laptop on mains to avoid low battery or performance issues. ARMbok couldn't care less - he runs at full speed, even on battery, spending 95% of his life away from his charger. Right now, my laptop is just sat on the desk next to me, and hasn't needed charging for several days.

One aspect of the ARMbook that we think is quite intriguing is that we can dual boot either RISC OS or Linux. Bearing in mind that we always felt a strong selling point of our RISCBooks was the convenience of Windows + RISC OS, having Linux (with FireFox and LibreOffice) easily available adds a lot of flexibility.

Let's break things up a bit with a few tech-specs:

    * Quad core ARM / Allwinner A64 processor (RISC OS only uses a single core, though)
    * 2048MB On-board Memory
    * 32 - 256 GB of storage
    * 1080p (1920x1080) IPS screen + "Big Mode" for high detail/clarity
    * RISC OS 5.27+ and Linux (normally KDE Neon, but others available) operating systems
    * 2 External USB Sockets
    * High quality analogue stereo audio, via built-in speakers or headphone/speaker jack
    * Supports jack-sensing for auto-switching to headphones with independant volume controls
    * Wired network adapter supplied at no extra cost, plus WiFi - see below
    * Built-in touchpad with configurable buttons
    * Use the supplied mains charger, or charge via USB (charger is a 5v supply)
    * Up to 14 hours of battery life

    * HDMI Video Out, supporting high resolutions (not yet available under RISC OS)
    * Built-in webcam (not yet available under RISC OS)

    * Dimensions - A4 sheet of paper x 1-2cm thickness. (299 x 200 x 12 mm)
    * Weight - approx 1kg. (1.04 kg)

    * Comprehensive custom software suite including battery management, brightness controls, auto-dimming, automatic network detection, screen locking, updating, cmos configuration, keyboard/pad customisation and much more!
    * Over 1GB of software, including commercial applications.

Let's talk Software

More so than any previous machine, this project has required a comprehensive suite of accompanying software to make sure people can get the most out of their new computer. To this end, we have developed a major new application which integrates with the usual !Configure system of RISC OS, and also sits in Apps, to allow full control of the system...

Laptop Tools

Each section provides a range of facilities for controlling or configuring your laptop:

    * The Keyboard / Pad section allows you to adjust the keyboard and button mappings for maximum comfort and flexibility.
    * Display allows you to change the settings for the screen - you can alter the brightness "live" or the default power-on brightness, you can dim the screen, and enable/disable "Big Mode" on-the-fly or at at startup. There is also an auto-dim capability if the laptop is idle.
    * Battery allows you to see the current charge level and charging status, as well as controlling the iconbar battery display (or disabling it). It can be shown in various styles, with different levels of information. You can also enable/disable battery level warnings etc.
    * Lock Screen allows you protect your laptop by enabling a password at startup or when the laptop is idle.
    * The networking facility allows you to activate networking on-the-fly, without rebooting - great for mobility! You can also enable auto-detection so that the laptop's networking will auto-configure the moment you connect a network cable, for maximum convenience and flexibility.
    * Menus provide easy access to key features, software updates and CMOS setting to name but a few.

Big Mode

The ARMbook is packed full of exciting hardware and software features, but one unique one is "Big Mode". You can access this in a variety of ways - via the Tools shown above, via !Configure or by right-clicking on the Display manager in the bottom-right corner of the screen.

Big Mode, as the name implies, makes everything bigger. In fact, everything becomes twice as large. However, unlike an ordinary zoom or resolution change, Big Mode increases the detail, retaining the full resolution of the screen, but doubling the dots-per-inch (DPI). This allows RISC OS to display many elements with increased clarity, detail and beauty. Fonts become silky smooth, icons gain more detail and even the desktop window furniture looks better!

Would you believe that RISC OS has shipped with high-detail graphics and icons since RISC OS 5 first shipped around 2003. However, display technology has really limited the practicality of high DPI modes until now. The high resolution of the ARMbook laptop, coupled with the screen size, makes it ideally suited to benefiting from this, and Big Mode goes the extra mile to make the experience as smooth as possible.

You can switch in/out of BigMode on the fly, without rebooting. This means you can use it when you fancy some extra clarity, and switch back to normal when you need more screen real-estate. When switching back and forth, Big Mode will actually re-load the appropriate graphic sets applicable to your mode, to ensure everything works smoothly. Additionally, it ensures applications look as good as possible.

We have reached out and worked with the developers of many RISC OS applications to not only ensure full compatibility (as best we can), but also to ensure that where possible, applications gain high detail graphics to take advantage of Big Mode.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    * Do you offer a carry case?
    Yes, we offer bags/cases and pouches, typically for prices of £15-20. Please ask if you are interested.

    * How do you transfer data between RISC OS and Linux?
    Since neither RISC OS nor Linux understand each other's disk format, the common ground is the FAT32 disc format. Whilst it might be possible to somehow partition the eMMC or SD storage, we feel that the neatest solution is to use a physically-tiny USB drive of 16 or 32GB capacity. We have a few available, typically protroding no more than a couple of millimetres. Once plugged in, these barely change the profile of the laptop at all, making it all very neat, yet offer healthy amounts of backup, storage or transfer space. And backup space is never a bad idea!

    * Are updates free of charge?
    Yes, with the possible exception of WiFi (see below).

    * So what's going on with WiFi?
    We should first stress that the laptop hardware has full WiFi support, and that the supplied Linux will allow you to connect to WiFi networks and use the FireFox web browser. This means that you can take the laptop to internet cafes or hotel rooms, and use WiFi.

    However, you almost certainly mean "What about WiFi on RISC OS?". The base price of the laptop does not (at the time of writing) include WiFi support because RISC OS (as an operating system) doesn't have WiFi support. However, the ARMbook provides a real platform that needs WiFi, so we have raised funds (from ARMbook orders and elsewhere) to make this happen. It is a big project, and will involve updating the whole of the RISC OS networking infrastructure, so you can imagine that we're not making any promises on timescales. When it is done, it will be available as an upgrade for existing owners, although whether it is free or chargeable (likely) will depend on the cost of development. We do not envisage this being more than £100 - we hope much less.

    In the meantime, a wired network adapter is included with every laptop. Additionally, wired to wireless bridge devices are available cheaply - typically for around £25-30. These are configured via web browser, and (once set up) provide access to WiFi networks, but they usually require power. On a similar note, our PiFi v3 product allows a Pi to take that role, and offer a RISC OS-friendly bridge.

    * Can I upgrade my ARMbook?
    Yes you can, although the number of internal upgrades are somewhat limited. As you've read, we offer RISC OS storage up to 256GB. Internally, the standard 16GB eMMC module that houses Linux can be upgraded to 64GB (or possibly even 128GB) although these have to be ordered from the Far East.

    On that note, the laptop can be disassembled fairly easily. Unlike many modern laptops (especially ones as good looking as ARMbook), the back panel can be removed after releasing the retaining screws. Many laptops require you to pry the sides off the laptop (potentially damaging ports/connectors), but this isn't the case for ARMbook as the back panel meets the sides on the underside. This massively reduces the risk of damaging your laptop when opening it, with any scuff marks left invisible below the unit.

    Once inside, you can access all main parts, and spares are available for each board and component. However, be aware that whilst storage is upgradable, CPU and memory are fixed.

    * I've waited 20 years, why shouldn't I wait longer for X, Y or Z?
    There are always plenty of reasons not to buy something - it is easy to be negative! And, yes, if you wait a few more years, perhaps something else will come along. But you have to consider - will we actually be able to justify developing future products (given the time such products demand) if people don't support the products that are available now! Re-read this page, and instead of thinking of reasons not to support it, think about the good features, and how the community's support of our products has made the whole of RISC OS better. Then ask yourself, is that something you want to encourage and be a part of? We hope the answer is "YES!" (smile).

Customer Feedback

They say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so what has been the feedback from the ARMbook early adopters...?

  • Everything seems to be working very well... I'm very pleased with the whole thing (followed by lots of smiley faces!)
  • It really is wonderful! - Mr KC.
  • I've been using the ARMbook for the last few days as my main machine... It's the most productive I've been with RISC OS in many years. - Mr RH.
  • It looks really nice, the screen is great... it's fantastic. Many thanks. - Mr WL.
  • It's a nice machine, very stylish! - Mr LN.
  • Thanks very much!!! - Mr SP.
  • I am very glad with [the laptop software]! - Mr WG.
  • It is very impressive! And looks and feels like a 'real' laptop - a major selling point, for me anyway.
  • Excellent work on [the laptop software] and the ARMbook overall! Can't wait to see the other 'fizzing' ideas come to fruition! - Mr AM.


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