The end of the dream - Phoebe (1998).

Then the trouble started. In late 1997 Acorn's turnover was falling. Oracle abandoned the NC relationship with Acorn, with rumours circulating of a seven figure payment owed to Acorn. To try and gain some money, Acorn sold some of its shares in ARM Ltd, getting £14 million in return. (In early 1998, ARM Ltd floated on the stock market. Shares were valued at £10 each and ARM was work £1 billion on paper.)

In the midst of all this, Acorn was trying to develop the successor to the Risc PC, called Risc PC 2 or "Phoebe 2100". Phoebe would have brought the Acorn world back in to line with the PC world. it would have been powered by a 233 MHz StrongARM on an upgradable daughter board, with a 64 MHz bus. Support for multiple StrongARMs was included. Up to 512 Mb of RAM would have been supported, along with 4 Mb of VRAM, allow 1280 by 1024 pixels with 32,000 colours. The support chips were overhauled and Phoebe would have used the IOMD2 and VIDC20+ chips. (At one point I heard a rumour that three VIDC chips were going to be used, one to control each electron gun in the monitor.)Up to four EIDE devices would have been supported, with a 6.4 Gb unit supplied. Like most PC's, two serial ports would have been provided.

The Phoebe case was a tower case with a bright yellow curved front panel. The case was built to the NLX specification, with several spare 5.25" drive bays and a trayless CD-ROM drive built in. The PSU was a 230 watt unit.

As well as exising Acorn expansion cards, Phoebe would have been able to use up to four PC standard PCI cards. Hardware Soundblaster compatibility was provided.

RISC OS would also have been given a major rewrite. The version to be supplied was called RISC OS 4. It would have featured an improved look and feel, an improved FileCore to support larger discs (up to 256 Gb), faster booting, more files per directory (up from 77 to about 80,000) and long filenames, among lots of other things.

Phoebe was due for release in September 1998 and would have cost £1499 ex VAT without a monitor or £1649 ex VAT with 15" Iiyama monitor.

There had been signs of trouble. There were rumours of problems with Phoebe, that the IOMD2 chip was flawed and that RISC OS 4 was not going to be ready. However, it sounded as if these problems were not insurmountable and a Phoebe running a beta OS had been running and some very impressive benchmarks had been released.

On September 17th 1998, a day that has come to be known as Black Thursday, the Acorn Workstation Division was shut down, over 70 staff were made redundant and Phoebe was cancelled. Sam Boland, newly appointed CEO following what Acorn User descibed as a "board-room bust-up" may have regarded the Phoebe as being too risky for Acorn to continue with, and refocused the company on thin-client terminals and digital TV technology.

Next: The aftermath - RISC OS 4 and new systems (1998 to present day).


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Robert McMordie

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