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SYSTEM DESIGN

What is a computer?

In its most basic form a computer is a system comprising of   input, processing and output devices. Input devices include keyboards, mice, joysticks, mic's or cameras. Output devices include printers, video screens, speakers and holo-projectors.

To make computers easier to use we invented operating systems which translate our information and commands into instructions a computer can understand (well, most of the time anyway). The operating system also changes the processor's raw output into a form we can use.

Building a computer

Given the basics, we can add other elements to our computer system:

Power Systems

Not all computers are created equal and although the upgrade curve has slowed down is hasn't vanished. All computers have a power rating and the higher this number the more powerful the machine's computing ability.

System Type Example Minimum & Maximum
Power Rating
MU of Storage
per Power Rating
Cost per
Power Rating
Pocket Organiser 1 - 3 5 $200
Laptop Portable 3 - 9 10 $300
Desktop Workstation 3 - 10 10 $250
Minicomputer Small server 6 - 12 20 $750
Macroframe Company server 8 - 15 30 $1,000
Supercomputer Research? 10 - 20 40 $2,000

Store is the amount of storage memory per power rating the system has (see "Storage facilities").

$/power is the amount in world dollars per power rating. So, an Orion Cyberfax, with a power rating of three, costs $600.


INTERFACES

An interface helps us operate the computer translating information between both parties (i.e.: the computer and us). In the dim and distant past computers had just a collection of dials and switches for input and they produced results on punch cards and ticker tape. As computers became more user friendly, designers added VDUs and keyboards. The next steps including joysticks (for gamers), computer mice, vocal recognition and much later on VR rigs.

Keyboards, mice, VR gloves and voice recognition are all input devices and provide us with a way to input commands to the computer system.

On the flip side you have output devices such as display screens, printers, speakers or a VR environment. The computer's processor formats the raw information through these devices so that we may perceive it.

Rather than give a big list of all the possible peripherals you could have, the common interfaces are broken down into groups. E.g.: standard, holographic, audio, goggles, VRching gear and as cybernetics have arrived the playback and neural interface.

Groups

Standard:
Your typical computer comes with a keyboard, mouse and flat screen as standard. Laptops, palmtops and "micros" have very thin built in screen although expensive models may use VRching goggles or holoprojectors (see below).

Simple: $25
Digital cameras, music players and video chip readers have these basic 10 button interfaces and a screen to display track or picture info.

Holographs: $500
Some systems now come with a holopad which creates a 3D image above the computer. These are often used in conjunction with datagloves or have pointer spotting (as touch screen, but for 3D). More expensive models ($700) can project images just about anywhere in the room (including across your vision for a panoramic view).

Audio: $50
You don't have to use a keyboard any more - you can issue verbal commands directly to your computer. Many household appliances have this function and office computers allow you to dictate to them. Speech recognition has come on as AI software has developed. Audio interfaces come with speakers so the computer can talk back to you (although it's vocabulary won't win any Oscars).

Goggles: $100
Goggles don't have the power of a true VRching headset, but they do allow you to pretend you are reading information directly from a computer screen. They have an added advantage of knowing what you are looking at and this does away with having to use a mouse.
Goggles come in pairs, like sunglasses, or as a single monocle. They allow you to superimpose information on what you are seeing or keep it as a small window. This is handy for driving or using your palmtop on the train.

VRching gear: $250
This is a pair of data gloves and a lightweight headset containing mic, eye and earphones. For replacement purposes, the gloves cost $50 each and the headset is $150.

Playback Interface: $500
This system allows the user to receive information via a sensory link data plug or electrode crown. No input is possible via this unit, a VR rig or keyboard is required.

Neural Interface: $1,000
A user of this system has full sensory in- and output. No screen or external input is required, all interaction can be done via the neural link.

Interface Examples

Don't forget that just about anything made in the modern world contains some sort of computer processor. Your house key and bank card are just one of them. Some of the interfaces listed above may sound a little impractical but consider these:

Free Stuff

This is the peripherals that a computer comes supplied with at no extra cost. They are not truly free but are factored into the costs of a new system.

  1. Basic Interface
    All computer systems come with a keyboard and display panel. Unless you specify a different interface the computer system will be designed around it.
    So a desktop will consist of a flatscreen that has the computer's processor block built into the back of it and the keyboard and mouse plug into the back of the screen.

  2. Hardcard drive
    This is a hardcard read/writer and is about the size of a packets of cigarettes. It uses credit card sized "hardcards" which are a cheap form of storage.

  3. Network Interface
    All computers come with a cheap but fast network card. This card allows them to use a wireless (or cable) network (if the host OS can handle it) and use network facilities. The network card can also be plugged into a telephone line to access the Net.


SYSTEM OPTIONS

These are variants you can add to your system design to add some flavour. Calculate the final cost of the system and then apply any options to it. Always apply percentage costs last of all.

Example:
Jack Frost builds a power 3 palmtop ($600) that is cellular ($250), has designer looks (+10%) and uses goggles ($100) and a mic ($50) for an interface. The basic price of this system is $1,000 and adding on the percentage increases this to $1,100.
If Jack wanted to make the system even smaller he could and it would cost $1,000 + 30% (10% from the designer add-on and another 20% for being compact).

Computer System Options
Casing Compact Design Microcomputer Sealed
Cellular Designer Looks Non-standard Shielded
Cheap Looking Experimental Portable Unreliable

 

Casing: + $250 to $500

Secure casing adds hardened plastics and a lock mount ( lock not included). This gives the system AP 10, SDP 100 and costs  $250. Battle casing is more advanced and costs $500. This replaces parts with rugged plasteel plates (AP 20 SDP 200) and provides EMP 3 shielding.

Cellular: +$250

This increases the function of the built in network interface. Using cellular phone technology, a system equipped with this can dial into a private network; connect to the Net or make normal telephone calls. This function only operates within large cities. Cellular systems do not have to be mobile.

Cheap Looking -10%

The computer's casing looks cheap and nasty. Although this will not affect performance the design is less than pleasing to the eye (-2 all style rolls).

Compact Design: +20%

The system is smaller than it normal cousins. Small laptops are the size of big paperbacks, while small palmtops become very thin or half sized (think mobile phone sized).

Designer: +10%

The computer's casing is styled and looks flash. Many top brand systems are designer as standard (hence the inflated prices). This doesn't improve your computer - but it sure looks nice (add +1 to style rolls).

Experimental:  -20%

This system is hot state of the art equipment and does not use common computer parts. Add 20% to any repair costs, if you can find a suitable techie!

Microcomputer: +30%

This is only available for desktops and servers. This design packs all the computers hardware into the display panel (making the display panel about 6" deep - opposed to the usual 2"). Useful if you don't have a lot of desk space.

Non-standard: -10%

The system's manufacturer has used parts unlike any other. This makes upgrades difficult and adds 25% to any upgrades carried out to the system.

Portable: +25%

Increase desktop price by 25% which converts the system to a smaller laptop size and battery power system.

Sealed: +10%

Air tight seals on all external ports and keyboard. NB: even when device attached.

Shielded: +20%

This replaces important components with rugged EMP resistant ones. This allows the system to be used without risk in low earth orbit and provides limited protection against EMP weapons.

Unreliable: -10%

The system is either a beta product or of dubious manufacture). Should the user drop or subject the system to any mildly rough treatment, the system will require repair on a 2 or less on a D10.


STORAGE FACILITIES

Besides the interface and the computer's power rating you should also consider the computer's memory. This is where it stores programs and data files. All computer systems come with enough memory and storage to host the operating system, a few programs and some data.

Each power rating gives a number of memory units (MU) for storage for files or programs. This is denoted by the store value from the system table and as shown below:

System MU per power rating
Pocket systems 5 MU  per power rating
Desktops & Laptops 10 MU per power rating
Minicomputer 20 MU per power rating
Macroframe 30 MU per power rating
Supercomputers 40 MU per power rating

This figure is not a blank slate which is then used up by the operating system, this figure is the remaining spare space.

NB: Hacking Toolkits: While the operating system does not use up any storage space, the hacking toolkit and toolkit options do. Every toolkit rating uses up 10 MU and each toolkit option resource point (below), takes up 5 MU. This is discussed in greater depth later on.

How big is a file?

The size of the file, depends on it's content. This may sound strange, but different file types take up different amounts of space and this is covered by the table below.

Increasing storage facilities

Storage space is increased as if the system was of a higher power rating. This costs 10% of the system's original price. This storage rating cannot exceed twice the system's power rating.

The costs of any extra options should be included in this! Components are altered for some options: some are hardened to match battle casing; while cellular and mobile systems have modified storage controllers.

Example: A basic desktop system with power rating six, normally has 60 MU of storage and costs $1,500. A tenth of this figure is $150, so each storage level costs $150.

Offline storage

Sometimes it is necessary to store data on removable media (backups for example). Modern systems use one of two technologies: hardcards or luminal chips.

Hardcards are fairly cheap, costing $1 for 10MU capacity. They are the size of a credit card and all machines come with a built in card drive. Hardcards are an old technology but they are cheap and fairly reliable.

Luminal chips are faster and hold more data. They cost $1 for 20MU; $3 for 50MU, and $5 for 100MU capacity. Luminal chips, or lims as they are sometimes called, can be used as read only or as read/write media. Luminal chips are held with a clear plastic strip about the same size as a piece of chewing gum. Most LIM drives are read only and cost $100. Versions which can read and write to the chip cost $200. Home systems use lims for reference material, big systems use them for backups.

File Size Examples and MU

Toolkit (per rating): 10 MU
Option (per resource point): 5 MU
Shrunk Option (per resource pt): 3
Technical Library (per science):
    Technical guide: 50 MU
    University level: 100 MU
    Company R&D: 200 MU
Blueprints / Design Processes (per item)
    Simple device:10 MU
    Complex device: 20 MU
    Advanced/SOTA: 40 MU

E-mail or letter: 20 per MU
B&W Photo: 500 per MU
Colour Photo: 250 per MU
Hologram: 100 per MU

Personal dossier: 2 MU
Social dossier: 4 MU
(inc. medical & criminal record, SIN, etc.)
Human Genome (compressed): 50 MU
Audio footage:
  Poor (cheap phone): 1 MU per 15 mins
  Average (CD): 1 MU per 10 mins
  Virtually real: 1 MU per 5 mins
Books:
 School level: 10 MU
 University level: 20 MU
 Encyclopaedia: 10 MU
 Dictionary/Grammar (per lang): 20
Financial records (per year):
    Small company: 10 MU
    Medium company: 20 MU
    Big company: 40 MU

Video & Sim footage:
   Black & White (flat) 1 MU per 5 mins
   Colour flatscreen 1 MU per 3 mins
   Holographics 1 MU per minute
   Senseware ("sim") 2 MU per minute