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Portables Intel Hardware

Shifting Apps To ARM Chips Could Save Laptop Batteries 326

Posted by timothy
from the but-does-it-run-windows dept.
An anonymous reader writes "When is an Intel PC not an Intel PC? When it moves applications such as Internet browsing and email on to an ARM processor because it can get longer battery life. And according to a story at EE Times, this hybrid Intel-ARM processor approach is being taken by PC makers as prominent as Dell. The problem for Intel: Why would you switch out of 'all-day' mode and use the Intel processor? The problem for ARM: lacking support from Microsoft for Windows; the applications it runs for the PC have to do so under Linux."
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Shifting Apps To ARM Chips Could Save Laptop Batteries

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  • Not a problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MadMidnightBomber (894759) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @09:45AM (#26797185)

    The problem for ARM: lacking support from Microsoft for Windows; the applications it runs for the PC have to do so under Linux.

    Not a problem for everyone. I've already got an ARM-based Linux running on a NSLU32 NAS head - 32Mb RAM, 32 Mb flash. If I could get a lightweight laptop with a modern ARM chip, I would be over the moon.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@p ... t ['ray' in gap]> on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @09:47AM (#26797213) Homepage Journal
    I completely agree. I haven't run Windows on my personal machines (outside of a virtualize instance) in five years. Windows software simply isn't a limiting factor for me, or for a lot of folks who want netbook-style computing devices.
  • by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @09:53AM (#26797317) Homepage

    Reminds me of the days when Acorn Computers were around with their RISCPC - A machine that was ARM powered, but you could also attach an x86 processor.

    This is so 1990's!

  • Good but.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @09:56AM (#26797341) Homepage Journal

    Frankly I would love an ARM based notebook except for just a few issues.
    1. Flash. Like it or not Flash is everywhere and I have not seen a Linux ARM version.
    2. Java. I need it and JavaFX could be a nice alternative to Silverlight/Moonlight.

    I see Flash as the big issue for most people. I would love to see ARM back on the "desktop" even if it is on the laptop. A ARM with a good GPU really would be a nice netbook system.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @09:56AM (#26797345)

    Not a problem for everyone. I've already got an ARM-based Linux running on a NSLU32 NAS head - 32Mb RAM, 32 Mb flash. If I could get a lightweight laptop with a modern ARM chip, I would be over the moon.

    I just ordered one of these. [openpandora.org] 256MB RAM, 512MB flash, ARM Cortex-A8.

  • by bucky0 (229117) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:02AM (#26797407)

    windows CE is not windows. If the advantage of using windows CE is getting to use your old, familiar windows programs, good luck, because you're going to need at least a recompile if not a gigantic refactoring to get it to run on CE. If you're going to refactor anyway, then you don't necessarily have to choose CE.

  • by mustrum_ridcully (311862) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:05AM (#26797437)

    Would such a system actually use ARM Linux? The reason I ask is that the ARM processor is commonly used PDAs and therefore has Windows CE (or whatever they call it now).

    So I wouldn't be surprised if M$ just renamed it Windows 7 Green Edition and rolled it out for such netbooks. Joe Public would be all oooh it runs powerpoint and word and IE and they'd be happy.

  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:05AM (#26797451)

    I'm wondering if, the the overall scheme of things, the price we pay for the x86-ness of Intel and AMD's CPUs is that high. All their CPUs are basically RISC things, with a very optimized x86 compatibility layer running on top. Is that layer that expensive performance-wise ?

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:06AM (#26797453) Journal
    True; but WinCE is pretty sharply dissimilar to Windows proper. MS has put a good deal of effort into making it look somewhat windowish; but it remains an alien freak. Similar enough to make you fall into Windows habits, odd enough to constantly frustrate those habits.

    Honestly, an appropriately skinned version of Linux would probably be more familiar to most users than would WinCE.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:06AM (#26797457)

    The display uses far more power than the CPU, so the benefit of adding a second low-power CPU will only be realized with a different display technology that has much lower power consumption for a static image.

  • I like it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by speedtux (1307149) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:08AM (#26797473)

    When traveling, most of the time, I really do want a long battery life and don't need much compute power. But when I arrive at my destination, give a presentation, and demo some software, then I want compute power.

    So, as far as I'm concerned, having a high power and a low power CPU sharing the same keyboard, screen, drive, and power supply is actually very much what I want. I hope it becomes standard.

  • Apple / BSD (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:18AM (#26797575)

    Don't ARMs also run BSD ? It would seem that Apple might have a solution for their laptops, if they decided to go that way.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rbanffy (584143) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:28AM (#26797707) Homepage Journal

    About 10 years ago I had an IBM z-50. It was about the size of one of the larger Eee's and sported a MIPS processor. At that time (with late 90s battery and display technology) it offered a decent computer (I made it run NetBSD later in its life) with a 10 hour battery life.

    A decent laptop built around one of these low-power processors could last a week on a single charge and a big enough battery.

    As for desktops, how many ARM cores, FPUs, vector units and cache can be put on a Core i7 die?

  • by MadMidnightBomber (894759) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:32AM (#26797751)

    ARM kicks the crap out of Intel/AMD when it comes to performance per Watt. That makes it great for embedded work (10bn, yes 10e9 CPUs shipped) and looks like it might be starting to migrate into netbooks.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:56AM (#26798057) Homepage

    Are you sure? Have you compared a 33Mhz ARM to a 33Mhz x86 chip? Is the performance that different?

    There is no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison here, because I don't think anyone makes x86 chips that are as slow as ARM chips. The instruction set doesn't have that much bearing on performance. But power use goes up according to the square of the voltage, and voltage increases when clock speed increases -- so it is all about the megahertz.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @11:45AM (#26798827)

    WINE would let you recompile the app if you had the source. This would let you run it on other platforms via wine. It still makes an exe and stuff though it would then run on an arm processor. Thats what winelib is for!

  • Re:Good but.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @11:57AM (#26799023)

    An OMAP3 chip has 256mb of ram and can clock up to 1ghz. And yes it has a gpu too.

        I have an older OMAP2 on a Nokia tablet with just 128mb of ram and 400mhz cpu and it already runs full debian (armel). Plenty of apps compiled to run on it like Firefox(fully supporting ALL extensions), Hydrogen(creating beats), Open Office, GIMP, and plenty of other packages you can apt-get to your hearts desire.And I only charge the tiny cellphone battery on it every 2 days. And yes it supports java and flash fine.

    Plenty of devices will have the OMAP3 on them. The next Nokia tablet, the upcoming PALM and the soon delivering OpenPandora.

    However all these use the low power ARM Cortex A8 core. For a laptop a multicore Cortex A9 would be amazing. http://arm.com/products/CPUs/ARMCortex-A9_MPCore.html

  • by footnmouth (665025) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:18PM (#26799341) Homepage
    Basically, in 1991 I was an Acorn geek and had a good knowledge of ARM assembler. I'd had a A310 (an ARM2 I believe) and I'd just upgraded to a RISCPC (with the ARM3 and the FPU I think) for university, while also learning *nix in the Sun lab.

    While browsing comp.sys.os I found a post from some bloke called Linus who was offering a *nix kernel that could be compiled for x86 and we started having an email chat with him about how I'd go about porting it to the ARM hardware. I took it know further when all he asked for was $20 or so as, frankly, I was a student (so had little cash) and I didn't know how to get a bankers cheque in USD.

    And that, my son, is why I didn't surf a wave of Linux on ARM...
  • by WebCowboy (196209) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:32PM (#26800607)

    Are you sure? Have you compared a 33Mhz ARM to a 33Mhz x86 chip? Is the performance that different? There is no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison here, because I don't think anyone makes x86 chips that are as slow as ARM chips.

    Well, you can if you have old Intel hardware to compare with. If you do, then you can make at least a "spartan to red-delicious" comparison.

    I still have an operational 500MHz Celeron equipped with 256MB of RAM and integrated Intel graphics and sound, manufactured about 10 years ago. The BeagleBoard has awfully similar specs (similar clock speed, rev C will have the same amount of RAM, integrated graphics...). I can already tell you the graphics on the BeagleBoard wins hands down based on demo videos I've seen playing 720p MPEG video and doing decent 3D acceleration. I plan to order a BeagleBoard when Rev C is released for general sale. If I am curious enough I could run Ubuntu on each and perform the same exact tasks on each to gauge performance...

    Apart from that, a more proper comparison is difficult, as I don't think the closest X86 equivalent to the CortexA8 (Intel Atom) is available in a system running at the same lower clock rates.

    If the CortexA8 platform gains traction, perhaps there is the possibility of TI or other licensees to clock it up into the GHz+ range of the Atom. Also, perhaps it could be implemented in multi-core packages or you could make a cluster (can you imagine a Beowulf cluster of Beagle...oh, nevermind...). TI's OMAP3530 is not only power efficient but it is inexpensive too. Variants of this OMAP platform could really be a compelling general, low-end computing platform answer to the Atom.

  • Screen technologies. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DrYak (748999) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:32PM (#26800611) Homepage

    What's the current state of OLED?

    OLED display have been spotted in the wild (sony, available since 2007 [wikipedia.org]). They are ultra thin, size 11".
    But they still cost an arm and a leg. And OLED currently still has a shorter life time.

    But as production ramps up, price will probably fall down. After a couple of year, OLED will probably cheap enough for netbooks.

    Electronic paper?

    Still suffers from really slow refresh rate. Good for e-book. Bad for anything which needs higher refresh rate.
    The good thing, with eink is that, when not refreshing, it costs exactly 0 W. (Under sunlight. Otherwise, you still have to light it up somehow).

    Maybe that display from the XO?

    The first gen XO uses a normal LCD screen, but with a LED backlight that doesn't use coloured filters, but prism that split the light to generate the colours.
    Thus having a better efficiency. Also works in B&W under sun light.

    Currently, XO-type display are the best compromise in quality and price.
    OLEDs are going to be the next-big-thing once 11" displays stop costing prices in the thousand dollar range.

    Beside, given the power consumption of ATOM's chipset, a whole Intel-based solution still has a much more higher power drain than an ARM based one (which has everything into a single SoC - and can even embed RAM in the same CPU package).

    So even if ATOM vs. ARM differences aren't big, Intel netbook vs. ARM netbook still makes a difference.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rtechie (244489) * on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:59PM (#26801139)

    Except that Linux doesn't work WELL with anything but x86. Sure you can shoehorn it into a NSLU and other NAS devices (I've worked on several Linux NAS devices), but it's painful. I did MIPS and PowerPC (and a bit of ARM) and I ended up having to hand-tune or re-write virtually every single app I wanted to compile. I ALWAYS had to re-write make files and more than once I had to tweak a bit of code. And this was using Gentoo, a distribution designed for this purpose. I quickly gave up on Debian. Getting the kernel itself (and bash) working wasn't too tough, everything else was a major hassle.

    To give you an idea of how annoying this is: You would think that PowerPC would be well-covered with YellowDog, MKLinux, etc. You'd be wrong about that. There are a SEA of bugs in different PowerPC processors that break various parts of YellowDog and MKLinux. And as it turns out the PowerPC CPU I was using (the 601) didn't work with YellowDog or MKLinux at all.

    Basically, TFA is flat-out wrong. Shifting Windows to ARM is impossible (literally, most apps would have to be re-written from SCRATCH) and shifting a Linux desktop to ARM is NEAR-impossible unless you enjoy pain. Running a handful of specially-compiled non-updatable apps is relatively easy, that's what Dell is doing. To a greater extent, that's what Pandora is doing. Porting a full Linux operating system (something like Ubuntu) is a multi-year effort involving dozens (or more likely, hundreds) of developers.

    I haven't even started on driver issues yet.

  • by david.given (6740) <dg@NOsPaM.cowlark.com> on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:39PM (#26803171) Homepage Journal

    Acorns (BBC Micros) with co-processors date from 1984-ish...

    Don't forget that the A in ARM used to stand for Acorn. The first ARM1 was developed as a coprocessor for one of those BBC Micros.

    I sometimes wonder what the modern computing world would look like if Acorn had had anyone who actually knew how to run a business. Their hardware was so much better than IBMs (or Apple's!) that it's not funny...

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