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New PPC/Linux PDA Reference Design From IBM 254

kinema writes "It looks like IBM has released a new Linux/PowerPC based PDA reference design called e-LAP ("embedded Linux application platform"). It features a PowerPC 405LP, 30MB SDRAM, 32MB NOR Flash, 64MB Disk-On-Chip Flash, 240 x 320 color LCD, Stereo speakers, Microphone, USB (both host and client ports), a 3000 gate Xilinx FPGA, SDIO slot and last but not least a TCPA security chip. I for one would love to see some good PowerPC based PDAs on the market."
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New PPC/Linux PDA Reference Design From IBM

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  • PowerPC Advantages? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SoCalChris ( 573049 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:06PM (#5136544) Journal
    I for one would love to see some good PowerPC based PDAs on the market.

    Why? Aren't PowerPC chips more expensive? Is there a major benefit that I'm not seeing? Why wouldn't they run a Linux version on it with a regular PC chip and be able to sell the device cheaper?
    • by ChristTrekker ( 91442 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:09PM (#5136584)

      That's the most obvious one that comes to mind. That translates to longer battery life. If I had to pay a bit more money (and I'm not sure that your "more expensive" claim is true) in order to have more "on the go" time, it might be worth it.

      • IBM says that the 405LP has good power management features (see link). I tend to agree with them, but also with the parent who says that this won't be the cheap solution for everyone.

        The 405LP PR []
      • by Ctrl-Z ( 28806 ) < minus bsd> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:34PM (#5136793) Homepage Journal

        Really? I would think that the most obvious answer is that PowerPC is an IBM product. If you're going to build a design spec, then you might as well make sure it lines your own pockets.

        The fact that it has lower power consumption is a nice "public" explanation.

        • by Klaruz ( 734 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:42PM (#5136857)
          Intel: Reference design uses XScale
          IBM: Reference design uses PPC

          YOU: Pick one you like best. Weigh all factors, cost, features, speed, power consumption. There ARE differences.

          More choice is always good.
          • Hell, my lame ARM-based ipaq seems already outdated (2 months)...

            At least it can run linux (not that I had the guts to try it yet).

            Does anyone know if there is a working distro (and GCC) for the XScale IPAQs (3900 and newer)? Never heard about this XScale thing before, so I assume it is a new architechture. PPC seems fair game, since there is already GCC for it.

      • by Phroggy ( 441 ) <slashdot3&phroggy,com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:45PM (#5136879) Homepage
        A thought about lower power consumption as it relates to price:

        Say an Intel Mobile P4 costs $X and runs at a certain speed (not MHz, but actual performance). However, when you unplug it to run on batteries, performance drops in half, to save battery usage.

        Say a PowerPC chip costs $(1.5 * X) and runs at the same speed while running on AC power, but when you unplug it and run on batteries, it doesn't cut performance because power usage at full speed matches the P4 at half speed. So, you get the same battery life from both, but the PPC costs more. When both chips are running at full speed, they're the same speed, but when the P4 is at half speed to conserve batteries, the PPC is much faster.

        Now, use a slower model of PPC that costs less to produce. Drop the price down to match, and (when the P4 runs at half speed to get decent battery life) the PPC is faster.

        In a laptop, speed while running on AC power may be important, so yes, the PPC may be more expensive for the same speed. But in a PDA, that's not important at all, so the PPC has the advantage.

        This is why Apple has started pushing laptops this year. There may be faster PC laptops while plugged in, but while unplugged, PowerBooks are either much faster or have much longer battery life.

        Disclaimer: I don't actually know what I'm talking about and anything I said that looks like numbers was completely made up arbitrarily. ;-)
        • Apple notebooks (well at least my iBook) do reduce processor performance when using the battery. This is the "automatic" energy saver setting that is set by default.
          • by larkost ( 79011 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @05:01PM (#5138164)
            Actually, in power saver mode the PowerPC family of processors varies its timing to try and save energy. If you do something demanding (say a lot of IO involved in DVD playback) the processor stays in its most 'awake' mode. If you start to use less processor power (have increasingly more no-op cycles) then it starts to slow down timings and turn off function units. Start to need more power and it starts to ramp back up. The biggest problem is that somtimes you need a lot of cycles in a sudden burst after doing nearly nothing for a while, and this takes a bit of time to wake up all the way.

            All in all a much better solution than the 'if I am unpluged then drop to half performance' routine uses by the non-mobile version of the P4 that is used in high performance PC laptops.
    • by RupW ( 515653 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:10PM (#5136591)
      Why wouldn't they run a Linux version on it with a regular PC chip and be able to sell the device cheaper?

      You mean an x86? They eat too much power to use portably.

      There are a couple of low-power x86 compatibles - the Transmeta Crusoe and VIA Epic - but don't know if they're low power enough. Plus they're someone else's technology whereas PowerPC is IBM's own.
    • by kwoo ( 641864 ) <kjwcode@gma i l . c om> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:15PM (#5136634) Homepage Journal
      Why? Aren't PowerPC chips more expensive? Is there a major benefit that I'm not seeing? Why wouldn't they run a Linux version on it with a regular PC chip and be able to sell the device cheaper?

      For one, IBM has a large hand in the development of the PowerPC, and I can't say I blame them for wanting to use one of their own chips. In terms of real advantages, the PowerPC has a few in general, but I'm not sure about the embedded series of chips.

      From a programming perspective PowerPC can be somewhat annoying (I believe you can only load 16 bits of a register at a time -- I read that in an IBM DeveloperWorks article, I believe) if you're writing assembly, but I find it a wonderful platform for my daily projects (Darwin/PPC and Linux/PPC mostly).

      • by mlyle ( 148697 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:34PM (#5136795)
        This is a typical artifact of RISC chips. Instructions are fixed size, and usually the same size as the general purpose registers. When you load from an immediate value (a value contained in the instruction), the instruction has insufficient room for a value as wide as the instruction itself after specifying the instruction, the destination operand, etc.
        • by kwoo ( 641864 )
          This is a typical artifact of RISC chips. Instructions are fixed size, and usually the same size as the general purpose registers. When you load from an immediate value (a value contained in the instruction), the instruction has insufficient room for a value as wide as the instruction itself after specifying the instruction, the destination operand, etc.

          Thank you for clarifying that -- I seemed to remember it from doing some MIPS assembly years ago, but I wasn't sure.

          On the whole, though, it's more of an oddidity than a real annoyance -- one just has to write a "load immediate" macro, and away you go.

    • by questionlp ( 58365 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:19PM (#5136666) Homepage
      Considering that the 405LP that is being used in the reference design could be considered an embedded processor, it's also less complex than say the lowest power consumption x86 or x86-compatible processor. It's also hard to find a x86 processor that has a typical power consumption of under a watt and has all of the features of the 405LP, plus fit into the space requirements of handhelds and other small devices.

      Price isn't as much of a concern since you would normally trade cost for portability, and vice versa.

      The other benefit of the PPC architecture is the fact that you don't have the kludge of an ISA that is the x86 ISA... meaning that developing apps for a PPC (or an ARM) architecture may not be as bad... and I think code written for the PPC architecture can run on any other PPC processor, provided that you don't include processor specific extensions.
    • by dietlein ( 191439 ) <(dietlein) (at) (> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:24PM (#5136704)
      From uct.shtml []:

      The first product to emerge from the Low-Power Computing Research Center is the low-power 405LP chip, which enables system software to control and reduce active power by dynamically scaling processor performance to the level required to support the application. Wherever possible, the 405LP offloads processor demands by use of hardware accelerators and aggressively shuts off portions of the device when not in use. Standby power is also reduced. The 405LP includes a mode in which power is reduced virtually to zero while still providing "instant-on" response to an external stimulus, such as a pen stylus on a touch screen.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:24PM (#5136707)
      Read the article. Notice that it mentions that the PowerPC 405LP chip not only contains a PPC 405 core, but a substantial number of other devices. DDR Controller, DMA Controller, LCD Controller.. and a myriad of others important ones. This significantly reduces the number of chips a manufacturer needs to put in a device, with the result of dramatically reduced cost.

      Also, anecdotal "PowerPC chips are more expensive" _may_ hold for the PC market, but remember that this is a radically different chip geared for a radically different market (the article mentions a top speed of ~380 MHz!). In reality, IBM has priced this particular chip very reasonably -- wholesale price $100. Those numbers ought to be available soon.

      Development of this chip was on Linux right from the beginning, and people were using them around the lab as MP3 players throughout! A great platform for hacking around with.
    • by MyNameIsFred ( 543994 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @03:02PM (#5137034)
      Don't forget that the major market for PowerPCs is embedded devices. One of the reasons Apple has lagged in the MegaHertz war is that Motorolla sells many more embedded CPUs then desktop CPUs. Since users of embedded CPUs generally are more interested in power consumption then speed, you can guess where Motorolla has focused.
    • PowerPCs are much more popular in embedded applications. Everyone else pointed out the power issue. Another thing I can think of is that PowerPC assembly (RISC) is much nicer than x86. (That is a personal opinion, but it's similar to the opinion that the Raiders are better than the Bengals.)
  • by glrotate ( 300695 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:06PM (#5136546) Homepage
    as their PowerPC reference designs ... or maybe not.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Can it play Ogg Vorbis files?
  • by Aknaton ( 528294 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:09PM (#5136572)
    the point where some asshole pipes in about how he could buy a 100Ghz P4 for the same about of money?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      the point where some asshole pipes in about how he could buy a 100Ghz P4 for the same about of money?

      Point taken . . .

      Why would I buy this when I can buy a 100Ghz P4 for the same money?

      --some a**hole

    • Yes []. At the time I read this, it's the only post modded higher than yours.
  • It would be nice if they had a suggested price. I suppose it's still too early to tell, but I'm curious to know if it will be affordable.
  • Not to sound like a troll, but IBM seems good at producing reference designs, but not at actually moving out lower end commercial products like this.
  • Wishes and Dreams (Score:2, Interesting)

    by huckda ( 398277 )
    I would like to see more mainstream products being used that incorporate Linux. the Sharp Zaurus is simply gorgeous. I'm glad to see IBM working out the details to develop another PDA utilizing Linux.

  • FPGA? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rot26 ( 240034 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:10PM (#5136586) Homepage Journal
    What's that for? Future DRM? Or is that just part of the "reference" design, something for OEM's to use as a scratchpad for later integration into the silicon?

    I know these are stupid questions, I'm just curious.
    • Re:FPGA? (Score:3, Informative)

      by llamafresh ( 628166 )
      Field Programmable Gate Array

      I learned a bit about these when I was in college...when set up right, they are much faster than microprocessors, and can be changed on-the-fly by writing new array logic to it.

      Future DRM?

      That would be the TCPA chip, my friend. Palladium anyone?

      • when set up right, they are much faster than microprocessors

        Not true. They are MUCH MUCH MUCH slower than microprocessors. They are semi-custom, so they can do one task well, but for anything else they are dogs. They are used because they are CHEAP (both in hardware cost and development cose, not because they are fast).
    • Re:FPGA? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Field Programmable Gate Array. Its a chip that allows you to 're-wire' its internals. If the original pentium with its F00F bug was an FPGA, they could have released a patch (the pentium would have also been a lot slower though)
    • Re:FPGA? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Obsequious ( 28966 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:25PM (#5136711) Homepage
      Could be "scratch space", or for future DRM as you point out. I like to think it'll be for more though.

      Someday I'd like to see FPGAs in all sorts of things. The classic (albeit somewhat silly) example I like to use is you're driving down the road and you go through a puddle of water which disables your car's computer. So you download the controller core from GM's (or whoever's) site, load it into the FPGA on your PDA, and use it to drive to a service shop.

      Kind of a contrived example, but my ultimate point is that with pervasive FPGAs, and perhaps some kind of pervasive "universal connector" wired to the FPGA, you can reconfigure a device to do things it wasn't specifically designed for.

      Blue sky thinking aside, I can think of other uses for it, such as the "cell phone" model where you alternatively use it for digital and analog control stuff by reprogramming it. That way you only need one part in the device instead of two, and it makes interconnection circuitry simpler.

      You might also program it to be a DSP-microprocessor today (for maybe the media player or something), and then reprogram it to be the cell chip for a Treo-like device tomorrow.

      That kind of thing...
    • I'm guessing the FPGA just implements some glue logic to connect the peripheral chips (USB, TCPA, etc.) to the EBC bus on the 405LP.
    • Re:FPGA? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PetiePooo ( 606423 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @03:03PM (#5137049)
      I'm hoping the FPGA will be a resource that can be allocated just like memory. That would make it a great solution for implementing DSP-based . A media player could reserve the FPGA, load the MP3 codec into the FPGA and start feeding it the compressed bitstream. When a different bitstream comes along (let's say Ogg?), clear out the current codec and pop in the new one. Meanwhile, your processor load stays close to zero because all the number-crunching is going on in programmable hardware!

      DRM software could use the FPGA in conjunction with the TCPA chip for access control. However, the TCPA chip has much less nefarious uses as well, such as hardware encryption/decryption and secure key storage to name a couple. If a newer, better encryption algorithm comes along, it could be implemented in the FPGA, making this platform extremely future-proof.

      I wish IBM the best in this. It sounds like a truly marvelous platform.
  • The developer sled (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kwoo ( 641864 ) <kjwcode@gma i l . c om> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:10PM (#5136588) Homepage Journal

    I am really looking forward to this unit, in part because of the developer sled. The ability to hack a handheld device is of utmost importance to me, as there are so many specialized uses for them. It is nice to see a unit with that sort of hacking convenience.

    I also noticed that one of the host USB ports is disabled. Would that be for power saving, or is it a limitation of the chipset? If it's for power saving, would one be able to enable it when one has a use for it?

    • My guess on the USB ports is the chipset supports all 3 turned on (1 client and 2 hosts) but they didn't have enough room on the case for 3 usb ports.
  • Apple PDA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by coolgeek ( 140561 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:10PM (#5136595) Homepage
    Well, this should be enough to re-ignite the iWalk rumors again.
  • crazy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:12PM (#5136604) Homepage Journal
    Wow, great to see IBM getting into the PDA market. For those who don't remember, they pretty much set the gold standard in the laptop industry, and we still live with the benefits today. But while this sounds like a good toy for geeks, I have to wonder about some of the choices made in the design of this device.

    PDAs typically use processors designed specifically for embedded environments. They're built from the ground up for low power consumption in preference to blazing speed. The PowerPC is exactly the opposite, as anyone who has sat down at a recent G4 can tell you -- these things scream.

    Furthermore, Linux is specifically architectured for the server market, which is why it's seen so much success in the enterprise. Trying to tweak it to run on a PDA is an excercise in feudalism. The choice could also be bad news for Linux, as people will start to think of the OS as suitable for only small devices.

    It's a good idea, but I'd like to see them take a more sensible approach.
    • Feudalism is a form of government. I believe the word you were looking for is Futility.

      Preference could also be replaced with reference.
    • Re:crazy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by octover ( 22078 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:23PM (#5136689) Homepage
      >For those who don't remember, they pretty much set the gold standard in the laptop industry, and we still live with the benefits today.

      and now Apple is leading the pack with the Powerbooks. Now if only Steve Jobs would relent and give us an update to the Newton.

      • Here Here lets second that the Newton was the first inovating PDA. The orgigional newton read my HORID hardwritting better than more modern designs in other PDA's or relearing how to write with grafiti. The line drawing abilites were great as well it was easy to draw up a quick deisgn note.

        Now thing of what that could do in an age with 512 Meg flash cards running pretty cheap and the general avalibility of wireless (Nextels flat rate service for 60 a month with good coverage per bit is a horid idea for a consumer great for providers though) Roll that up into something that dosent need to fit in my shirt pocket but pretty much needs a screen, a way to get a lot of memory into it, good rechargable battery life and a good OS (maybe Palm emulation if the hardware can deal and old school newton emu as well) I would pay 500 or so for this without the big memory card etc. If they can get it to sub 300 it makes mass market.

        Think about it the ability to use Palm and Newton Apps + new apps for the platform. I dont realy need an orginizer I need a portable web browser / pdf reader / email / Terminal emu (OK I'm a network Engineer the serial port on my Newton keeps it in my tool box to this day along with an ugly 8pin to rj45 adapter dongel I made)
    • Re:crazy (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ksheff ( 2406 )

      They aren't getting into the PDA market. This is a reference design that other OEMs will license so they can jump into the PDA market. I'm sure IBM will be happy to sell them parts too.

      The more devices that run linux, the better the chances of linux continuing on in the future. I don't think the use of linux in small devices such as this or a Tivo hurt its chances of being used elsewhere, like, an IBM mainframe.

    • Trying to tweak it to run on a PDA is an excercise in feudalism. The choice could also be bad news for Linux, as people will start to think of the OS as suitable for only small devices.

      He, he... this is amusingly wrong in several ways.
    • Re:crazy (Score:5, Informative)

      by qwijibrumm ( 559350 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:27PM (#5136732)
      I think you miss the whole point of the powerPC architecture. The fact of the matter is powerPCs were designed to be extremely scaleable. They are all over the place in systems you would never know. The best example I can think of is the electronic control unit in many cars. It just happens that the powerPCs you hear about the most are Motorola's G4s, IBM's Power970, etc. The whole concept of the powerPC is to have a powerful unified processor "backbone" for anything from a blender to a rackmount server.
    • Re:crazy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ami Ganguli ( 921 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:33PM (#5136786) Homepage
      The PowerPC is exactly the opposite, as anyone who has sat down at a recent G4 can tell you -- these things scream.

      This is an embedded version. It shares design elements with your G4 processor, but it's not nearly the same thing.

      Linux is specifically architectured for the server market

      Nope, it was designed for Linus Torvald's desktop '386 - a machine that was considerably less powerful than this device. Since then a lot of work has gone into scaling it both up and down.

    • not only is the powerpc an embedded system, but the fact that one could be running essentially a full system in a palm-like profile is very much more interesting than a limited pda. this i why i do not have one, but instead opted for a tablet. sure it costs more, but i can do more! limited is dull! me wants more!

      if ibm and apple can come up with some jointly utilized platforms, costs could be substantially reduced. as for linux and servers, doesn't everything become essentially a "server" when the network is the computer?
    • I wouldn't say it's the exact opposite.

      My Tivo has a PowerPC CPU, and it hardly screams. Then again, it's only running at 50 MHz or so.

      Most G4's these days are running at 800+ MHz, and the slowest ones to my recollection are maybe 400 MHz. This chip tops out around 380 MHz, and slows down to 152 MHz when necessary. That's far from "screaming." I don't even know if this 405LP has an FPU, though, since it's not a low-power G4 chip. It's probably closer to the early PowerMacs than the G3, and more crippled from there to save power.

      Most CPU cores have low-power variants. Ask anyone with an HP 200LX, for example. As it stands, the PowerPC architecture can be very fast, but it can also be tuned down and still provide acceptable processing power in a handheld. You just have to determine what you need. It's not like people will be carrying around G4 handhelds too soon, although it's certainly possible in the future.
    • Oh man, I thought you were gonna get torched for this post WAY more than you have been. It is wrong in several ways and really quite amusing.
    • Re:crazy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by yog ( 19073 )
      There are several PDAs today running Linux very well; the Sharp Zaurus is the best known, but a bunch of Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers are about to come out with a flood of Linux-based PDAs as well (see this article [] in the same mag as the feature). I suspect in about a year we'll see a lot of commodity PDAs based on Linux and featuring the usual color 320x240, MP3, SD slot, etc.

      Linux is not specifically "architectured" for desktops or servers. If you strip away a lot of the modules, utilities and GUI fluff, it's a pretty small OS actually. Someone has a single floppy firewall distribution based on Linux. I mean, try getting Windows on a single floppy, not to mention Solaris, MacOS, etc.

      Regarding why IBM would do this, I believe they're just poking Microsoft in the eye. IBM's always been the premier marketing organization despite their prodigious technical resources. So they spent a couple of million designing a "reference PDA"; that's a tiny drop in the bucket for them and it encourages lots of hungry manufacturers in Asia (and, one would like to hope, in the West as well) to jump on the Linux bandwagon and, hence, weaken PocketPC. Seems like a pretty smart and sane move to me. ;-)

  • by dietlein ( 191439 ) <(dietlein) (at) (> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:13PM (#5136620)
    Here [] is the official IBM press release.
  • Intriguing... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by snStarter ( 212765 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:14PM (#5136621)
    Good to see more options out there in general. But I wonder if this means we might see an OS X version from Apple.
  • Power/Battery Life (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 1010011010 ( 53039 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:14PM (#5136625) Homepage
    How does the power consumption of this type of ARM chip compare to the Arm, StrongArm, XScale and Dragonball CPUs?
  • by MrJerryNormandinSir ( 197432 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:16PM (#5136641)
    Just another product to boycot.
    TCPA + DRM = crippleware

    I prefer my Zaurus anyway. I can surf the net via
    802.11, I've got a big ass 256MB MMC card.
    And some some apps I serve off my LinuxPPC (Apple 9600) Server. I built my own amplified stereo speakers. No TCPA or DRM technology embedded in it.
    And it's plenty fast enough to stream mpeg2 and mpeg4 video off my server!

    If IBM removes the DRM technology maybe they'll
    get some market share. But anything with TCPA and DRM technology is just crippleware in my eyes. This would probably start a home brew revolution.

    We should stick together any never but any hardware that supports DRM.
  • Whaaaa?

    Eh, regardless somebody port Darwin to this |-)
  • developer sled (Score:3, Informative)

    by SonOfSengaya ( 582624 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:19PM (#5136668) Homepage
    From []

    Additionally, a plug-in "developer sled" adds the following options, for development and debug purposes . . .

    USB 1.1 host

    10/100 Ethernet

    Serial port

    8- or 16-bit PCMCIA slot

    JTAG debug port

    Flash programming port -----

  • DOA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bstadil ( 7110 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:23PM (#5136691) Homepage
    IBM Semiconductor has no concept of supporting smaller volume makers, and the Bill of Material for this reference design will be more than $300.

    Just look at the POP reference design [] they made a few years back. Nobody I mean Nobody ever produced a single board. The fact that they used a virtual non existant Northbridge didn't help.

    Nothing to see here Move On, or call IBM and try and get a quote for 500 pcs PowerPC if you doubt me.

    • Re:DOA (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chazman ( 6089 )
      or call IBM and try and get a quote for 500 pcs PowerPC if you doubt me. That's what distribution companies are for. We're using a PPC in a low-volume embedded design (500 pcs/year is a good guess), so we buy like 200 at a time. Just call up Arrow, or Jericho, or any of their competitors. If you're a real outfit, and you've got some kind of relationship buying parts from them (even in low quantities), they'll get you PPCs in hundreds at a time. That's what they're there for.
  • Is it the same CPU as was used in Apple's Newton PDAs?

    I remember playing with Newton 5 years ago - it recognized my handwriting much better than any modern PDAs and you could teach it to recognize better.

  • by rjamestaylor ( 117847 ) <> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:31PM (#5136771) Journal
    I like the reference spec but still prefer my Zaurus 5500 and really prefer the (Intel-delayed) 5600. The case ergonomics are one reason (the built-in thumbboard is awesome on the Zaurus).

    Don't think, though, these are PDAs. These are not really Palm competitors. These are true development platforms for handheld computing solutions. Also, the killer app on these is the web browser. Opera 5 (and I'm playing with a beta of 6) is incredibly fast and feature rich, especially compared to PokeyIE on PokeyPC or anything on the Palm (though I haven't seen OS 5.0 to be honest).

    I love taking my Zaurus to a HotSpot (like T-Mobile's at the ubiquitous Starbucks) surfing, SSH'ing, web serving (from the unit), and...well...playing Scrabble ("Word Game").

    Maybe Scrabble is the killer app...Anyway...

    • by Hanno ( 11981 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @03:04PM (#5137066) Homepage
      I own a Zaurus and I am not really that thrilled with it.

      The Sharp Zaurus has several disadvantages that the IBM reference design appears to avoid.

      First and foremost, the Zaurus uses a non-standard connector. I wasn't looking hard, but I doubt that I can buy the connector in a shop for electronics parts, and I consider that a major problem. It already was a problem for the Palm.

      A simple serial or USB cable [] costs a whopping 40 Dollars in the US and 50 Euros in Europe.

      Then, the Zaurus features USB, but only as a device, not as a host. Oh, the thousands of possibilities that the Zaurus designers gave away with this design decision! If, oh, if only they had incluced full host support for USB! I for one would love to simply plug in a USB keyboard in my Zaurus and start typing. (I'm aware of the power consumption issues with USB host support. But that's a question of adding a battery, that's it.)

      So, to use an external keyboard, I'd have to buy a 50 Euro serial cable and an expensive keyboard that uses RS232, which is also hard to find and hard to get from Europe.

      Or, I can get an IRDA keyboard. Which practically doesn't exist. Well, there are two companies offering an IRDA keyboard, but one of them appears to be vaporware and the other one does not work well with the Zaurus.

      Then, the Zaurus' use of an obscure ethernet-over-USB protocol gave me quite a headache. Both the Windows 98SE and the Linux desktop drivers used to crash frequently, with the Linux driver being close to unusable, at least on my machine. It seems to be working perfectly now with 2.4.20, but it was a royal pain with previous kernels. So to use my Zaurus, I had to install XP. Yay. Which still crashes now and then as a result of using the Zaurus cradle and sometimes hard-resets the desktop the moment I put the Zaurus in there.

      Finally, the Zaurus' handwriting recognition stinks. I learned Graffiti in 15 minutes, I still haven't mastered the Zaurus input method for handwritten letters. In fact, I still keep my Palm for the "actual" calendar and address management and use the Zaurus mostly for games: The SCUMM virtual machine is my personal killer app. Right now, I'm playing Monkey Island 1 during the bus rides to my office and back.

      The Zaurus was the first useful Linux PDA, but it has some serious design mistakes. The missing USB host is the main mistake in my opinion. Can't wait to see the IBM reference design catching market share.

      Best part appears to be: Zaurus applications' source should be easily ported to the IBM platform. And the Zaurus collection of ported software is already impressive.
      • Finally, the Zaurus' handwriting recognition stinks. I learned Graffiti in 15 minutes, I still haven't mastered the Zaurus input method for handwritten letters.

        I own a Zaurus, and it does real handwriting recognition - not the pseudo one that is graffiti.

        Why don't you take the time to teach it your writing style? If you love graffiti all that much, teaching the Zaurus to do graffiti is not at all difficult.

      • I use a Socket 802.11b CF card and don't care about USB or other connectivity.

        I also don't care about the handwriting recognition -- and too bad you learned Graffitti, 'cause it's gone from Palm as of a week or so ago.

        I have never used a PIM, and don't use the Zaurus for that. Yesterday a relative of one of my employees asked if he should buy a Zaurus. Considering what he wanted it for (PIM stuff) I told him to get a PocketPC. He loves it.

        But nothing competes with it as a WiFi-enabled vertical application unit. Nothing I've seen.

      • I have a Zaurus too.

        First and foremost, the Zaurus uses a non-standard connector.
        As opposed to your palm which had a standard DB9 and USB connector taking up a huge amount of space at the bottom? I'd much rather have the zaurus be the size it is and pay for a cable then make it huge by adding standard sized connectors. I do wish the connector on the bottom wasn't as super-rare and it is, but is necessary to use small connectors if you want a small device. I wouldn't mind a USB host controller, but I don't think I would have wanted to pay more for it. I bet it would have cost significantly more too. Adding a USB host isn't simply a matter of adding a bigger battery. They also would have had to beef up the step-up circuitry the brings the battery voltage up a a higher voltage. To be a standard USB host the device must be able to source 5V 500mA (minimum). That's 2.5 watts. Flip over your Zaurus and read the wattage: 2.5W (Battery). They would have needed to double the power supply!

        Or, I can get an IRDA keyboard. Which practically doesn't exist.
        Read here [] for info about getting a folding IRDA keyboard for a good price. (It's not quite ready yet, but it should be within a couple weeks.)

        Finally, the Zaurus' handwriting recognition stinks.

        It's handwriting recognition is just not that great until either:
        (a) You learn the default way to make all the characters.
        (b) You teach it your handwriting.

        You took the time to learn graffiti, so it's not fair to make a comparison if you're not willing to learn the Zaurus' input method. I personally almost always use the keyboard. I find single character handwriting recognition very inefficient becuase you always have to move backwards after each chacter entered.

        Then, the Zaurus' use of an obscure ethernet-over-USB protocol gave me quite a headache.
        This is a legitimite gripe, but it has supposedly been fixed on the sl-5600 model.

        You did leave out one other problem though: the battery size. It's just too small. They gave the sl-5600 a much bigger battery but I don't think it will work with my 5500 :(

        TCPA/DRM makes all this irrelevant though. Given the choice between the possibility of undefeatable (basically) DRM and none, the choice seems pretty simple to me. Too bad they shot themselves in the foot like that, since having an FPGA to play with sounds cool.
  • Xilinx and IBM are teaming up to make an 10 million gate FPGA with multiple PowerPC cores on it (see this story []) in ADDITION to the 10 million gates.

    So, 1 chip and you could have an SMP PDA - do all the interfacing logic as part of the FPGA core. I suspect that is what this device is.

    (Granted, the cores aren't floating point cores, more like what the Series 1 TiVO has, but still....)

  • Photos! (Score:3, Informative)

    by IceFox ( 18179 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:35PM (#5136798) Homepage
    A few photos taken this morning. Stop by the Intel both and say hello and see the C700 and 5600 Sharp Zaurus.

    Photos here! []

  • Versatility (Score:2, Interesting)

    Now, I've yet to find a PDA that I would actually take the initiative to use on a normal basis. I like the idea of the "developer sled" but I think this is aimed to capture a certain market segment. I would be more apt to buy a PDA if it was quite small with limited funtion alone, but had more of a docking station that allowed me to use my PDA like a computer. Monitor output would also be a large help, even if it were a relatively low-res display. Anyone have thoughts on this/info if it's already been done?
  • by brandido ( 612020 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:42PM (#5136854) Homepage Journal
    The reference in the post and in the article to a Xilinx XCR3128XL FPGA is incorrect - the XCR3128XL is actually a Xilinx CPLD. While both are reconfigurable, the primary difference between an FPGA and a CPLD is that an FPGA is SRAM based, and must be programmed each time it is turned on, while a CPLD is Flash based, and can keeps its configuration between power cycles. Additionally, FPGAs tend to have more logic and more features.
    • CPLDs can use SRAM, and FPGAs can use flash. The difference is in how routing is done.

      CPLDs have a pretty firm definition of having several large blocks, holding many macrocells, with feedback to a global (and often also local) switch matrix.

      FPGAs don't have a firm definition, but Xilinx ones use SRAM based LUTs connected in a grid pattern with manhatten routing. Most of Altera's FPGAs have a more CPLD bent, while Actel uses antifuse and flash technology with more of a "sea of gates" look to the developer.
  • by cmeans ( 81143 ) <cmeans&intfar,com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @03:00PM (#5137019) Homepage Journal
    Seems to be the day to do these sort of things:

    Motorola/Metrowerks unveils Linux-based PDA reference design [].

  • by ralphclark ( 11346 ) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @03:17PM (#5137188) Journal
    Yawn. Yet another "me too" PDA. Unfortunately it's behind even the *previous* generation of iPaqs, having no built-in Bluetooth and no CompactFlash slot either. Yes that's right folks, according to the specs it doesn't even support IBM's own microdrives.

    IMO these two features are indispensable for the serious PDA user. Bluetooth so I can access the internet one-handed with my cellphone sitting inconspicuously on my hip, CompactFlash slot which holds a 1GB Microdrive with my entire CD collection ripped to MP3.

    The new IBM design supports "SD", i.e. "Secure Digital". What fricking use is a big storage device if you can't store your MP3's on it?

    Bluetooth needs to be built in rather than provided by a card because then you get in situations like wanting to download this large file straight onto the drive but you can't have both the Bluetooth device and the storage card fitted at the same time.

    The Sharp Zaurus C700 would be interesting, if only it had built-in Bluetooth. But IBM's new design is underspecified and just too dull for words.
    • "...just too dull for words"
      yet, somehow, you managed to spew some.
      Yes, If it is not exactly what YOU want, nobody else could possible use it.
    • The new IBM design supports "SD", i.e. "Secure Digital". What fricking use is a big storage device if you can't store your MP3's on it?

      You need to look up what Secure Digital cards really are before assuming that they're automatically a DRM thing. Secure Digital [] is a card format that has the ability of doing DRM, but not required. It's a follow on to the MMC cards. Happens to be the same card as the Palm units. See SanDisk for more info. []

      I have Bonzai USB Mini-Drive [] that uses SD cards and I am not restricted in what I can cart on it. Works great as a bit-bucket to carry stuff around and I'm not stuck at a fixed capacity like the more popular Disk-On-Key Flash memory USB things.

      Also, don't forget that this is a reference design. If an OEM wants to built in CF or Bluetooth, there is nothing stopping them except for some engineering.

  • for stereo to work, it would either have to be wider than the space between your ears, or it would have to rely on the sound reflecting off of the surrounding environment and back to your ears for you to distinguish stereo seperation. both are sort of unrealistic for a PDA.
  • there are too many shortcomings for a PDA of the future. Among them are

    320x240 screen: Sony clie has 320x320 screen for a long time and new ones have 320x480 screen.

    slow processor: current generation of PocketPC processors run upto 400 MHz, which is faster than proposed IBM processor.

    power supply: no word on power supply

    Bluetooth: why not 802.11b?

    no hard drive: Shouldn't the futuristic PDA have a hard drive? I know HDs are not as reliable, but they can be used for less essential stuff like photos, videos, songs etc

    USB 1.1: Shouldn't we have USB 2.0 or Firewire?

    AC Power in: do you really want to input 110/220 V to this device?

    No keyboard, No camera: Sony Clie users would surely miss them.

    MS Office docs support: Not really relevent to slashdotters, but many would need them. Even Palm OS based devices have support for them

    nothing new: there is nothing new compare to Zaurus, PocketPC, Sony Clie etc.

  • This sounds pants.

    Theres nothing there which isnt present in PDAs in the shops today. ARM is a much more sensible platform for battery life etc. Only Sharp have seriously tried to use Linux as a PDA platform, no one else is going to pick this up cos Wince doesnt run on it and theres no apps.

    Sound like a dubious research project they've thrown a bit of money at in the hope of making some extra out of powerpc. (Shrug)

    That is unless Apple picks it up and makes a PDA (cough)
  • by Simon Brooke ( 45012 ) <> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @07:05PM (#5139070) Homepage Journal

    It looks to me from the pictures as it the machines is running Trolltech's QTopia [] palmtop environment, just like the Sharp Zaurus []. This is good from at least two points of view. Firstly it means it's easy to port the existing software [] for the Zaurus, and relatively easy to port KDE [] and other Qt based apps; and secondly because it means that people producing software for Linux palmtop devices get a wider market with a consistent UI look-and-feel.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault