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Shifting Apps To ARM Chips Could Save Laptop Batteries 326

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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  • by B5_geek ( 638928 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:50AM (#26797277)

    And this is how Linux will win. Not with a bang but a whimper. Embedded appliances, dedicated purpose applications, and multi-platform compatibility.

    Firefox, Thunderbird, and (hopefully) soon KDE.

    MS users who don't know any better, will win this for us.

    Geeks like us have already dominated the server-side of the Linux equation, now fools will win the desktop for us.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:57AM (#26797351) Journal

    Not really even a problem for Windows, at least a long term one.

    There have been some instances (PPC Mac I think?) where they ran a lightweight QEMU + Wine to get wine working on a non-Intel platform.

    They may start a standard application layer that will determine if the binary is x86 or ARM, and shuffle it to the correct processor, they applications will only need to make ARM based variants. Either that or use something related to dynamic recompiling to put stuff on the ARM processor on the fly.

    Now, the question is, do they want to spend the effort.

  • ARM notebook (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ChristTrekker ( 91442 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:58AM (#26797357)

    Funny...I read the story and was going to ask on this thread, "Where could I get an ARM-based laptop to run Linux on?" All day on a battery would be fantastic.

  • Re:Options (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @11:00AM (#26797385) Journal

    Hasn't been easy for me in my dozens of attempts over the past couple of years.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @11:03AM (#26797417) Journal

    So what we're talking about here is a Linux running on a decent ARM SoC most of the time... which I agree with, it's enough for the common case.

    If we need performance for any reason we switch on an attached x86 and run that performance application (which of course is an x86 binary).

    Or we run a VM on the x86 into which we put Windows, for compatibility.

    Or we create a Mac OS X like fat binary system for Linux that includes both ARM and x86 variants, but imagine the pain in switching between the two! I think it's far far easier to make a quad-core ARM Cortex chip to get some performance for the ARM binaries than to switch them to x86 with all that pain if they need performance.

    Of course eventually you drop the x86, connect the x86-attached GPU to the ARM and move on from there.

  • Re:Options (Score:4, Insightful)

    by painehope ( 580569 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @11:20AM (#26797613)

    Out of curiousity, not hostility, can I ask why?

    I work as a systems architect/administrator (whatever you want to call it) for UNIX/Linux-based large datacenters, but also use Linux personally and for non-technical tasks (e.g. Word, Excel, and assorted other files), without any difficulty. And I've been using Linux for almost 10 years now - back when things were difficult for users that weren't highly technical.

    The only things I ever find myself using Windows for is to run Visio (if someone could recommend a F/OSS replacement for it, it would be greatly appreciated, but I have yet to find one as full-featured - or even close) or to play games (which I do rarely, I prefer other forms of entertainment). And Flash rarely works to my satisfaction, but I don't really consider that a great loss either.

    I just don't understand it when people say that they can't switch over to Linux. Or at least dual-boot. Not to insult your intelligence, but most modern distributions are simple to install and productively work in. Maybe it's my background, maybe it's your choice of distributions, but I fail to see what the fuss is about. Especially when there are distributions (Ubuntu, for example) that are specifically geared towards non-technical users. While I personally find Ubuntu to be over-simplified and (as of my last use, about 3 years ago) not secure enough, I don't see why it wouldn't be easy to use as well as a vast improvement over Windows.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @11:50AM (#26797985) Homepage

    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.

    Exactly, my first thought is that it sounds like a feature!

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

    by amn108 ( 1231606 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:13PM (#26798285)

    It just begs a question, for WHOM REALLY is Windows and its software a limiting factor? It looks now as if the only people who just would die from not having access to Windows are those who put their whole commerce on it and people who sit and play the latest games. ALMOST everyone else has had choice for at least a year now, and that choice is rapidly improving. Heck, I did not know what Linux really was a year ago, and now I do not see which things is it that it cannot do. I have my text input app, a media player, a web browser (albeit with Adobe's Flash player), and a usable desktop. I even have a video editing application (Avidemux) that actually works. Anyhow, all it takes is some faith. But sadly, that is something that comes only AFTER hope, not before, and right now Microsoft is feeding the world.

  • Re:Options (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:48PM (#26798871)

    Of the operating systems I've used and administrated (Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, MacOS), I've had to spend more time administrating Linux than the others (FreeBSD might take more administration time, but short of mergebastard 'administrating' it involves me typing a make or portupgrade command, and leaving it along for a couple hours, or at least not performing a relatively small set of tasks).

    Starting in 02 or whenever I first tried it, I had to deal with the usual dependency hell. I found out about yum later, but it didn't fix the issues.

    I moved from Fedora to Ubuntu as some people suggested. Performance on the two machines I used was lackluster (6.x and 7.x versions) compared to Windows and FreeBSD. It managed to prevent X from starting after a recommended update of KDE. I had a few other issues with the updater breaking itself or other apps, and gave up after a week or two each time (no other OS took that much time to get functional - I have limited patience). Also it usually crashed on shutdown. Not a big deal, but EXT2/EXT3 takes forever to check. It also crashed when I tried to play Boson.

    I then tried Gentoo. It worked mostly well, but I couldn't get open office installed, an app I really needed. So eventually, after some effort in that area, I gave up.

    Recently I went to try Arch. After installing and then installing X, it no longer wanted to boot from my HDD (SATA), it complained about not being able to start/initialize/mount (forgot the proper term) the root partition. It suggested I add rootdelay=8 to the kernel params in Grub. I did, and it didn't fix the issue, I tried rootdelay=30, but still no fix.

    I went to KUbuntu, the installer froze on me each time I tried to install (same spot each time, right after accepting the choice for the default keyboard).

    XUbuntu was next, XFCE is ok too. It installs, but it won't boot, with the same issue as Arch-Linux.

    Typically, each time, I spend a few days working on the issue, and if I can't find the resources to get it solved, I give up for a while, and go back to other OSes that suit my purposes sufficiently, namely Windows and FreeBSD. I'd like to give Linux a good shot, and use it - it's got better hardware support than FreeBSD, and a few apps that aren't properly ported that I'd like. As for Windows, it's not had any issues short of bad hardware, since Win2000 (note: Linux and FreeBSD refused to use the bad hardware, I guess they were smarter than windows on that machine).

    Sounds like you have a hardware fault.

  • Power Managed Core (Score:2, Insightful)

    by _avs_007 ( 459738 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:37PM (#26799657)

    It would make more sense to move to an architecture where you have something like a traditional Intel or AMD CPU, where the cores would just shut down when not in use, etc...

    Having two CPUs of different architecture is ridiculous. How are you going to make that seamless? For example, how are you going to access memory from the ARM? The memory controller is in the Intel/AMD CPU. If the AMD/Intel CPU is powered down, so is the memory controller. If the memory controller is powered down, the ram won't get refreshed.

    So you'll basically need an off-chip memory controller. If you do that, then all of a sudden you have even more headaches, such as trying to synchronize the caches on each core of the Intel/AMD cpu, etc. (And this is overlooking the instruction disparity)

    If you are talking about having a separate operating environment/desktop/etc completely separate from the main environment, that is going to be awkward for a lot of users, as many will expect seamless integration and data sharing, etc.

    Also, don't fool yourself and think that just because your hybrid is running an ARM that you will magically get all-day battery life. The CPU is not the only power drain on the system. You also have the wireless radio, the LCD display, and the graphics processor, etc.

  • Re:Not a problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rtechie ( 244489 ) * on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:08PM (#26801337)

    The reason Teh Lunix fails when sold at retail is primarily due to returns. If you sell out all your computers, and 80% of them get returned because people don't want Teh Lunix... how are you supposed to make a profit? The profit margin on computers is very low, and if a company has to sell at a steep discount for "open box"... they've just lost money.

    I don't know why this guy got modded down except for the typical mindless pro-Linux bias here. The above is realistic. I don't know if it's 80%, but Linux desktops see FAR more returns than Windows desktops. MacOS desktops see more returns too, that's part of the reason for the high costs. Compatibility is a major factor. In practice, this completely negates any cost advantage Linux might have. You add in support costs and selling Linux is basically a loser for most PC vendors. It makes a LOT more sense for PC vendors to sell machines completely bare and have people install Linux on them. This pretty much locks out all casual users.

    The reality is that desktop Linux will never take off unless one of the Linux vendors bites the bullet and agrees to provide free, unlimited, 27/4 technical support to PC makers like Dell. Yes, this is better than Windows (that's the whole point) and yes, this would cost billions (I'm thinking about $3 billion per year). Penetrating entrenched markets is HARD. MS has spent $8 billion trying to penetrate the console market. The 360 is wildly successful and they're still nowhere near profitable. The PS3 has been a disaster and Sony is STILL beating MS on sales.

    I also wouldn't even consider this in the hostile US market. I'd do it in Europe, and I'd use some of those billions to bribe officials to get my Linux into the governments and to get tarrifs or lawsuits and other anti-compete measures passed against Microsoft. MS (and every company with the resources to do so) does the same thing, so don't feel bad for them.

  • Re:ARM notebook (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @04:55PM (#26803443) Journal

    I don't know about laptops, but there's a PDA-like device called the Pandora [].

    It meets your "all day" requirement - according to the devs, it has a ~10hr battery life when doing stuff like browsing the net. It can also drop into and out of standby very quickly, to save even more power when not in use.

    It has a touchscreen, mini keyboard, and gaming controls, so it does a bit of everything. Good for note-taking, good for surfing, good for emulators.

    The biggest negative is right now they aren't in mass production; the devs required pre-orders to pay for them, since it's a small team of FOSS junkies making it. :P

  • Re:ARM notebook (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @07:00PM (#26805509)
    Easy. Nokia N810 [].

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer