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Intel Power Hardware

ARM — Heretic In the Church of Intel, Moore's Law 390

ericatcw writes "For 30+ years, the PC industry has been as obsessed with under-the-hood performance: MIPs, MHz, transistors per chip. Blame Moore's Law, which effectively laid down the Gospel of marketing PCs like sports cars. But with mobile PCs and green computing coming to the fore, enter ARM, which is challenging the Gospel according to Moore with chips that are low-powered in both senses of the word. Some of its most popular CPUs have 100,000 transistors, fewer than a 12 MHz Intel 286 CPU from 1982 (download PDF). But they also consume as little as a quarter of a watt, which is why netbook makers are embracing them. It's 'megahertz per milli-watt,' that counts, according to ARM exec Ian Drew, who predicts that 6-10 ARM-based netbooks running Linux and costing just around $200 should arrive this year starting in July."
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ARM — Heretic In the Church of Intel, Moore's Law

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  • Nonsense. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vectronic ( 1221470 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:27PM (#27462183)

    I don't mean to Dis-ARM, ARM or Armless...

    But it will do exactly the same thing, 0.5 Watts now, 100K transistors now, 300 MHz now... it wont stay that way though, it's just a slimmer base to build upon, like using aluminum instead of steal. People will still keep reaching for the sky, and with a lighter structure, means they can reach even higher, even more MHz, more transistors, etc...

  • Why is it... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by religious freak ( 1005821 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:31PM (#27462207)
    that some /.ers seem to need to create an enemy of conventional wisdom, even when conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason?

    Yes, efficiency is good. But do you really need to smear the idea of higher processing power at the same time you're pointing out the good in low electricity consumption?

    I mean... really?
  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:34PM (#27462225)

    Not really. ARM has been around for a long time. Its biggest use is in embedded systems- phones, printers, etc. In those markets cost and power usage matter more than performance. They may make a line with more performance eventually, but they make money hands over fist in places where pennies matter (after all, if you sell 1M phones with a processor thats 5cents cheaper, thats 50K more profit). They won't give that up.

  • Re:Why is it... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ( 1195047 ) <philip.paradis@p ... net minus author> on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:34PM (#27462227) Homepage Journal
    You're right. Both approaches have their place. What you're observing is the manifestation of an overriding need to prove one's superior intellect. It's a sign of poor socialization.

    I, for one, welcome multiple approaches to achieving multiple goals.
  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vectronic ( 1221470 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:43PM (#27462277)

    Yeah, but even your average phone is more powerful than your average PC was in 1982...

    So "in the meantime" they will somewhat stick with the low+low, what happens when laptops, phones, GPS, etc all become the same device? People are content with the low power they have now, and with stuff like anti-jailbreaking etc, puts a limit on the push for better/faster/stronger because not many see it yet. People thought your body would fall apart at 50mph 100 years ago... "640kb ought to be enough for anybody"...

    PSP (not the most relevant example) might be 300 MHz now, what about PSPII, still 300MHz? Doubtful.

  • MIPs? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gzipped_tar ( 1151931 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:57PM (#27462341) Journal
    The marketing term (not the architecture) MIPS == Million Instructions Per Second. It's not the plural form of some other TLA. ;)
  • Re:I love ARMs... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:22PM (#27462465)

    They are the only chips that you can program and keep your sanity.

    Your UID says you are old, but that statement indicates you are too young to have ever programmed a 68K or VAX.

  • Re:Why is it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:25PM (#27462475)

    Because conventional wisdom often isn't so much wise as it is conventional.

    Conventional wisdom led to the MHz war and the foolish, marketing driven decision to double the pipeline length on the P4. This directly led to lower instructions per cycle and hence lower true performance than one would expect just going by the clock rates. The average consumer is ignorant of these sort of details and the marketing folks get paid to figure out how to exploit that ignorance.

    Wisdom has no place in a world where you can get ahead with smoke and mirrors.

  • by renrutal ( 872592 ) <> on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:35PM (#27462531)

    From TFA:

    For 30 years, the PC industry has treated Moore's Law with religious reverence. Its immutable commandment -- thou shalt double the transistors on circuits every 18 months -- created an enviable business model with consumers spurred to buy new, more powerful PCs every few years.

    The actual law is about reduction of cost, not increase of performance. Other formulation says:

    The transistor cost shall halve every 2 years.

    ARM is not breaking any "law".

  • Horsepower (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeffkjo1 ( 663413 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:36PM (#27462539) Homepage
    As I read through the article (I know, I've already violated Slashdot's law, but anyway), I couldn't help but go back to this whole idea of 'under-the-hood performance.' Cars built today don't necessarily have to have the 400 cubic inch plants and 500 horsepower that they sometimes had in the 60's. Engines are half that size and half the horsepower, but because they're designed better, it doesn't matter. (Although I'd love a 500 hp engine anyway.)

    As well, continuing the car analog, just because there are still some cars with 500 horsepower engines made today, it doesn't mean everyone needs one. There are plenty of tiny cars doing just fine thankyou
    This article suggests that because we're not using giant oversized processors in our iPods and cellphones, that somehow we've violated Moore's law. All it really means is that putting a Ferrari engine in golfcart is pointless.
  • Re:I love ARMs... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:38PM (#27462549)
    Oi! Slashdot is not much more than ten years old so even a teenager might have a low UID. Also you don't have to be really old to have done stuff with the Z80 or the 6502 if you did it while you were still in school.
  • by tchuladdiass ( 174342 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:43PM (#27462585) Homepage

    They may up the megahertz, but not at the expense of a more costly product or more power usage. Instead, the ARM chip vendors take a look at what needs the MHZ, such as video/audio decoding, and include special co-processors for those functions on the same silicon. Therefore they don't need to increase MHz for increased functionality.

    It is a similar philosophy to using a script written in a slow interpreted language to drive a more complex system composed of high-speed modules written in C.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:52PM (#27462641)

    PSP is a bad example. The biggest knock on it, and one of the reasons the DS won, was horrible battery life (although the main cuse of that was going with optical media rather than disks. Bad idea.

    Phones might end up going up in power, but you miss the point. If they wanted megahertz, they could get it now. Better processors exist. The manufacurers don't want it- they prefer to save money and make a higher profit. There's billions of devices out there still using 8 bit microcontrollers. They'll never move to higher cpu power because its not needed- its a waste of their money (higher CPU power requires more transistors and thus more die space, for lower yield and higher cost). ARM occupies the niche above that- the devices that need more than the average microcontroller, but nothing as much as an embedded x86 chip. These are billions of devices per year, and they aren't going away. ARM may end up building higher CPU power chips as well, but they won't abandon the existing market.

  • monster market (Score:5, Insightful)

    by philospher ( 513957 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:55PM (#27462649)

    I think the ARM netbooks are going to have a monster market, like eventually over 100 million a year.

    That may sound crazy, but you have to look at the demographics. There are about 6 1/2 billion people in the world. About 1 1/2 billion are in the developed world or the richer parts of the developed world. They all have computers. At the other end are about a billion who are are desperately poor.

    That leaves around 3 billion who are in-between. These are the people who have enough money to buy things like bicycles, motor bikes, televisions, and cell phones. A great many would love to own a computer, and indeed many of them spend a lot of time at cybercafes. But they can't afford the price. And there is another problem, namely that half of these people live in areas with no electricity, and for most of the rest the electric service is very eratic.

    The first generation of netbooks was too expensive for this gigantic potential market, and besides they used too much electricity. But the new ARM netbooks will be enough cheaper for perhaps 500 million more people, and they will use far less electricity, too. Furthermore prices are just going to keep going down. Pixel Qi is planing on designing $75 models in a few years. Every time prices drop another huge group will join the market.

    This all is a huge problem for Microsoft. On the one hand, it would hate to charge the very low license fees it would need to get anywhere in this new market, on the other hand it can hardly afford to ignore it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 05, 2009 @01:51AM (#27463117)

    Hmmmm... a link to wikipedia modded funny while a link to xkcd modded interesting.

    Are the mods on crack?

  • Re:Why is it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @01:56AM (#27463149)

    But, is the Intel architecture really worth maintaining? The only reason I can see keeping the current IA32 around is that there's such a huge code base, and realistically if we cut the cord now, it wouldn't be too long before we could just use emulation for the old non-portable code.

    I'm really not sure that it's a good idea to keep it around just because. A more or less fresh start with more modern assumptions isn't really a bad idea. Both technology as well as usage patterns have changed drastically over the decades.

    That doesn't necessarily mean that Intel should be cut out, but more that keeping processors just because isn't a great idea.

    If we could realistically cut the cord? The fact that the x86 ISA has persisted for so long is precisely due to the fact that we can't realistically cut the cord! Many architectures have tried for the mainstream (SPARC, PPC, Alpha, PA-RISC [were they ever mainstream?], Itanium, etc.). And now they're all dead or shoved into servers. Only PowerPC processors have been as successful as x86 chips at being placed in low-end, high-end computing applications and everything in between. Even so, with Apple out of the picture, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone selling new PowerPC-based computers geared for the general public.

    Also, ISAs aren't kept "just because." If you think x86 is bad, consider that the most modern IBM Power Systems are still binary compatible with code written for machines 40 years ago!

  • by Quantumstate ( 1295210 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:09AM (#27463711)
    If you do try this be sure to use a virtual machine or a real low powered machine. Web browsers adjust their memory usage based on what system they run on and with other factors like cpu speed it is very difficult to extrapolate from a fast machine to a slow one.
  • Re:I love ARMs... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:39AM (#27463811)

    I rather like PowerPC. Straight forward instruction set.

    ARM is nice, but it's a bit compact, what with every instruction allowing an optional conditional or shift/rotate (which does give good performance with a simple design though). And the later ARM versions just got a bit cluttered with its multiple processor modes and extra instruction sets (thumb, java, dsp).

  • 200? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @07:15AM (#27464313) Homepage Journal

    We have heard that before, and the 'super cheap' never quite pans out and ends up 2x.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 05, 2009 @08:37AM (#27464659)

    Netbooks can use much less power than they do today. Real netbooks use solid state storage, which has negligible idle power consumption and very low read power consumption. In the future, RAM may be replaced by one of the contenders for persistent RAM (e.g. MRAM) with zero idle power consumption. Backlit TFT displays will at some point be replaced by E-Paper which only uses power to change the display. At that point, the CPU and the wireless network are about the only consumers of power, so every improvement counts.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @08:51AM (#27464747) Homepage

    Just for fun, theoretically, you can put payloads into orbit and on routes to the moon/planets/asteroids if you give them a solar sail. (People could not survive that trip, unless encoded in data bits and silicon.)

    Maggots and leeches are proving effective in medicine in various ways.
        "Maggots and Leeches: Old Medicine is New" []

    In round figures, people are about 90% bacteria by numbers, and about 10% bacteria by weight. Bathing too often may disrupt your bacterial ecology and lead to infections or skin problems, and growing up in too clean environments may lead to immune problems. Although exactly what is too much is problematical. See:
        "The filthy, stinking truth: The messy history of cleanliness, and why our obsession with dirt may be making us sick." []

    Until we actually landed on the moon, the best scientists still thought landers might sink into dust. Someday, we may turn the Moon into a green paradise using greenhouses and artificial lighting or mirrors.

    Psychologically, the individual's perception is still the center of everything (though people try to move beyond that in their thinking). Quantum mechanics reflects this. Still, we may be living in a simulation in which case, like those living in Plato's "Cave", most of what we assume may be just a shadow of the truth: []

    Anyway, just having fun with your points. I like your insightful comment that knowing enough to be dangerous (as opposed to nothing or lots) is a source of difficulties.

    Here is the big issue with Moore's law and it was forseen in the 1960s: []
    "The fundamental problem posed by the cybernation revolution in the U.S. is that it invalidates the general mechanism so far employed to undergird people's rights as consumers. Up to this time economic resources have been distributed on the basis of contributions to production, with machines and men competing for employment on somewhat equal terms. In the developing cybernated system, potentially unlimited output can be achieved by systems of machines which will require little cooperation from human beings. As machines take over production from men, they absorb an increasing proportion of resources while the men who are displaced become dependent on minimal and unrelated government measures -- unemployment insurance, social security, welfare payments. These measures are less and less able to disguise a historic paradox: That a substantial proportion of the population is subsisting on minimal incomes, often below the poverty line, at a time when sufficient productive potential is available to supply the needs of everyone in the U.S. The existence of this paradox is denied or ignored by conventional economic analysis."

    So, we are about to see a lot of divide-by-zero errors in economic equations as computing prices falling to zero drives almost every other price towards zero.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @08:55AM (#27464771) Homepage
    Sorry to hijack, but your mention of F1 and their stupid technical limitations really hit a nerve. That's my biggest pet hate about F1 - they keep trying to slow the cars down and make them safer by imposing arbitrary limits on various components. What they should do is impose a cost cap on the cars. Do as much research as you want, but the car itself has to be buildable for $100k. The next year, drop that to $80k. Eventually you have a vehicle that is at once the pinnacle of automotive excellence, and available for a decent price from a dealer, and better yet - the technology would be easily adaptable by passenger cars. Antilock brakes, seat belts, traction control, most technology in modern cars was developed for F1. If we could speed up the transition process then that would be the best thing possible for the automotive industry as a whole.
  • Insightful? Beating a dead horse more like it. The sort of computer these things are going in will be in a separate category of devices than your workstation. Want a superfast box for graphical modelling? Buy a workstation. Want a lightweight, low consumption computer to access the internet at a cafe? Buy a netbook.

    It's already like that. You'll find most big-enough computer companies are happy to sell you servers and workstations and desktops and laptops. They'll even give you specs if you know enough to know what's important in your workstation. We're just adding another category. It's not the end of the world, and it's not the end of graphical modelling.

    Although, to the extent your point is that the article was an overexaggeration, well, it's slashdot. What do you expect? I'm going to have to stop visiting it again...

  • PSP (not the most relevant example) might be 300 MHz now, what about PSPII, still 300MHz? Doubtful.

    The first PSP ran at 222 MHz. (The 3.50 firmware upgrade unlocked 333 MHz with the WLAN off in games that require firmware 3.50 or later.) The PSP-2000 added RAM, but not much else in the sense of processing power. The PSP-3000 didn't add processing power either.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vectronic ( 1221470 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @09:57AM (#27465123)

    I agree and disagree.

    F1 is top dog, so I don't think a monetary limitation should really take place. It's where most of the major experiments take place, so shouldn't really be limited on price because developing new materials is expensive, especially if it's rare/new, so they might be able to build most of the car for $60,000, but the new allow/polymers/etc that make up the frame alone might be another $60,000 by itself... instead of "well what can we do with $20,000? - hmm, carbon fiber and aluminum?" They need to build new machines that build the new machines, get/make the new materials which are basically one of a kind, etc, a set of tires is about $5,000 because they are so customized down to the molecular level.

    F1 spends the money + time, which trickles down to GP2, A1... those trickle down into GT, Rally, StockCar, which have more "real world" limitations, those trickle down to 'supercars', and then down to normal passenger cars.

    So I think limiting displacement, fuel type, etc is a better way to go so they can sort of invest/start it, but everyone else gets the benefits of the product (eventually). Theoretically your idea is what happens already, Mercedes, Honda, BMW, Toyota, Renault, etc all have road vehicles, so basically they are spending the huge amounts on F1 and GT, to create their road cars.

    Side note, I'd like to see an official electric/alternative F1 start, instead of these little parade events once a year.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @10:30AM (#27465311) Journal

    Nonsense. This is like saying a militant atheist is a "Christian", because someone splashed water on their head as a baby, they had christian parents, and were forced to go to "christian" school.

    If we define one's religion not by that person's belief or identity, but by someone else's actions and definitions, then we get into all sorts of nonsensical situations. Consider, if I decide that me shaking your hand whilst I'm dressed up as a pirate makes you a member of the Church of the FSM, and that you're "not really permitted to leave", does that make it true?

    There is no such thing as a muslim child, just as we would not talk about a Marxist or Keynesian child.

    Although I note that whilst usually religious organisations promote these definitions in order to inflate their numbers and force religion onto children, I suspect you're instead taking advantage of anti-Islam viewpoints, in order to make Obama look bad. But I don't really care about the politics here, just your nonsensical non-consensual definition of labelling. Who cares if he is a muslim anyway? Christian or muslim, or Church of Intel, just so long as he keeps his religion out of politics, unlike a certain recent President...

  • Re:Why is it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pohl ( 872 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @06:43PM (#27469161) Homepage

    If we didn't use the x86 instruction set we'd have to invent something quite similar to it.

    I agree that there would still need to be a set of primitive hardware operations. I also agree that there would need to be a way that binaries are persistently represented. But must the same thing perform both functions? Can't we decouple that with something somewhat like Transmeta's code-morphing layer? (link [])

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @03:11AM (#27472777) Journal

    Backlit TFT displays will at some point be replaced by E-Paper which only uses power to change the display./quote.

    I doubt that's gonna happen for several reasons.

    First, e-Paper refresh rate is horrendous, and it is unlikely to improve to the same levels as TFT for the foreseeable future due to inherent technology limitations. Moving solid particles around (which is what eInk does) is always going to be slower.

    Second, while eInk screen doesn't have to be redrawn all the time, when you actually need to redraw it, it may well use more power (I'm not sure about that one, actually, but it would make sense). And how often would you need to redraw? Well, if you leave the mouse in, every time the pointer moves... so you'll need a touchscreen and no pointer. And as few smooth animations as possible. In fact, it may well require a total redesign of UI to make it work - so forget existing apps.

    Third, eInk is useless in below-average lighting conditions. Remember that it doesn't emit light by itself, and it is not transparent, so you can't use a backlight (and if you did, that would suck up power just as it does in TFT). And you can't make the particles transparent, because the whole point of technology is to make them reflect light...

    Fourth, eInk color gamut isn't going to be any better than printed stuff, ever, for obvious reasons. This may be good enough for some stuff (most office/productivity apps, web browsing), but forget about decent video (remember last time you've read a movie review in a journal? remember what the screens looked like... that's right, crap).

    All in all, I think that it might work out, but only for a true "netbook" - a device that's only useful for surfing the Web, and nothing else; and even then with some interactive stuff (e.g. YouTube) crippled. Also, given the pace of technological advances in e-paper, it's going to take a decade at least before we get that stuff in production (there's still no working color e-paper available for use in production e-reader models, even though the first prototypes were shown over 2 years ago).

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