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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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  • fp - i win! (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:26PM (#27462177)
    i think those have been around for some time http://kurobox.com/ [kurobox.com]
  • Re:fp - i win! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by koutbo6 ( 1134545 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:32PM (#27462213)
    u mean this?
    http://www.revogear.com/ [revogear.com]
    These are ARM based, you can move them around, but they're no laptops.
  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bill Currie ( 487 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @10:35PM (#27462237) Homepage

    Exactly, thus the MHz/mW phrase. Why use more electrical power than you need to? If you need more computing power, then build a bigger CPU using the same technology. It will still be more efficient, and that's the point: efficiency.

  • a quarter of a watt (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:00PM (#27462365)
    A quarter of a watt is a percentage of the static I gather walking. A processor like that is powerful enough to run a tiny GPS, an insert in my shoe. Add a little foot-pad to power a HUD and attached map and I always know where I am. This is one of many, many uses. Anyone still thinking "cell phone" is missing the point.
  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vectronic ( 1221470 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:07PM (#27462405)

    I know, I was simply contesting the "goes against moore's law" part.

    Coincidentally, that's when the greatest blasphemy to Moore's Law -- and the biggest threat to Intel's dominance -- is expected to make its entrance into the PC market.

    When it isn't, it's similar to automotive racing, this seasons F1 has all sorts of new limitations on engine size, RPM, and materials to promote more power/speed out of smaller, doesn't mean they will stay constant at 750hp @ 12,000RPM, by the next couple of years they will likely be back up to 1000hp, just on a smaller platform.

    In 10 years time, there will likely be some even more efficient processor out there (likely already exists) It's all effectively a part of Moore's law, the current base has certain limitations limiting it's linear climb, so a new twice as good base is developed to continue that climb.

  • by Anthony_Cargile ( 1336739 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:11PM (#27462431) Homepage

    Web browsers are interpreters, which are going to be slower than machines that run pre-compiled code

    It's worse than that: In addition to HTML, a web browser must parse/interpret JavaScript, Java, CSS, XHTML, Flash (if Adobe ever gets onboard), and regular XML just to display the modern, JavaScript-heavy web application. This gets resource intensive if, say, using an app such as Google Docs on a netbook with little memory, since the browser keeps the DOM structure in memory, and it gets exponential if the user has multiple tabs open with an app/page in each.

    A server pre-parsing HTML would mean a browser/server handshake, something IE and IIS could easily do moreso than Apache(2)/Lighttpd and Firefox/Safari/Chrome. Opera does this with their mobile platform, but it is still far from perfecting JavaScript precompilation or even delegating this to the lower-resource device at the client end.

    Google was contemplating compiling JavaScript to pure native code in a story I read here on /. a while back, but how well they would maintain this for both x86 AND ARM remains another story, in addition to all of the other problems that could ensue, especially at the security level (a bug in the JS parser leading to direct remote code execution, etc.).

    It's problems like these that keep 300Mhz netbooks with little RAM from being very efficient with full-scale web apps. Just my firefox I'm running now, I have about 20 tabs (mostly regular HTML) open and it runs up my dual-core CPU so high that my fan is running (not much in the background), and it eats memory like crazy. But as far as MS breaking the Wintel relationship to pursue ARM-based netbooks, I don't see it happening unless something drastic happens.

  • Re:I love ARMs... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anthony_Cargile ( 1336739 ) on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:18PM (#27462447) Homepage

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

    I completely agree. The most elegant assembly I've even written, easy to optimize, and without all the legacy underpinnings of x86. Apparently the GNU folk can agree as well, because the output of any of my compiled C programs run better on an older ARM than a newer x86 chip (this is on Linux, btw).

  • Re:I love ARMs... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 04, 2009 @11:28PM (#27462499)

    Define too young! :P I'm 26 and spent 4 years doing 68k ASM! I even wrote a disassembler while I was in college... which earned a trip to an international teacher's convention. http://detachedsolutions.com/cmdpost/

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

    by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:10AM (#27462711)

    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...

    You do realize that the Cortex series of ARM cores can get to around 1GHz, and that the Marvell (formerly Intel) XScale chips can scale to 1.25GHz easily. And that's when they're drawing a quarter to a half a watt. At worse, you're getting 1GHz/watt.

    ARM is used everywhere, it scales handily from fleapower devices, to the GHz range used in the latest smartphones. For every x86 CPU sold, the PC containing it probably contains several ARM processors (Bluetooth and WiFi being extremely common peripherals with ARM processors). A cellphone usually has 2 - one driving the UI, and one in the radio, and maybe two more (again, Bluetooth and WiFi).

    400-667MHz seems to be the "sweet spot" right now for a cellphone's ARM processor... (iPhone has it at 400-416MHz, the Palm Pre has a Cortex A8 at 667MHz). And the whole cellphone power management has to be able to drop power consumption to a mere 3 milliamps or so, including the power spikes to maintain a link to the cell towers.

    Atom tries, but it's still an order of magnitude too much power for an entire system...

  • 1982?!!??! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:18AM (#27462747) Journal

    ...your average phone is more powerful than your average computer was in 1982.

    Sonny, I was THERE in 1982 and I can tell you that my phone (an HTC Mogul) with its dual-core 400 Mhz ARM CPU knocks the socks off the 386 I had aound 10years later, around 1992! In fact, I can run DOSbox and run all the same games I used to play on my fire-breathing 386DX25 in emulation !!

    If my phone today was released in 1982 it would probably have been considered a controlled military tool and banned from use by nonmilitary personnel!

    Psssssttttt! Wanna guess what I'm typing this post with?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:22AM (#27462779)

    Many Chinese clone mp3 players (which due to their low price probably make up at least 50% of the market - or did a few years ago) use a bastardized Z80 core with a DSP for decoding. Despite the bad rep they get for being knock-offs with appaling Engrish manuals etc, they are actually fairly good little machines.

  • by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg@@@cowlark...com> on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:25AM (#27462789) Homepage Journal

    A quarter of a watt is a percentage of the static I gather walking...

    250mW is actually quite a lot, processor-wise. Atmel produce microprocessors that will run Linux and consume about 100mW. If you switch to a true embedded processor, Microchip's PIC24 series are 16-bit processors that will consume about 20mW at 16MHz (and less if you run them more slowly), and if you're willing to go 8-bit, you start getting into silly numbers: their PIC10 series will run (flat out) at 0.4mW and sleep at 0.0002mW. If you're used to PCs, there's a whole new world out there...

    One day soon I'm hoping to see someone produce a mini laptop based around one of these 16 bit or 32 bit microcontrollers and an e-ink screen. It may not run Crysis, but it would probably run off a single AA pretty much forever, and still be useful; it would, after all, still be able to outcompute an Amiga or Atari ST...

  • Think "co-processor" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:32AM (#27462809) Homepage Journal

    ARM chips are famous for including special instructions and supporting silicon for things like MPEG4 encoding/decoding, MP3 encode/decode, etc. The "main" CPU core isn't involved in these "streaming" instructions, just the parameter setups for them. Given enough "heavy CPU" workloads implemented as custom silicon, the main CPU on an ARM chip can be relatively idle as all the heavy lifting is done by the stream coprocessors.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:32AM (#27462811)

    Just what do you expect to do with a 16 bit microcontroller with 16 kB of RAM? It could be a word-processor. It could fetch text off the Internet. But a multitasking desktop environment with HTML, Javascript, Flash, video conferencing, AND a word-processor? Forget about it. ARM is about as small as you could realistically go (today anyway) - I think going one step down to MIPS would be too light to power Flash. And nobody is buying a netbook without Flash.

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

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:34AM (#27462819) Homepage Journal

    No one recorded the observations of standing outside in 50mph winds? Or of someone in free fall from a great enough height?

    Go back a couple hundred years and people believed all sorts of weird things. Baths were bad. Bloodletting was good. The moon's made of cheese, earth's flat, earth's the center of everything, We can reach the moon/planets with a giant cannon, etc...

    It was never really a widespread belief, if I remember right, the educated knew we'd be fine, more or less, and the truly uneducated didn't know what 50mph was. You had a selection of semi-educated people who would come to weird conclusions.

    Heh, think of it as early scientific theories. They were made to be proven wrong(or not).

  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:42AM (#27462847) Homepage

    It would appear that you're really not aware of what's out there on the ARM department right now. Marvell is not the end-all, be-all for ARM processors, and the (relatively ancient) StrongARM CPUs are not even remotely comparable to what's on the market, in terms of performance.

    Look at the Nvidia Tegra for a perfect example of ARM walking all over Atoms - per clock, per watt, and per actual performance.

    There are a handful of other notable ARM chips out there right now which, while not comparable to the Tegra directly, offer considerable options above and beyond the Atom. Snapdragon and Tegra are just two examples; there are many others.

    The performance is there, and has been there for quite a while. ARM chips do a LOT of things which an Atom couldn't come close to doing effectively (that fanless set-top box that does digital to analog conversion, or the DirectTV dvr, for instance).

  • Windows for ARM? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GreatDrok ( 684119 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @12:50AM (#27462883) Journal

    OK, so WinCE/Mobile/whatever the hell isn't really Windows. It won't run all your apps. Linux won't either but is much more functional than Windows Mobile. Where will this leave MS with their strategy of forcing companies to bundle Windows instead of Linux on their Netbooks? What about the next OLPC which isn't supposed to have an Intel compatible processor either? Is this all a strategy to spoil MS's fun? I sure hope so!

  • Re:Windows for ARM? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FrostDust ( 1009075 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @01:17AM (#27462973)

    Why do you think Windows has woken up to the "cloud computing" craze with their Live brand of services? All Microsoft has to do is get a decent version of Internet Explorer running on Windows Mobile, and maybe tweak WM to expect a bit more generous system resources (netbooks vs. smartphones).

    Thanks to everyone trying to make their programs server side nowadays, it doesn't matter what processor you're using; just as long as you have a net connection you can do anything you'd expect to do on an x86-based netbook.

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

    by Stuntmonkey ( 557875 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @01:25AM (#27462999)

    Quite a few people in the industry now are starting to care about power efficiency at the other end of the performance spectrum too. The Green 500 [green500.org] list for example tracks Megaflops per Watt data for the top 500 supercomputers. Judging from this data the Cell processor looks very good.

    The reasons for caring about energy efficiency at the high end are of course very different from what ARM is trying to do, which is to maximize performance within a given battery life envelope. For large installations it has more to do with operating cost and environmental concerns.

  • by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @01:35AM (#27463053)

    Look at this PDF [arm.com], page 8, top left picture

    It's actually from here

    http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/hoaxes/computer.asp [snopes.com]

    That said, I suspect whoever wrote it was aware of the Snopes article.

  • Re:I love ARMs... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Henry Pate ( 523798 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @02:40AM (#27463357) Homepage Journal
    A lot of people that are now in their early twenties got exposed to 68k ASM with the TI-89 and TI-92 and z80 ASM with the TI-83 and TI-84 calculators.

    What originally got me started programming was my TI-83 in 9th grade Algebra 2. I was horribly unprepared for the class so I learned how to make programs to do the quadratic formula, solve equations, expand polynomials and the like. Now this was just in TI-Basic but translating the math into code really helped me understand the material.

    Then I found ticalc [ticalc.org] which was and probably still is the best resource for everything involving TI calculators. I must have printed almost a thousand pages of code, books, FAQs, and tutorials. I'd trace through the code to learn what I could from and then try writing something myself. Most of the games used z80 assembly and there were tons of them to look through. I think early exposure to assembly definitely improved my ability to work in higher level languages.

    A few years later for Calculus I got a TI-89 which used the Motorola 68k processor, however I was never as interested in learning to program the TI-89 as I was with the TI-83. I'm sure I'm not the only one whose first exposure to programming was on the TI calculators, they probably bred a new generation of programmers through their calculators.
  • by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @03:20AM (#27463539)

    It would also be great if they included a graphics chip (or gpu as part of a SoC system) that could handle h.264 decoding for the netbook.

    You mean something like this:
    http://www.nvidia.com/object/product_tegra_600_us.html [nvidia.com]

  • Re:fp - i win! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @03:23AM (#27463553)

    I know it's not ARM, but this thing's also not x86 - a MIPS-based mini-notebook: Alpha 400 MIPS netbook [gizmodo.com].

    They're pretty inexpensive too. I might pick one up just to play around with it.

  • by thaig ( 415462 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @03:49AM (#27463639) Homepage

    NVidia's Tegra is sort of proof that you don't need to worry too much about this.

    With all sorts of things built in e.g. powervr 3d, dsp etc, and with multiple cores, ARM CPUs can be quite powerful - enough to do a lot of cool stuff. I should think that consumer-type video editing would be no problem on some of the recent CPUs. A lot of arm SOCs are designed for phones with video cameras and they have hardware assisted compression/decompression. They are starting to have enough RAM too, although that uses more power.

    What will be nice will be that you can use the thing the whole day and take it with you everywhere and not worry about finding places to recharge it or about carrying the transformers etc.

    You can still do your hardcore 3D rendering at home if that's what interests you, because the cost of your device will be low enough to allow you to still buy a stonking-great, deskbound number cruncher.

  • by jabuzz ( 182671 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:57AM (#27463897) Homepage

    A ARM Cortex A9 dual core clocked at 1GHz, that is a top of the line ARM, would run rings around any Atom while consuming a fraction of the power.

    The trick is that the ARM instruction set is *WAY* more efficient than the x86. The fact that the current ARM's are basically in order units is less important due to the design of the instruction set.

    You are right about the power though. The ARM needs to be coupled to a low power chipset, but guess what these also exist as well.

    It also needs a low power display. Now if I could just get a netbook with an Cortex A9 a GB of RAM, with 8-16GB of flash and a LCD from a OLPC XO-1 for 200 USD I would be well chuffed. I would expect such a netbook to have around 10-12 hours battery life.

  • by Phoghat ( 1288088 ) <palladin68000@gmail.com> on Sunday April 05, 2009 @07:10AM (#27464295)
    I've got an Axim 51v with an ARM 624Mgh processor, running WM 5, WiFi G, Bluetooth, a VGA screen (albeit 4 inch) and a separate GPU. It fits in my pocket and I use it for reading e-books, rudimentary surfing and Word and it plays games quite well. I wouldn't mind something like this with a somewhat larger screen a little faster CPU. It wouldn't fit in my pocket of course, but that why god invented messenger bags. BTW, It's a few years old and has more processing speed and storage than quite a few of my older desktops.
  • Re:Horsepower (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @07:40AM (#27464399)
    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. Much as I like the idea of big-block Chevvy engines, here in Europe 3 Litres (200ci) has always been big, as we could get 100HP/litre even then, without a turbo - hell, even without fuel injection. (Hint: it pays to design decent gas flow, and we think a good engine should be balanced to do 6,000RPM without falling to bits.)

    Today European/Japanese production plants regularly get over 100HP/Litre from Diesel engines with a turbo.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 05, 2009 @08:14AM (#27464513)

    Wrong. The A8 is roughly on a par with a comparably clocked PIII for performance. This is with an A8 SoC that is being used in Beagleboard, Pandora, Nokia N9XX, and the Palm Pre.

    The A9 is roughly on a par with something like the Atom with the same effective consumption per core of the A8 (It's slightly higher, but not by enough to matter much...). So, for the power consumption of a single Atom core, I can get a quad-core machine in the same performance domain.

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

    by CronoCloud ( 590650 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [noruaduolconorc]> on Sunday April 05, 2009 @09:07AM (#27464853)

    SP 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.

    The battery life may not be as good as a DS, but it's still tons better than any of the other competitors Nintendo had in handhelds. The PSP is also much much more capable than the DS is, almost but not quite on the level of the PS2. Optical media was a good choice for it, because back in 2004 large capacity flash with as much capacity as a UMD has was expensive and you can stamp out optical media cheaply and in large numbers.

    The DS hasn't exactly "won" the handheld war, it's the most popular, but the PSP is a strong second.

  • by OneAhead ( 1495535 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @10:41AM (#27465373)

    The battle between the Core and the Arm is about to begin! Finally I can put my stock of tins of baked beans to use!

  • by DrDitto ( 962751 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @11:39AM (#27465701)
    I don't remember the details from a group of computer architecture friends interested in forming a startup, but if you are interesting in licensing the ARM instruction set to develop your own ARM processor for sale, good luck with that. If I recall correctly, you get something like 12 months of exclusive rights, but then you have to give up your design to ARM. Someone correct me if I am way off here. Someone correct me if I am way off base.
  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @11:57AM (#27465839)

    Its going to be hard for ARM to kill intel. Thats roughly the same as saying x86 or itanium is going to kill intel.

    Generally when people are buying a product your company makes, your company does better, not worse.

    Guess no ones heard of XScale? What am I missing here?

  • by LucidBeast ( 601749 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @02:36PM (#27467175)
    I'm not expert on processors, but Nokia phones have ARM processors and can do h264 decoding. I don't know if there is a separate chip for that, but knowing how slow the processors is it must be somehow accelerated.
  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @03:30PM (#27467521)

    100M sales to 35M sales, and the ratio is growing. DS won.

  • baths are bad??? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nivag064 ( 904744 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @10:45PM (#27484223) Homepage

    Actually, baths are bad. Specifically if you wash your skin, you remove the protective layer of oil - this is a fact.

    Recently, a few years ago, they paid a bunch of students not to wash for a few months. They monitored them quite closely. After about 6 weeks or so, the skin stabilized in terms of pH etc..

    In a "confrontation" about the time Malaysia was formed, British and New Zealand soldiers made many patrols. It was found that the NZers had a higher percentage of their soldiers reporting sick, but not because they wanted to avoid going on patrol (British officers had very high regards for the courage and endurance of the NZers). It was put down to New Zealanders generally being used to cleaner environments than the British soldiers.


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