beyond Hummer processors
Monday, December 28 2009
Some years ago the only progress in processor technology was speed and power was no issue because energy was cheap. But then everyone started buying laptops and the batteries couldn't supply the power needed by those hungry bloated processor designs. So then, grudgingly, new processors were designed (the Pentium M series, for example) that could produce lots of operations over the course of fewer watt-hours. But the laptops still aspired to be desktops, what with their 20 inch screens and briefcase dimensions. They were so big that nobody really wanted to lug them around. So then came the subnotebooks, which were explicitly aimed at the 99% of tasks that don't require bleeding-edge processors. Once acquainted with a laptop the size of a paperback that could run for six hours on a battery charge, it was awefully hard to go back to the clunky old Hummer laptops of the recent past. Americans began absorbing lessons that the Japanese have already known for a generation. And then energy prices started skyrocketing.
Now, finally, we've begun to see wattage numbers attached to things like processors and motherboards. And now there are even processors where the emphasis has been on energy conservation, not on "gaming" and other computational needs used by a trivial fraction of the computer-using population.
I still have a plan to build an audio entertainment device around a low-power computer, and towards that end I recently took delivery of a motherboard with a built-in Atom 330 processor, a dual-core Intel processor with nearly twice the computational power of a 2 GHz Pentium 4 (though it uses eight watts, roughly a tenth the power demand of a 2 GHz Pentium 4). It's amazing how quickly Intel produced such processors once there was demand for them; without that demand they might have continued endlessly with their Hummeresque Pentium IV design. I can imagine a possible future where houses would be heated by the waste energy from a single personal computer.
Every several years since 1997 I explore the advances of Linux in the desktop realm. (Linux in the server realm is proven technology, and anyone proposing the use of Windows servers for anything non-legacy is a committed quaffer of the corporate KoolAid.) Today I was trying out the latest Debian desktop on that dual-core Atom motherboard. I have to say, I was impressed by how well it worked, especially given that I couldn't get all of the motherboard's functionality working under Windows XP. Everything worked in Debian, and it even knew about the sound circuitry and all four virtual processors (the Atom 330 has two physical cores and four virtual ones). I'm still not a huge fan of the look and feel of the KDE desktop, but it supplies me with nearly all of what I want in a desktop. The integration with SMB (the Windows file serving technology) seems to be significantly more solid than it is on a Macintosh.
Meanwhile back on my main machine, Woodchuck, which runs Windows XP, I found myself doing some preliminary work for a web development project. Such work requires a huge library of PHP code I've been accumulating since early 2006, but I don't like the mess of simply copying the files from one folder to another, where they could easily diverge into branch versions. The key to this code's utility has always been its complete genericness. So I need to hard link the library files into new locations. This isn't well supported by Windows XP; indeed, it's possible to completely scramble your file system if you try to use what little support there is. So I installed the Link Shell Extension and the Hardlink Shell Extension and then suddenly I could do things like select a bunch of files, drag them to a different folder, and then say that what I wanted to do was create hard links, not copy.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next