20090608

More From Computex. The Green Revolution of Computing Begins

One word: Wow!

For basically as long as I can remember, I've been interested in low-power computing. The combination of environmental awareness, plus the ability to understand how things work (i.e. engineering), essentially equates to my urge to want to make the universe more energy efficient. This is the reason why I've been such a big fan of ARM cores for so many years, and also why I've been following the progress of ARM and Linux together. Linux is basically the only publicly-available, fully-featured OS for alternative architectures such as ARM(ok, BSD too), which is why I consider Linux as pivotal for the recent achievements of ARM and their licensees. Having seen the Qualcomm-powered Netbook only a few days ago, I am no longer hesitant to say, that

Linux has enabled ARM to potentially overcome Intel in the PC market

Slashdot posted this yesterday, and I see no shame in admitting I read it there first. Computex has yet again unveiled what I consider to be the future of mobile computing and traditional workstations. Take a few minutes and please watch these videos. What you'll see is that several well-known semiconductor companies (Freescale, Nvidia, Qualcomm, ... Samsung?) plus many new and established manufacturers, have decided that it is time to bring ARM devices to the desktop.

As many engineers are already aware, ARM chips generally use < 1W of power, and entire systems often consume < 5W. These ARM chips run in the GHz range and offer more than enough computational power for day-to-day tasks, multimedia applications, and now even 3D gaming. When we compare the power consumption of about 5 W for a power-hungry ARM system, with the power consumption of a 300W office computer, the greener choice is clear.

A typical Intel-powered laptop or workstation (see x86 architecture) can often consume power in the range of 250-400W, when hard disks, optical drives, and expansion cards are taken into consideration. The most power-efficient x86-systems can run at about 30W. Therefore, the power savings using an ARM-based system can be between 100 times (in the most optimistic case) and 10 times (in the most conservative case) - but always in the favour of ARM systems.

Although the economy is on everyone's minds these days, energy is probably going to be one of the hottest markets in the next decade (and arguably now). I predict that we are likely to see the Green Revolution of Computing within the next few years. Power-efficient chips, such as those based on ARM, MIPS, and PowerPC architectures, will likely start replacing Intel chips on a massive scale. It's likely that this will first happen in the home, and then it will make its way into businesses. Businesses typically rely on 'legacy' applications and the cost is just to high to redesign most programs right away, so we will likely see the business adoption of Green Computing later on, hopefully driven by some kind of government incentive program.

ARM chips are typically designed for a single-user-load, and aren't necessarily the best thing for professional video editing, high-demand servers, extreme gaming, or scientific computing - at least not yet anyway. Of course, adding optical or magnetic-disk drives to any ARM system would increase the average power consumption of the device, but not as much as it would in the case of a PC, as most of required components for ARM are integrated onto a single chip, and not contained in a different chipset altogether. But isn't physical media becoming almost irrelevant these days, with the increased tendency toward cloud computing?

1 comment:

Christopher Friedt said...

The OS seen on display from the Nvidia-powered units was a Windows CE 6.0 kernel, with the UI written by Nvidia.