Matt Sealey wrote:
> Thank you for the proposal and none the less interesting
discussion. It's people like you who actually "get us there" at end, and
it's good to know that possible ways are being searched for.
> Unfortunately, I'm not a hardware hacker. But, as a consumer, I'd say that a
"1gb NAND Flash" is quite a bit below the level. I also wouldn't care much
about a 1280x720 screen if the hardware wouldn't be capable of playing the video
flawlessly. Or, if there was an HDMI port to connect to TV, which is, in my taste, better
suited for watching.
The Efika MX desktop has 8GB and the Efika MX Smartbook has 16GB of
NAND flash connected to the PATA port. Plenty of space.
That may have been OK by standards of 2-3 years ago. And kudos for
including an extra uSD port for extra storage. But performance of _ALL_
SD cards on the market today is appalling. The best ones are ~100x
slower than a decent SSD and cost 3x more per GB. As I said before, the
only usable SD cards for running the OS from are the SanDisk and Lexar
ones, and those are those are about £110 for 32GB vs. £60 for a 40GB
Intel X25-V which will annihilate them in performance and is ~20%
bigger. With uSD the situation is even worse, the cards are even slower
and even more expensive.
The way forward here would be a SATA port. Anything else doesn't cut it
in terms of performance, and even on something as low on CPU as an
800MHz A8 still suffers significant slow-down when working off SD cards.
This has a massive effect on perceived performance, especially with only
512MB of RAM for caching to cover up the deficiency.
Annoyingly, I've not yet seen a production ARM based netbook with a SATA
wholeheartedly (see above..) with the video playback thing. A laptop
*only* good as a compiler box won't sell.
Perhaps you can tell us, then, when the Efika MX will have accelerated
drivers available? The video poing keeps coming up, but Xorg on my Efika
MX is running off raw fbdev on mine and none of the standard
acceleration APIs work (e.g. XV).
> The gorgeously-looking Efika MX would fit me almost perfectly if
> the soon-deprecating A8 CPU and the plans for a dual-core solution
> with faster RAM. Plus, taking in mind the early stage of software on
> ARM and its stability issues and rather a development taste of the
> hardware, 350 bucks seems above the decent price when you see a 299
> competitor on Atom which is, yes, only a 2-hours-on-battery runner
> that heats like a stove, but hell, it has 1 gig of RAM, a 160 gigs
> hard drive and takes $my_favorite_distro on-board.
The Cortex-A8 is absolutely NOT being deprecated.
Maybe not deprecated in the "out of production sense", but in fairness
an 1GHz Tegra 2 blows it away by so much it's not even funny. I think it
would be foolish to bother bringing out a new product based on the A8 if
it is intended for non-embedded use (i.e. generic laptop/desktop use). I
can see that it is overspecified for tablets, phones, and other devices
with 800x480 screen that will never need to start up OpenOffice or full
fat Firefox, but it doesn't have that much margin for error when it
comes to staying on the right side of borderline for a laptop.
But that's just my opinion having extensively used both in the past
month or two...
> As for the "early
stage of software on ARM", we've been running and shipping a full
Linux desktop (GNOME, for all it's worth) for well over a year. I'm
not sure what you guys think the state of ARM actually is, if you're
basing it on the availability of Fedora.. well, that is Fedora's
problem. Other Linux distros (Debian for example) have had no problem
running on ARM for almost a decade, using the EABI for nearly 5.
Indeed, I think a lot of us are painfully aware of just how far behind
Fedora is at the moment.
The reason we chose Freescale's i.MX515 is because it had the
mature Cortex-A8 implementation on the market and by far the best
integration and featureset. Compared to the other A8 chips at the time
- from Samsung or TI - it was head and shoulders above on featureset
and performance. As an owner of several varying revisions of
Beagleboard, I would say OMAP3 was not the greatest chip to be working
with in the world. I like my Beagles but based on experience, I have
some doubts that being there first is better than having a mature
One of the big problems with ARM SoCs is that a mature implementation
(to me at least) means having good, stable drivers that are well
supported and updatable for the rest of the OS stack (i.e. you want to
make sure that there is a suitable Xorg driver when the distro moves to
a new version of Xorg with a new ABI.
By that measure there is no such thing as a mature ARM SoC
implementation, and there will not be until there is an OSS driver for
PowerVR. Given it has taken the best part of a decade to get stable
accelerated ATI and Nvidia drivers (which are still, BTW, nowhere nearly
as accelerated as you might think), unless there is suddenly a big drive
for raising millions for funding development of an OSS PowerVR driver, I
wouldn't put much stock in seeing such a thing available before the end
of this decade.
Freescale's roadmap is based on waiting until the
platform is at a point where it won't cause significant problems to
the rollout of the chip - less errata to deal with, ideally less
chance of a major automotive customer having cars sold where the
dashboard stops working. They'll hit Cortex-A9 at a fairly decent
revision, with a very tight integration and an optimized core on an
optimized process. TI is trying to be ahead of it's competitors which
will result, yet again, in a chip which is going to take 2 years to
actually get anywhere in the market.
And they'll still be a year before everyone else. Companies like Nvidia
are talking about shipping A15 based SoCs in 2012.
This is not the Intel/AMD Windows market where every 3 months you
to release something faster, and faster, and faster. To give a very
recent and very relevant example, Intel just screwed up their
southbridge for the second generation Core i7. It's cost them over
half a billion dollars to try and be the latest and greatest and rush
chips out. We have had that with chips in the past, trying to be there
too fast, and it costs money, and causes strife for customers.
Sure, but that happens once a decade or so, and the figures you mention
are for the volume shipments are measured in hundreds of thousands. Then
again, I do recognize the point that a smaller company can afford such a
failure far less than Intel.
I'll say it again, if you want 2GHz, dual core, 16GB dual-channel
RAM, 800MHz memory controllers, go buy a PC. You're in the wrong
market. Neither ARM nor Freescale or even TI are designing chips for
We're not talking about power use here. We're talking about "good
the expected panel resolution is 1024x600. It's very
Oh come on. 1024x600 isn't really adequate. It only ever took off
because of the initial rush to the market was driven by products that
were as cheap as possible. It was a novelty to have a tiny laptop, even
if it was no good. 1024x600 is barely adequate for something that is
just too painful on an 800x480 phone. And since 10in screens running
1366x768 are easily available, it's hardly justifiable from the
usability point of view. In the x86 world there are no doubt thousands
of those who don't know better and will buy such things because they're
cheap. But given the price tag on ARM based smartbooks is no lower and
the only people likely to buy them are the select elite, there is a lot
to be said for building a product that the only likely audience would
want. And in this case they will most certainly want something better
than 1024x600, even if it costs them an extra $20.
Go look at the Blackberry PlayBook, AI TouchBook, etc. - this
is the desired form factor, this is what the vendors want, it is what
the target users are looking for (and the targets are kids, people who
don't do well with computers and are a little bit frightened by a
wailing, 17" hulk on their desk just to do word processing and go to
Facebook) and the market they are trying to capture is not People Who
Compile Software A Lot And Need Tons Of Memory and Enough Processing
Power to Make You Dizzy.
I can't help but think that the market they are trying to capture isn't
going to be very responsive. How many non-geeks have bought ARM based
netbooks? They are going to be the select elite from among those who
might run Linux on their x86 netbooks. I don't think it's sane to be
speccing up a low-end system targeting the unclued-up users using
unfamiliar software, and trying to compete with x86 on price. For the
life of me I cannot see that being a successful business strategy.
Toshiba tried to side-step the issue by shipping the AC100 with Android,
and that was a massive fiasco resulting from seemingly nobody checking
the usability of Android on a non-touchscreen device. Great as a Linux
laptop (if only accelerated Xorg drivers worked), but using Android
without a touchscreen is at best an alien and difficult experience.
Having said all that - the one thing that applies to both the consumer
and geek markets is usability. Toshiba failed it due to shipping Android
on the AC100. My Efika MX's usability got salvaged from the jaws of
defeat by some software hacking to re-map keyboard keys to replace the
completely unusable mouse buttons integrated into the glide-pad.
I call them the Numbers Brigade because the
actual usefulness of the device as a holistic computing solution is
not relevant to them, it's the bullet points on the processor
datasheet compared to another one, and the prospect of a new one
coming out soon that will outclass it based entirely on the
theoretical math of seeing which number is bigger without taking into
account the way the components interact. They are the kind of people
who live in a constant state of early adoption and infinite buyer's
remorse. While you might think they make up a significant percentage
of PC sales through their rampant purchasing of new technology at high
prices and low turnaround times, they simply don't.
Except we aren't talking about PC sales here. If anybody is likely to
have buyer's remorse when acquiring ARM based netbooks it's exactly the
average users you describe. They are the ones that are going to be least
able to deal with Android without a touchscreen, lack of working flash
(no youtube), lack of video acceleration, and lack of reliably and
unobtrusively functioning mouse buttons. The geeks will likely get
together and hack up a solution that makes the situation bearable. The
rest will either send the product back as unfit for purpose, ebay it, or
shelve it and never look at it again while spreading bad word about the
Maybe when the Cortex-A15 is out and we have ARM servers floating
ARM servers are already floating around. ZT systems have released such a
thing. It's not cheap, but if you are up against the wall on data centre
power consumption and cooling it is well within the realm of plausible
when it comes to value for money. It has dual core A9s in it (8 of them):
the dream of a Power User ARM Smartbook with a huge screen, a
ton of RAM and processing power enough to spook a horse will be
fulfilled. Good luck waiting for 2015 for that one, in the meantime I
guarantee the first usable Cortex-A15 unit on the market will be dual
core, less than 1.5GHz, and have an 11" 720p screen on it.
You may be right about an A15, but a large-screened A9 should be more
than plausible today. The AC100 has a HDMI output and can (supposedly -
haven't tested it myself yet) handle outputting a 1080 signal. I tried
fitting a 720p panel into it, but Toshiba did some firmware "sabotaging"
that makes higher res panels not work, but I don't have any reason to
think this is for reasons for any hardware limitations, it's almost
certainly a firmware issue. And if it can output a 1080p HDMI signal, I
don't see why there would be a reason why you couldn't output that 1080p
via LVDS to a TFT panel.