Monday, December 28, 2009

Writing has always been hard for me. Give me formula to solve, or a question to answer. But an essay, often brought me to a complete standstill. To some extent, I have gotten good enough to be passable, but it’s never my strong suit. I do find that the times from about 10:00PM onward is my most productive writing times. I don’t know if it’s a holdover from college days (with the last minute crunch to finish) or it has a more physiological origin. Either way, it makes writing for work difficult.

When I was at Microprocessor Report, there was a regular cadence that I could work to, often with nightly writing sessions. But at NVIDIA, it’s more right-now writing.
Then there’s Twitter, the equivalent to snack foods of writing. Short, often meaningless, snacks of sentences – no more than 140 characters long. There is some creativity trying to fit an idea into such a small space, but often real thought is lost as the premium is just brevity.

I wrote this item, specifically as a writing exercise – trying to get the writing juices flowing for another project or two. For that purpose, this seems to have worked out rather nicely. Hopefully, you’ll get to see the results soon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wow. It's been sooo long since I posted anything here. Bad, blogger :(
I blame Twitter ;)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'm looking forward to my next PC build - an ION-based HTPC. I purchased from Amazon a ZOTEC ITX 330 ION motherboard with the dual-core Atom processor and an ITX case from AOpen. I plan to migrate my old HTPC in a much bigger Antec case into the small form-factor design.

A couple of issue remain - the AOpen case supports only one 2.5in hard drive and the old HTPC has a 3.5in HD. I'll have to buy a new notebook HD and migrate the OS. The other issue is that the AOpen case doesn't have space for an optical drive. Most of the ITX cases only support the slim optical drives. The existing HTPC uses a full sized dual HD format (BluRay and HD-DVD) from LG. The AOpen case offers a stacked option for a drive, but it's also for the slim drive and I can't find an online source that sells the stack anyway. So my option seems to be to use the optical drive in an external case. I' thinking using the XBox360 HD-DVD drive I have and replacing the drive with the dual-format drive. Not as elegant though.

I'll be posting pictures as the project gets going - hopefully this weekend.

On another note, I want to clarify my previous post. My posts on x86 and ARM are based on conversations I've had with former collegues from Microprocessor Report and are not based on any conversations at NVIDIA.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

in a follow-up conversation with a colleague, I had a deeper discussion on the evolution of x86 cores and may modify my stance on its applicability to ultramobile devices. The problem I think an x86 faces is expectations, not capabilities. An x86 in a handset would run at 1GHz at best, which is perceived as slow in the PC space. The operating system would have to be optimized for efficiency and power, not just the silicon. The processor would still have to be very stripped down, and highly optimized for micropower management.

So it's possible, but not easy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Last week, my friend and former colleague at Microprocessor Report Peter Glaskowsky, posted to his blog on CNet responding to a GigaOm story by Stacey Higginbotham. Peter called a post x86 world "preposterous." I disagree with Peter and here's what I posted:
I have to disagree. In order for Intel and x86 to be successful in the smartphone market, there needs to be a reasonable need to run the PC operating system and programs on a 3 inch screen. Otherwise, x86 compatibility is meaningless in a market where ARM-based mobile operating systems already dominate. The x86 instruction set and traditional Windows has no inherent advantage in the smartphone market. Apple has shown that a mobile operating system, even one based on a desktop core, needs a different user interface and application design.

To Peter’s point that instruction sets are not relevant, why must x86 win in the end? There are only three x86 vendors and only one of those is both financially healthy and shipping significant volume. While there are a few hundred million x86 processor shipped every year, there are many hundreds of millions of ARM-based designs in cell phone, microcontrollers, and the like shipped every year (over 10 billion since 1990) from many different companies, large and small, and in between. ARM is not some obscure processor, and it is used by many innovative companies (according to ARM, 60 partner companies were at MWC'09 For Intel (or AMD for that matter) to take x86 into cell phones is proof that if your only (successful) tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Intel’s agreement with TSMC to offer an Atom-based (Intel’s lowest end, lowest power x86 core) hard core for SoC design is Intel’s recognition that it needs to tap into the ARM ecosystem. The same ecosystem it failed to win over with XScale. Details of the agreement are still meager, but I’m concerned because it allows Intel to vet who and what will use the Atom core. That is not open enough for true innovation and competition.

In a related story, CNet’s Brook Cruthers asked if anyone would buy an Intel Smartphone:

But he didn't address battery life. There is no free lunch – more performance will use more energy. For an x86 processor to meet or beat an ARM-based SoC, it will require an extreme measure of very fine-grained power management. One of the power penalties of x86 is that the instruction decoder is complex with many special case conditions (in comparison to ARM) and increased complexity often translates into increased power.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Netbooks or mini-notebooks, no matter the name you call them, they are the hottest topic in the PC market. My company finally jumped into the fray with the ION platform which combines the very low power Atom processor with our very capable 9400 chipset. This is a very capably platform that would only get better when Intel releases a dual-core Atom processor. The aging 945 chipset from Intel is an anchor on the speedy little Atom processor.

From what I've gathered so far, the appeal of mini-notes is the combination of low price (about the cost of an iPOD touch, which makes you wonder about how high Apple's margins must be), connectivity (WiFi), battery life, and portability (small size and light weight).

The first version of the mini-notes, exemplified by the ASUS Eee PC, where an odd hot with Linux running on underclocked Celeron processors (the so-called 900MHz Celeron was underclocked to ~630MHz), small 7" displays and crammed keyboards. Still there was something attactive about a sub-$400 notebook you could take anywhere in a small bag (not quite pocketable). As the catagory has evolved the keyboards are bigger, the displays are bigger, and added more mainstream WinXP operating systems.

After shipping about 10 million units in 2008, the estimates for 2009 are up to 35 million units. On one hand, this is an opportunity to expand the markets for PCs by inproving the portability, but it's also a chance to crush the system prices to bargain basement levels. We might find that these PC's become as disposable as cell phones with a shortened life span. PC life spans had been increasing, but Netbooks could lower it again. So the margins aren't great, but the shorter replacement cycle could be a good thing for PC OEMs.