Mike Schaeffer's Blog

Articles with tag: hardware
January 25, 2006

Intel has released pictures of test chips made with its new 45 nanometer process. For those of you keeping score at home, that means it has transitors 4-5,000 times smaller than those on the original 8088. Look at it another way: the 30,000 transistors used in that old chip can now be made to fit in the same space as 6 of the transistors actually used.

45 nanometer is apparently the second generation of Immersion Lithography, which "has its roots in the proven technology of immersion microscopy". My grandfather used oil immersion lenses on his optical microscope (he was a microbiologist) to step up the magnification to x2-3,000.

July 27, 2005

As rumored, Apple just refreshed the iBook. The other rumor, the one about a new chassis and a widescreen display, did not come true. Between that and Apple's desire not to encroach too much on the PowerBooks, there wasn't much headroom for major upgrades:

  • 2-finger trackpad scrolling.
  • Sudden motion sensing for the disk. (Is this done by the disk itself with a built in motion sensor or by the motherboard/CPU?)
  • Standard Bluetooth
  • A minor speed bump: the peak CPU is now a 1.42GHz G4 with a 142MHz bus.

I was hoping for more, but given Apple's total lack of manuvering room in the laptop space, this is an understandable bump. If they upgraded the iBook too much, there'd be little reason to pay extra for the PowerBook. Since they can't upgrade the PowerBook too much (thanks to the stagnant G4) they have a natural cap on the features in the iBook. Thus, Apple is restricted to selling up its five year old laptop with slogans like "a fast 133MHz or 142MHz system bus" (fast? Dell's $500 Inspiron 1200 runs its system bus at 400MHz) and "brilliant 1024 by 768 pixel resolution" (maybe it was brilliant five years ago).

Anyway, I've recently come to have a theory on the limited display resolution of Apple's notebooks. It seems obvious in retrospect, but Apple can't scale up the display resolution since they don't have the CPU or memory bandwidth to support higher resolutions as well as they want. With modern display stacks like Quartz and Quartz Extreme, pushing pixels around is one of the biggest user-visible performance burdens on a modern machine (hence, "the snappy"). While a GPU can help, there's no getting around the fact that if they doubled the resolution, they'd double the number of bytes their system has to process to render the same sized desktop on the screen. Given that Apple's best G4's have less than half the main memory bandwidth of the lowest end Centrinos, there's no wonder Apple's not chomping on the bit to eat up more of their bus.

Since Apple's first wave of Centrino laptops should bring fixes for all of this, the computing community has some pretty amazing hardware to look forwards to in a year or so.

June 30, 2005

I ran across this quote the other day from I, cringely:

The market has stupidly decided that Intel microprocessors are better than Apple's preferred PowerPCs, so Apple will be at a disadvantage trying to sell PowerPC machines into the Intel market. This is what's right now killing Silicon Graphics, which is finding rough going pitting its MIPS processors against Intel. ... Yes, Apple will build computers with Intel processors. Their aim, as in all of these products, is for the high end. Based on Intel's new Merced chip, the new Apple machine will have PCI slots, Universal Serial Bus, Fast Ethernet, IEEE 1394 FireWire, IRDA, DIMM sockets, but no ISA slots and no backwards compatibility to DOS. So this is NOT a PC in the strictest sense, since it will only run Rhapsody, but not System 8 or Windows NT. It will run Mac applications inside Rhapsody. And because Apple is both the author of Rhapsody and the designer of this machine, Jobs believes that more customers will want to buy their Rhapsody wrapped in Apple hardware than not.

Funny thing is... that quote is from October of 1997. A lot has changed since then, but since the core reasoning was sound it probably shouldn't be too much of a suprise that he was ultimately right.

The other interesting bit was that Cringely wrote that piece around 1997, which is when the NDA for 'Project Star Trek' expired. Star Trek was a project in which a few Apple, Novell, and Intel software engineers got MacOS 7 running on PC hardware. I'm not sure what the business story would've been, but it was a nice technical accomplishment nonetheless.

June 28, 2005

I haven't had as much time to play with it as I'd like, but the laptop arrived today. In the hour I've had it running, so far I'm quite impressed. A couple quick thoughts:

  • I like the keyboard: nice and solid. Since the layout is more like a Dell D600 than a D400 (what I have from work), there'll be a little getting used to it. The D400 layout puts page up and page down near the arrow keys, which I've gotten used to for reading documents. The I6000 (and D600/D800) puts page up and page down up near the display. If that gets too obnoxious, I might have to investigate remapping some of the media keys on the front of the machine to more useful keys.
  • I love the WUXGA (1900x1200, approx.) display. The machine came from the factory with large icons enabled and set to 120dpi. Set up that way, it seems readable enough to me, but my vision is so far correctable to 20/20. If smaller text adds to fatigue or is harder to read on a bouncy train, it'll be possible to enlarge text through preferences, so I'm not worried about it at all. At this point, the 1024x768 D400 is going to feel very cramped.
  • Dell still dumps its machines full of software. This machine came with several broadband offers, four media players, and a bunch of modem stuff. Most of that's getting uninstalled in the name of system stability. I already have broadband, I don't use streaming media that much, and I haven't used a modem in years.
  • XP Media edition looks the same as XP Pro, so far.

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