Tag Archives: arm

On Apple moving Mac from x86 to ARM

Blomberg is reporting that Apple is considering moving the Mac computer line off of Intel x86 CPUs to in-house developed ARM CPUs. I have my doubts.

I’m sure it is true that they are considering it, but that doesn’t mean it will be happening any time soon. They considered moving to Intel for the better part of a decade, on and off and they didn’t make their move until their old CPU choice, the PowerPC line, had fallen behind and showed no signs of recovering.

For the time being, Intel seems to be on the right track. No one offers a faster or more power-efficient desktop/laptop CPU. Intel was apparently slower than Apple would have liked in driving down power-consumption down or graphics performance up, but they seem to have changed their tune. They’ve accelerated their pace of GPU performance improvement, a move that some have attributed to Apple’s demands. They’ve also become increasingly serious about low-power chips for both mobile devices and “ultrabooks” (Windows version of the MacBook Air). Also, given that so much of their market these days are low-margin, low-price windows PCs, I’d think they’d be eager to have the opportunity to keep a customer who can afford to pay a premium to get the best Intel has to offer.

It is true that Apple does have its own in-house chip-design talent working on ARM CPUs, and it might make sense to leverage their efforts over more of Apple’s product line, but right now, Mac volumes are really a fraction of the iOS device volumes, so it isn’t clear it would be a big win, especially since their laptops and desktops currently occupy and performance and power-consumption envelope that is significantly different than iOS devices.

In the long-term though, I think it is pretty likely that Apple move off of Intel. I think that in many ways, the writing has been on the wall for Intel for a long time. Their competitive position has been eroding, and the pace is going to accelerate if they fail to get some major mobile-phone and/or tablet design-wins in the next year or so. It will be further hastened if high-performance ARM CPUs start putting pressure on their margins and volumes in the server-space.  At some point, Apple will have to switch horses, and if they time it just right, they might actually gain some competitive advantage by weakening competitors who are less-prepared and less able to abandon Intel.

I’ve never been great at estimating when the inevitable will finally come to pass, but I can’t imagine it will be less than 3 years before Apple would make such an announcement, and probably more like 4-6 before they have to.

Crashplan Install Script for ARM Debian on Pogoplugs and Dockstars

I’ve pulled together information from a few sources on installing Crashplan backup software on a Cloud Engines Pogoplug, or Seagate Dockstar, and turned it into a simple bash script.

The script assumes you’ve already installed and booted Debian on your device using the instructions and scripts provided by Jeff Doozan. Be sure to check his forum for updates.

My main contribution here is in pulling things together into a bash script. I’ve built on the work of others, in particular Crashplan user Torbjörn and Paul Chilton.

Get the script here.


  • The script now references a local mirror of the jtux source tarball, and the patchfile.
  • Script references an out of date version of Crashplan. You can probably just update the URL, but I haven’t tested it. On the other hand, Crashplan autoupdates for you.
  • More recent versions of Crashplan have a new native MD5 library dependency.  They complain about it in engine_error.log, but automatically fall back to a marginally slower java version of the routine instead.
  • The version of the openjdk6 package in Debian Squeeze has bugs in the JVM JIT. In my experience, this led to the Crashplan service dying occasionally, historically, and often now that I’ve got more files. The alternatives are to edit the java command-line options in /usr/local/crashplan/bin/run.conf to make it run in interpreted mode only (-Xint) or to download a copy of the Oracle Embedded JRE SE (ejre) for ARM v5 headless and update the crashplan scripts to use it.
  • I may update the script to deal with these issues once I have something to test the changes against, but I have too many other, higher priority, projects right now.

“Real” OS X Apps on the iPad, Are You Crazy ?!?!?

I’m posting this from my iPhone, so I can’t be bothered to name names, but trust me when I tell you, there are a lot of people criticising Apple for basing the iPad off the iPhone OS, rather than making it capable of running Macintosh applications by using a touch-enabled version of the version of OS X that runs on Mac desktops and laptops. I understand the impulse, but these people are either crazy, or they just aren’t thinking things through.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. There is just no damn way to profitably sell a device that matches the price, performance and portability of the iPad that also runs existing Mac apps. This will change in the future, but it’s just not something that can happen this year.

There are many reasons for this, but it really starts with the fact that modern Macs use Intel CPUs and Intel CPUs just aren’t as power efficient for a given level of performance as the ARM CPU in the iPad, iPhone and other mobile devices. So, an iPad that runs existing Mac apps would have to have an Intel CPU, and so would have shorter battery-life, which hurts portability. This could be compensated for with a larger battery, but a larger battery would be heavier, which hurts portability and add expense which would already be higher, because intel CPUs cost more than ARM CPUs.

So on the hardware side, price and weight are two strikes against an iPad that runs Mac apps, but that is only half the problem. The bigger problem is software. Mac apps are built to be run on fairly powerful computers that are capable of multitasking and which people use a mouse and keyboard to interact with. There are a few implications of this.

First, there is a good chance that existing OS X apps, designed to run on powerful hardware, would be both slow and power hungry on an iPad becuase acceptable performance and efficiency on a iMac or MacBook could be completely unacceptable on an iPad. This is on top of the inherent power-efficiency disadvantages of compatible hardware.

An even biggher problem is that the user interface would be ill-suited to the iPad. There are no apps for the Mac designed for the type of interaction the iPad supports. On the otherhand, there are hundreds of thousands of iPhone apps that will run on the iPad. They were designed for touch interaction, so their UIs are more likely to translate to the iPad, which is in many ways an iPhone with a larger screen, than UIs designed for mouse and keyboard interaction. Perhaps less obvious, but at least as important, developers of iPhone apps are likely to be futher down the learning curve for multitouch UIs than developers of “desktop” Mac applications, so they will likely be able to release versions of their apps that take advantage of the possibilies of the larger screen on the iPad than Mac developers.

Further, all of those apps were designed for a device that is even more constrained interms of power consumtion and performance than the iPad. If anything they should run better on the iPad the the iPhone.

I understand why people would like the iPad to run OS X apps. People conflate running Mac OS X applications with “openness” that we don’t get when iPhone and iPad apps all have to go through the iTunes App Store approval process. But let’s face it, an iPad than ran Mac apps would come into this world some combination of slower, more expensive, less portable (in terms of both weight and battery life) and with far fewer good quality multitouch apps.  I don’t think anyone really wants that, so rather than asking for it, lets focus narrowly on the real issue because while it may be unlikely that Apple opens the iPad to apps distributed through channels other than the App Store, at least it possible.  An iPad that ships in 60 days runs Mac apps and doesn’t suck is pretty much impossible.

ARM vs Intel-lovers

Fascinating to see how myopic people are.  I was going through the forums on Ars Technica and came across a thread titled “why are upcoming ARM netbooks hyped so much? Noone wants ARM.”  The thread kicked off with this:

This is getting really silly. Why does the IT media seem so obsessed with hyping upcoming ARM-based notebooks? You’d think that the netbook manufacturers actually learned and took a few hints from their first few releases, most notabling that: the market at large wants to run full blown Windows on their notebooks. Linux is a niche and a small one at that. ARM CPUs can run Linux / WinCE / Android, neither of these 3 are “full blown Windows”, therefor ARM based netbooks are doomed to fail by default.

There were arguments both ways, but I was struck, again, by how invested some people get in defending their captors.  I ended up posting the following as a comment.

Noone” wants ARM? How about this, I know a bunch of people who don’t care if their netbook has Intel or Windows inside, because everything they use if for happens in a web browser. Cheap, compact, and long battery life? That’s something they actually want.

And don’t forget all the people in developing markets who either do no computing at all, or they are already ARM users because their primary access to computing is through a mobile phone. An ARM netbook would be a nice step up. Not that they have any particular affection for ARM, unless, of course, its made by a local ARM licensee.

As for all you “IT” guys who feel your pants tighten when you think about upgrading your ESXi cluster to some new Nehalems, there are guys who are responsible for more virtual machine instance hours in a day than you will be in your whole lifetime, swapping fantasies with guys who’se applications won’t run on the biggest, baddest Nehalem box, much less a long aisle of racks stuffed full of Sandybridges. Those guys, they are fantasizing about how much power and money they can save with assloads of systems build on upcoming high-volume, low-cost ARM SoCs. Those guys are going to put nine out of ten of you Windows-cleaners out of work if you cling to the old-way of doing things for too long.

And “chipguy,” don’t forget, Intel got its start in the microprocessor business supplying chips for desktop calculators. Read some Clayton Christensen. Modest beginnings have led to big things, and toppled old empires in the tech business again and again. No reason to think it won’t happen again.

Intel has to invest a lot of capital to hold on to its lead. I don’t know about you, but in the long run, I’d bet on a competitive ecosystem over a command-economy for the efficient allocation of capital.

Little Computers

I like low powered computers.  It’s nice to use dedicated hardware for certain functions like file servers, routers, media players, etc.  Dedicated hardware means you don’t have to disrupt other functions to do an upgrade.  It also means that the dedicated hardware can be sized appropriately for the task, which helps avoid wasting energy for systems that are running around the clock.

For these reasons, I’m always on the lookout for hardware options.

VIA’s mini-ITX products have long provided a combination of small size and relatively low power consumption.  I’ve had a second hand motherboard/CPU combo powering my home file server for the last 5 years or so.  And their Pico-ITX boards shrink things down even further.

In the past year or so, Intel has gotten into the act with their low-powered Atom CPUs.  For under $100 you can get a barebones system with a compact case, a low-wattage power supply, a motherboard and an Atom CPU from NewEgg.  Unfortunately, these cheaper Atom systems pair their efficient CPUs with relatively inefficient supporting chipsets that can consume 4x the power of the CPU.  Options are starting to emerge.  Boards with the NVidia ION chipset draw less power and the included GPU can help with playing back 1080p video, but these carry a big price premium. In addition, some time this year, Intel is supposed to be shipping revisions more integrated options that draw less power.


Right now though, there are some interesting options based on embedded Atom chips.  Fit2-PC sells tiny barebones systems (4″ x 4.5″ x 1.05″) that pair the 1.1GHz Atom z530 with a chipset that includes hardware assisted HD video decoding and uses a max of 8W.  The basic version, with 1GB of memory, room for a laptop hard drive and gigabit ethernet is $245.  Not exactly cheap, but these things are TINY. For another $10 you can add WiFi.  All of them have HDMI for video, and 6 USB ports.

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