Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Low Power Microprocessors for General Purpose Computing

While researching devices for my home brew mobile phone, I've realized that the current generation of CPUs for mobile devices are actually seriously powerful, very low cost and use almost no power. The performance per watt and per dollar seems to be an order of magnitude better than the PC-class CPUs that are common in commodity servers nowadays. The absolute performance and memory capacity is lower, but is comparable to common PC hardware from a few years ago, and could be useful for more than running a high end phone or portable games machine. Devices such as the Marvel PXA270 and Freescale i.MX31 run at over 500MHz, some include floating point units, they support at least 128MB of RAM (a single chip), and a myriad of I/O interfaces, with Linux 2.6 support.

While the current mainstream CPUs were driven by the development of the home PC market, this generation is driven by the development of the mobile, battery powered device market, which is a very large. For example the worldwide cellphone market is something like a billion devices a year.

I think that there could be some interesting general purpose computer systems built from low power devices (CPUs that use less than one watt). I looked around but wasn't sure what to search for... I do know about the systems that are sold for embedded use, but they are typically configured using lower speed and lower memory options.

Does anyone know of vendors selling general purpose systems, or a category name for this space?

[Update: I asked around, and thought a while, and decided that this is interesting enough to have its own name "millicomputer" and its own blog "millicomputing"].

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, we call ourselves "gumstix"

    We really do try and create general-purpose computers built on these chips. Look at our waysmall and netstix computers for examples. We'll be further building out the waysmall & netstix lines in the future too.

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