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OLPC Set To Dump x86 For Arm Chips In XO 2 274

Posted by timothy
from the just-make-it-faster dept.
angry tapir writes with this excerpt from Good Gear Guide: "One Laptop Per Child is set to dump x86 processors, instead opting to put low-power Arm-based processors in its next-generation XO-2 laptop with the aim of improving battery life. The nonprofit is 'almost' committed to putting the Arm-based chip in the next-generation XO-2 laptop, which is due for release in 18 months, according to Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of OLPC. The XO-1 laptop currently ships with Advanced Micro Devices' aging Geode chip, which is based on an x86 design."
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OLPC Set To Dump x86 For Arm Chips In XO 2

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  • OLPC Set To Dump x86 For Arm Chips In XO 2

    I'm sorry, I thought ARM is an acronym for Advanced RISC Machine (formerly Acorn RISC Machine) [wikipedia.org]. Why am I seeing it used as "Arm"?

    Or is there something I don't know about the processing power of two of my appendages?

  • I'm uninitiated at the arts of ARM, and am too lazy to look it up.

    • by alannon (54117) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @02:48PM (#27170919)

      It would mean no Windows. ARM is not an x86 architecture.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Patoski (121455)

        Windows CE runs on ARM [arm.com]. Granted, CE doesn't have the level of application support you'll find in other versions of Windows though.

      • by MikeFM (12491)

        I believe the iPhone runs on ARM. They should switch to iPhone OS. Unfortunately the version of Linux on the XO is sort of retarded. I got one to develop programs for and absolutely hate the XO desktop. It's really poorly designed IMO. Apple probably wouldn't license the iPhone OS to them though. So maybe a Linux distro with a more iPhone-like experience?

        The XO hardware is pretty good but the software needs some serious work. It just feels experimental and poorly thought out.

  • Full Windows on ARM (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hal_Porter (817932) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @02:47PM (#27170893)

    From TFA

    "Like many, we are urging Microsoft to make Windows -- not Windows Mobile -- available on the Arm. This is a complex question for them," Negroponte said.

    OLPC is in talks with Microsoft to develop a version of a full Windows OS for XO-2, Negroponte said. The XO-2 is still 18 months away from release, so "a lot can change with regard to Microsoft and Arm," Negroponte said.

    I don't really see this working. Windows has run on Risc before of course, but almost no one ported their applications to any of the Risc platforms. And a top of the line Arm (a Snapdragon or Cortex A8) is still less powerful than a bottom of the line x86 (Intel Atom), so it's not like you can run x86 binaries at an acceptable speed through emulation, like Dec tried with FX!32 on the Alpha.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:07PM (#27171185)

      The whole excuse people use for running Windows is it runs their applications. Seeing as how they're all for x86, porting Windows itself is only 1% of the issue.

    • by Verdatum (1257828) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:20PM (#27171413)
      Indeed, Windows Mobile (or CE or HPC) was a total rewrite, Even Windows 7 potentially has some DOS 1.0 code, but not WM. It took that much effort to get ARM working. It's actually a comparatively Sturdy OS, it just doesn't have enough decent software built for it.

      I had a MS-DOS EMU app for my HP Journada 720 (Windows HPC on a 255Mhz ARM chip), and for anything beyond rudimentary shell type commands, it was unusably slow.

      Linux + ARM however would be lovely. I've got all sorts of daemons crunching instructions on my Western Digital MyBook World NAS. Still, by default, I believe they lack an FPU. I wonder if they'd add a coprocessor...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dfghjk (711126)

        "Even Windows 7 potentially has some DOS 1.0 code..."

        What? You realize that Windows 7 lineage traces to Windows NT which ran on non-x86 processors, right? No DOS code.

        I guess if by "potentially" you meant zero potential then that's right.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ciggieposeur (715798)

          I suppose it depends on whether any of the vm86 mode in Windows 9x made it into Win2k and beyond.

          If any of the 16-bit ASM code behind the various int 21h DOS calls was retained in the real-mode emulation layer then one could say modern Windows still has DOS code still in it.

          • by turgid (580780)

            They could always "leverage" Open Source. WINE and qemu should do the job :-)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by kat_skan (5219)

          Microsoft Windows [Version 5.2.3790]
          (C) Copyright 1985-2003 Microsoft Corp.

          C:\>where command.com
          C:\WINDOWS\system32\command.com

          C:\>file c:\windows\system32\command.com
          c:\windows\system32\command.com; DOS executable (COM)

          C:\>

          That's Server 2003, which is the most recent version I've got handy. The assertion that there's some legacy code in Windows 7 somewhere is a reasonable one.

        • by gtx (204552)

          MS-DOS 1.0 was released in '81 and work on the OS2/NT project started in '85. Are you telling me that you are completely sure that none of the code from one project was recycled into a project that was started four years later?

          If anything, I'd be willing to bet that if they shared any coders, there's got to be some recycling on some level, no matter how unimportant. Avoiding reinvention of the wheel is not a new concept.

          I personally don't care one way or another, it's just that you seem to be awfully arro

      • by Nursie (632944)

        Um no.

        ARMv4 lacks the FPU. The newer Marvell chips certainly have FPUs now. ARM is great!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968)

      I may be kind of cynical, but it seems ot me the OLPC project is now saying they recognize a lower power, less expensive processor would be a major benefit to their stated goals...but they can't (or really don't want to) adopt it anyway unless Microsoft® gives them the "okay", since they've effectively abandoned already-capable-of-running-on-ARM Linux for Microsoft.

    • by Nursie (632944)

      I would think the new marvell sheeva chips are pretty close. They run in the 1.2-1.6 GHz range.

    • by MikeFM (12491)

      I hate Windows CE devices too. They are hard to use and developing for them feels like they are a bastard step child. Most programs aren't available for them and when they are they also feel like crappy stripped down versions that don't work well.

      I'm currently working on moving a major project from WinCE based devices to iPhone based devices. Much cheaper to build on and a better user experience.

    • I don't understand Mr Negroponte. His natural allies would be the geeks moving the wheels of Linux.

      The project would save substantial amounts of money and would provide a flexible, extensible machine for children to wander and learn.

      In Windows you are straight-jacked to do whatever the licenses you are given allow you to do, and you have to pay for the privilege and enjoy it. It is like paying for a bad tempered dominatrix ...

    • Why would you want to run x86 binaries? Most x86 programs are so unoptimized, that if you actually looked at the code, it'd make your eyes bleed. (figuratively, of course)

      One advantage of ARM CPUs is a lot of software to run on them still has to be made or ported. Since only the most committed (and skilled?) developers are doing that at this stage, my hope is ARM software will have a more efficient baseline.

      Considering how far most Windows apps have slid, this isn't unreasonable or difficult.

  • by nweaver (113078) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @02:48PM (#27170901) Homepage

    The OLPC project is dying. Four years ago, you didn't have the netbooks. Now you do.

    Shifting to ARM will simply ensure the death of the OLPC project, because being able to run real windows is an underappreciated benefit of x86.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timholman (71886)

      Shifting to ARM will simply ensure the death of the OLPC project, because being able to run real windows is an underappreciated benefit of x86.

      Or for that matter, being able to run OS X. For example, by all accounts the Dell Mini 9 can be turned into an excellent low-cost Hackintosh.

      But you are correct about the effect of the netbook market on the OLPC project. The OLPC was a visionary idea, but visionaries rarely outlast the revolutions they help create.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:15PM (#27171329)

      I'm pretty sure the scope of the OLPC is not for commercial use. Why would anyone care if it runs Windows? It's a computer. It's better than nothing.

    • by Haeleth (414428)

      Shifting to ARM will simply ensure the death of the OLPC project

      Personally, I'd leap at the opportunity to buy a decent n(et|ote)book with an ARM inside it. But maybe that's just me.

      because being able to run real windows is an underappreciated benefit of x86.

      The only big benefit of Windows is that it runs enterprise apps and/or that it's what you're used to. OLPC is not aimed at enterprises or at people with existing experience of computers, so why would OLPC users care about having Windows?

  • by pwizard2 (920421) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @02:49PM (#27170935)
    I seem to recall seeing something awhile ago that Ubuntu is being ported to the ARM architecture. If the port is ready, using it would be a much better proposition than begging Microsoft to make a custom Windows OS for the XO-2, IMO. What would stop Microsoft from deliberately crippling the OS (and making it practically useless as a result) like they did with the starter editions of XP and Vista? Those were meant for the same type of market demographic as OLPC, after all.
    • What would stop Microsoft from deliberately crippling the OS (and making it practically useless as a result) like they did with the starter editions of XP and Vista?

      Nothing at all. What's the incentive for people to use an OS from an manufacturer who deems them worthy of crapware?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:06PM (#27171179)

      You know there is something called debian which runs on all sorts of architectures. And this debian resembles ubuntu somewhat :P Relevant link: http://www.debian.org/ports

      • How is the parent modded 0 and the grandparent 4, insightful? Maybe I'll be informative if I mention that I think Facebook is being ported to ARM...
    • It work great. I run it on an nslu2.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSLU2 [wikipedia.org]

      How much power saving are we talking about here? It seems to me the LCD panel/backlight are by far the biggest consumer of battery power.

      • by mmontour (2208)

        It seems to me the LCD panel/backlight are by far the biggest consumer of battery power.

        Don't forget that the XO screen has a monochrome no-backlight (reflective) mode.

      • How much power saving are we talking about here?

        Probably not too much since the Geode uses about .8 watts according to the specs.

    • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3@@@phroggy...com> on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:16PM (#27171367) Homepage

      Microsoft wouldn't need to artificially limit an ARM port of Windows to only allow three applications to run at a time, since there would only be about three applications available for the platform.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Even if Microsoft bends over backwards, and dedicates half their resources to the ARM port, it'll still be crippled. Not because "OMG M$ suxx0rs!" but for the same reason that always comes up in windows vs. linux flame wars.

      Applications.

      Perhaps the largest argument in favor of windows on x86 is that virtually every bit of legacy software that somebody or other absolutely cannot live without for whatever reason runs on it. There is zero chance of most Wintel legacy software ever being ported to ARM(not
      • by MoxFulder (159829) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @04:34PM (#27172599) Homepage

        This is basically a weakness of proprietary software in general...

        We've had x86_64 for what, 6 years now? Windows XP got ported pretty fast, but driver support is still awful since most hardware vendors haven't bothered to port their drivers. And true 64-bit app support is even worse.

        On the other hand, the Linux kernel got ported to x86_64 shortly before the physical processors were actually available. I was running a full-blown Debian distro on it a couple months later. All the apps were open-source and the kernel makes great efforts to design device drivers for portability, and so for distro maintainers it was largely a matter of just recompiling the packages.

        What lags behind in 64-bit support under Linux? Surprise, surprise, it's closed-source stuff like Flash and video drivers.

        Closed-source software develops a massive amount of inertia against architecture changes. With open-source, as soon as one developer decides to recompile for the new architecture, maybe tweaks the code a bit, you're off and running.

    • Or they could just use Debian. Getting Ubuntu to work wouldn't be hard from there.
  • Time for OS X (Score:5, Interesting)

    by macs4all (973270) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @02:55PM (#27171031)

    I remember clearly that /. reported that Steve Jobs had originally agreed to license OS X to the OLPC project for free (as in beer), but that the offer was refused.

    Since it is a well-known fact that Apple has had OS X working on an ARM architecture in the iPhone and iPod Touch for nearly 2 years now, it would seem a no-brainer at this point for OLPC to take Apple up on their offer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fpophoto (1382097)
      Then Apple better get some work done. The most failure prone piece of software currently on my ipod touch is Safari.
  • by geekmux (1040042) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @02:58PM (#27171067)

    ...oh yeah, nevermind.

    Damn.

  • ARM architecture will allow them to dodge harassment from Microsoft goons. They can respond "we'd LOVE to have a derivative of your OS on our machines but unfortunately we use ARM chips!"

    Negroponte probably got sick of pigs heads on his doorstep and anonymous phone calls at 4am.
  • Poor OLPC (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bbasgen (165297) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:05PM (#27171169) Homepage

    "Like many, we are urging Microsoft to make Windows -- not Windows Mobile -- available on the Arm. This is a complex question for them," Negroponte said. OLPC is in talks with Microsoft to develop a version of a full Windows OS for XO-2, Negroponte said. The XO-2 is still 18 months away from release, so "a lot can change with regard to Microsoft and Arm," Negroponte said.

    They jettisoned Sugar, and they keep courting Microsoft. So sad. I wish the article would have explored the "open source" hardware concept. No idea what the heck that means from the article or for OLPC:

    OLPC can't implement all its ideas in XO-2, so it ultimately wants to "open source" the hardware design to other PC makers for use in building devices, McNierney said. He hopes that opening up the hardware design will spur the development of a "rich family of devices" that accelerate the adoption of the XO-2 technology.

    • by MoxFulder (159829)

      They jettisoned Sugar, and they keep courting Microsoft. So sad. I wish the article would have explored the "open source" hardware concept. No idea what the heck that means from the article or for OLPC:

      If OLPC is considering truly open source hardware... why are they only considering ARM as an alternative architecture? How about MIPS?

      There are a bunch of patents on the ARM architecture [wikipedia.org] and ARM has been quite aggressive [cnn.com] at shutting down open-source reimplementations in the embryonic stage.

      MIPS has several open-source implementations (a good guide to them here [jopwiki.com]) which can actually run on real hardware in FPGAs. I've tried 'em. There are a couple patents on the instruction set which are expiring soon, but

  • No successor (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rinisari (521266) * on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:10PM (#27171263) Homepage Journal

    The fact that AMD is not planning a successor to the Geode [engadget.com] processor used in the XO-1 probably influenced this decision, at least in part. In 18 months, there may not be any Geodes remaining.

    • by fm6 (162816)

      Well, they could switch to the Intel Atom chip. But the ARM makes more sense. The only reason I can see for using an x86 chip is binary compatibility, and it's not like that's a big issue for a project that's so thoroughly open source. I never quite understood why they went with the Geode in the first place. Because Quanta gave them a good price on the motherboards?

    • Why make a new Geode? They have Imageon, Sempron, Turion, and Conesus (part of the Yukon platform). They just sold off their small device graphics chips division to Qualcomm.

      AMD holds a large position in their very recently spun off GlobalFoundries, which is likely to be competitive to fabricate some ARM-based chips and other things AMD doesn't itself design.

      I'd say their bases are pretty well covered without the Geode.

    • http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/article/274414/amd_sees_no_geode_chip_replacement_sight [idg.com.au]

      "There are no plans for a follow-on product to today's available AMD Geode LX products, but we expect to make this very successful processor available to customers as long as the market demands," said Phil Hughes, an AMD spokesman.

      The chip is too old for further development, said Dean McCarron, president for Mercury Research. Chip designs and manufacturing processes have improved since it was first introduced.

      Sums it up nicely. They'll still make them as long as there is a demand, but no more architecture improvements.

      If they want a drop in replacement, they'll have to contact VIA. Please ignore the price. :P

  • No Change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FrostedWheat (172733) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @03:20PM (#27171415)

    OLPC is in talks with Microsoft to develop a version of a full Windows OS for XO-2, Negroponte said.

    So you'd get all of the disadvantages of Windows, while simultaneously loosing the only real advantage it has, plentiful software. Smart.

    • by MoxFulder (159829)

      Yeah, this seems like the worst of all worlds.

      Anybody remember Windows NT for the Alpha, MIPS, or PPC? No. Me neither.

      No one bought them because there was no support. Closed-source vendors never want to port their software to new architectures, even very similar ones.

      Open-source projects developed at least TWO pretty decent reimplementations of Adobe Flash (SWFDEC and Gnash), a moving target, before Adobe got around to a beta for the 64-bit version of its closed source Flash. Lame!

  • I do not think Microsoft will work on an ARM port, even something that translates x86 to ARM because the ARM processor is likely to be way too slow for this.

    Nintendo DS runs on an ARM architecture. Maybe now we can run those games at full speed on another device? Certainly now with an emulator on this device there would be less translation and more instruction passing. Great!

    Same goes for any other ARM-based processor device and emulation.

    Wine will not run on this and neither will Windows. I am so fine with

    • by bencoder (1197139)
      Doesn't quite work like that. The DS has such a significantly different architecture that even though they use an ARM, everything will have to be emulated(with some dynamic recompilation) anyway.

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