Desktop Computing with ARM

We have seen plenty of examples of smart phones, tablets and a few smartbooks/netbooks using ARM processors. What of the desktop? While desktops don’t need mobility and ultra-low-power consumption ARM CPUs are fanless and therefor quiet.

Here are some who worked on prototypes/demos:

  • Pegatron
  • Compulab’s TrimSlice
  • NuFront
  • Marvell
  • BeagleBoard multiple screen setup
  • NuFront all-in-one
  • PandaBoard from TI
  • even an AmLogic set-top box makes a decent desktop

So, I don’t see any problem with small, cheap computers running Linux and ARM moving into the desktop space. Maybe it won’t be a tidal wave this year, but next year when Cortex A15 is out, watch out!

According to ARM, “The ARM Cortexâ„¢-A15 MPCoreâ„¢ processor is the highest-performance licensable processor the industry has ever seen. It delivers unprecedented processing capability, combined with low power consumption to enable compelling products in markets ranging from smartphones, tablets, mobile computing, high-end digital home, servers and wireless infrastructure. The unique combination of performance, functionality, and power-efficiency provided by the Cortex-A15 MPCore processor reinforces ARM’s clear leadership position in these high-value and high-volume application segments.”

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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27 Responses to Desktop Computing with ARM

  1. richard says:

    “Watch out! The ARMed devices will be everywhere doing everything.”

    They already are 🙂 That’s the beauty of ARM. It’s literally everywhere already, powering everything from routers and mobile phones to GPS, avionics and telecommunications.

  2. richard says:

    There’s no reason the next generation of ARM CPUs won’t be able to compete in the workstation and server space. After all, until farely recently (in computing terms at least), IBM and Sun still had a reasonable share of the market with their RISC platforms (Power and SPARC respectively). Intel’s ubiquity in the consumer space is what gave them the muscle to push IBM and Sun out of the limelight, and mass-mass-MASS-produce the architecture and therefore drop the cost… don’t believe for a second that x86’s “technical superiority” had anything to do with it. The same thing is about to happen to Intel – there are (estimated to be) over 10 billion ARM cores out there now… that’s the sort of commoditization that lets a platform flourish.

    I think the revival of what was once considered the duck’s nuts of processing technology will come about with what we’ve learned about GPU capabilities, and eradicating computing bottlenecks in other areas (memory and storage, for example).

    I’m counting down the days until there’s a high powered ARM desktop with something like Nvidia’s Denver at its heart (basically an ARM core with extra muscle provided by one or more GPUs). I can picture an ARM-based server CPU being comprised of 30-40 dirt cheap low-power ARM cores instead of 4 or 8 or 12 x86 cores, and a workstation CPU being maybe a quad- or hex-core processor with some serious GPU meat attached.

    Exciting times indeed… x86 needs to be put to bed.

  3. I have seen smart phones in action that can do a lot of what people used to use desktops to do. Further, they are extremely portable which is a huge advantage over a desktop. I expect something like a smartphone, a docked smartphone or some kind of all-in-one or thin client is the desktop of the future.

    Really, the space, weight and cost of a desktop is mostly wasted. Only people who are doing serious data crunching need local power. Many people will find power on the server more efficient and flexible. I know many people who only use local computing power for a few percent of their work and they would likely have no reduction in effectiveness doing what they do on a server. The uptime on a server is easily 99.9% or better with clustering. I don’t know any humans except perhaps myself who have anywhere near that kind of uptime… Counting my recent unemployment, I guess I have lost that status, too. I worked the last ten years with only two sick days, 2/2000 = 0.1% downtime. In that time I had loss of connectivity with a server for only a few hours. Most places have some spare server resources. The cloud will have lots of spare server resources.

    The ramp-up of tablets seems to be stalled a bit. Apple and everyone else is limited by supply-chain problems. That should be fixed in a few months and then, watch out! The ARMed devices will be everywhere doing everything.

  4. oldman says:

    Where pog, in your imagination? Or are we lumping in the android smartphone sales?

  5. Millions of people buy Linux systems. You don’t see it in the Big Box stores around here but around the world plenty of product is moving.

  6. oldman says:

    “An OEM certainly can get some revenue for installing GNU/Linux.”

    With no one to sell those linux equipped systems to , that savings would be penny wise and pound foolish IMHO.

  7. Dell is selling GNU/Linux systems for more than a comparable system with that other OS. An OEM certainly can get some revenue for installing GNU/Linux.

    My spies depart for China in a few days. I expect a thorough report of markets there.

  8. oldman says:

    “GNU/Linux is part of it.”

    The problem is, so is commercial softwAre in general and microsoft in particular. The chinese are not stupid Pog, while they may be leveraging the freebies from FOSS for their onw needs, thay are also using Microsoft software and windows applications as well (some numbers suggest that up to 80% of the chinese market is running windows applications on windows. (of course up to 90% of that population is running pirated software, but that another issue).

    “If they charged a modest sum for putting GNU/Linux on systems, salaries could jump.”

    You have said that you are no business man Pog, yet you keep making these pronouncement as if you have some experience to back it up. To me this is a classic case IMHO of the sad triumph of hope over experience.

  9. Just as in Russia, freedom is coming to China. The industrial revolution which took a century elsewhere is happening in decades in China. GNU/Linux is part of it. For their labour, the Chinese will earn more because they use GNU/Linux and don’t need to carry M$ on their backs. Still the low salaries in China are a net benefit to the world of IT. Salaries are rising rapidly there in spite of the low margins in hardware. If they charged a modest sum for putting GNU/Linux on systems, salaries could jump.

  10. oldman says:

    “I meant they can exercise the four freedoms.”

    Placing Stallmans bullsh-t four freedoms in any proximity the real freedoms that the Chinese lack and for which Chinese like Wei Li are suffering persecution is one of the sickest things I have ever heard.

    Your should be ashamed of yourself Pog!

  11. By “ownership” I meant they can exercise the four freedoms.

  12. oldman says:

    “China may well be self-sufficient in hardware in a few years and they can take “ownership” of FLOSS, too.”

    You’d better HOPE that China doesn’t take “ownership” of FOSS Pog. China is a dictatorship that is about as far away from freedom as one can get.

  13. I have been aware of the Loongson for a couple of years now. I own a couple of thin clients that use it. At 300 MHz it was not impressive but it was a start. Moore’s Law works for Loongson too. China may well be self-sufficient in hardware in a few years and they can take “ownership” of FLOSS, too.

  14. AS12129 says:

    I forgot… the videos:

    Lemote Yeeloong first bootup:

    A brief show of Debian Etch on Lemote Box which is a Loongson:

    MIPS CES 2010 1st MIPS-based Android Netbook:

  15. AS12129 says:

    Loongson is a family of general-purpose MIPS-compatible CPUs developed at the Institute of Computing Technology (ICT), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in the People’s Republic of China. The chief architect is Professor Hu Weiwu.

    Loongson is the result of a public-private partnership. BLX IC Design Corporation was founded in 2002 by ICT and Jiangsu Zhongyi Group. Based in Beijing, BLX focuses on designing the advanced 32-bit/64-bit Loongson general-purpose and embedded processors, together with developing software tools and reference platforms.

    The 65 nm Loongson 3 (Godson-3) is able to run at a clock speed between 1.0 to 1.2 GHz, with 4 CPU cores (10W) first and 8 cores later (20W), and it is expected to debut in 2010. The first version of the chip only supports DDR2 DRAM, does not have SMT support or a built-in network interface. In April 2010, Loongson 3A was released with DDR3 DRAM support.

    Loongson 3 adds over 200 new instructions to speed up x86 instruction execution at a cost of 5% of the total die area. The new instructions help QEMU translate x86 instructions by lowering the overhead of executing x86/CISC-style instructions in the MIPS pipeline. With additional improvements in QEMU from ICT, Loongson-3 achieves an average of 70% the performance of executing native binaries when running x86 binaries from nine benchmarks.

    On December 26, 2007, China revealed its first Loongson based supercomputer with performance 1 teraflops of peak performance, and about 350 GFLOPS measured by linpack in Hefei, designated as KD-50-I.



  16. That would coincide with my prediction that ARM will intrude into x86 space generally starting this year. We have already seen a few notebooks and docks and desktops using ARM. It makes sense. Most people are consumers of content and the current state of ARM is perfectly adequate and lower-priced. Future ARMed products will be more than adequate and the ARM tax and Linux tax is tiny compared to that other OS and Apple’s margins.

  17. Wayne Borean says:

    Recompiling applications to work on the ARM architecture for Linux isn’t overly difficult. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see more ARM systems like the Hercules making their entry into the North American market.

    What will be interesting is seeing if my prediction of Apple moving the Mac line to ARM from Intel is correct. Apple already has a ‘Universal Binary’ standard for programs to run on Power and X86 chips. It wouldn’t be that hard to extend it into a ‘Universal Trinary’ so that programs could also run on ARM.

    And of course the Mac OS X Applications Store makes moving from one processor architecture to another a relatively painless experience if you purchased your software through the store.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first ARM based MacBook models next summer. Cheaper, lighter, quieter, and with longer batter life. The competition is going to freak.


  18. Dann says:

    Apple used to be a lot more friendly to Open-Source.
    After all, they contributed CUPS, Avahi/Zeroconf, I hear also that they opened up Grand Central (a multi-threaded library I think), and others I’m sure.

    The KDE folks have put their DE on Mac and Windows too, so there are bound to be overlapping work.

    Sad that things have been falling apart a bit.

  19. I can remember working in a control-room at 80db. After some hours, IQ drops to zero and it becomes impossible to read, think and do. People just stop… One guy drove home after a shift and noticed the car ahead of him stop but he could not remember what to do. We were playing with millions of dollars worth of equipment while impaired, essentially.

  20. There is a tiny bit of GNU in MacOS/X:

    rcs, and

    That list may not be exhaustive. Darwin contains 200 opensource projects and these are the ones that I spotted as being part of the GNU project. I think it is not correct to call MacOS/X GNU-anything but neither is it correct to state there’s no GNU in it.

  21. Richard Chapman says:

    Noise is one of the factors that cause fatigue. Too often it’s tolerated and its negative affects are attributed to other things.

  22. Ray says:

    “Apple’s GNU/OSX on the iphone and the ipad is proof that free software is far better for small devices than M$ crap.”

    OS/X does not contain any GNU software, because it’s comes from Darwin, which itself, doesn’t contain GNU.

  23. Richard Chapman wrote:“a noisy computer is next to useless”

    Tell me about it. I have had to juggle microphones, settings, and acoustics to tolerate Beast in my little recording studio. I really should put him in the server room… 5 fans.

  24. Richard Chapman says:

    There is a market for mid to high performance quiet computers. In the home, semi professional recording studio a noisy computer is next to useless. It’s not a small market either. My grandkids will be forming a band in the next few years. One of them is already working with the drum sequencer Hydrogen. I want to build a system for them that they can use to record and mix their music. Looks like it will be ARMed to the teeth.

  25. Adam King says:

    Apple’s GNU/OSX on the iphone and the ipad is proof that free software is far better for small devices than M$ crap.

  26. This is what ARM writes on their page:
    “It delivers unprecedented processing capability, combined with low power consumption to enable compelling products in markets ranging from smartphones, tablets, mobile computing, high-end digital home, servers and wireless infrastructure.”

    “High-end digital home” would include desktop in my book. Then there is “servers”. I think they are aiming at everything. There is nothing sacred about desktops: create, modify, copy and display information. The barrier to entry is not the hardware performance but lock-in. The lock-in is faltering. OEMs are cranking out hundreds of millions of devices that could run that other OS but don’t. There’s no room in price of a small cheap computer for the licence fee for that other OS at least in a monopoly situation. The monopoly is on its last legs, even on the desktop.

  27. oldman says:

    “So, I don’t see any problem with small, cheap computers running Linux and ARM moving into the desktop space. Maybe it won’t be a tidal wave this year, but next year when Cortex A15 is out, watch out!”

    But if there is zero market for FOSS and Linux on x86, what makes you think its going to be any better on ARM?

    It is interesting to note that the only space that ARM themselves is hawking their next generation CPU outside of the mobile device market is as the CPU for embedded systems.

    And thats not the desktop.

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