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Cortex A8: insufficient processing power?


Today, I watched a video about a prototype Wistron smartbook called the Pbook (see the video here) which is a Snapdragon based machine. The Snapdragon is roughly comparable to ARM Cortex A8 based SOCs like the Marwell Armada and the TI OMAP3.

The machine was running a Linux variant with a lightweight desktop environment (I believe it was XFCE).

The boot process seemed quite slow and the machine very unresponsive in general.

If the video represents the processing power of the Snapdragon realistically, I have to say, it will not be sufficient to run “real” desktop environments on Linux. This is a problem, because people will expect laptop-like behaviour from laptop-looking devices.

These machines may run Android snappily but Android is currently optimized for smartphones and thus may not fulfill user expectations. (It would certainly not fulfill mine)

It is possible, that when it comes to ARM system-on-chips, only the dual-core Cortex A9 based SOCs will be suitable for being used in smartbooks/netbooks (like the Tegra 2). However, it seems that a lot of producers have already chosen A8 based SOCs (for example the Lenovo smartbook for AT&T with Snapdragon).

Potentially, even A8 based systems can be fast enough if an optimized Linux edition is shipped with them but producers should be very careful to ship systems powerful enough to make their users reasonably satisfied with their responsiveness.

[Update: 2010-JAN-01]

After watching this video, the picture has become a bit clearer. The video is about the commercially available (only in Japan) Sharp Netwalker PC-Z1 which uses a Cortex A8 based processor and runs a full Gnome desktop with Firefox and Abiword. Boot time is not very fast (~90secs) but since you can suspend-resume this machine, it is not very important. Firefox cold  starts (first start) in about 10 seconds and warm starts (second start) in about 5 seconds. This is not very snappy but acceptable. OpenOffice Spreadsheet cold starts in about 50 secs which is rather on the unacceptable side. The Netwalker sports only 512Mb of RAM which is at the minimum for the Gnome desktop. Warm applications starts could be helped with more memory. Cold starts could be helped with more memory and some configurable pre-fetching. This is mostly in-line with my earlier assumptions.

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Categories: gadgets
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  1. January 1, 2010 at 23:57

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