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This Project is Going to Create Linux Laptops … Based on PowerPC

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Recently, a new group has appeared in cyberspace with the goal of creating a line of Linux computers based on the PowerPC architecture. They are currently raising money and are in the early planning. The question is: Can they pull it off? And, if they do, will it be worth it?

What is PowerPC again?

First off, how many of you have heard of PowerPC? Go ahead and raise your hand if you have. Undoubtedly, most people remember PowerPC from old Macs. For you whippersnappers, Apple used PowerPC processors in all their computers until the early 2000s.

PowerPC is a computing architecture created an alliance between Apple, IBM, and Motorola. PowerPC technology is based on reduced instruction set computer (or RISC). This means that RISC chips work by processing a series of short, general instructions. This is different than the x86 processors that run most computers today. Those chips use the Complex instruction set computer (or CISC) architecture, which uses complex or multi-step instructions to work.

Currently, PowerPC can be found in embedded systems and niche computers, like the AmigaOne series.

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Meet Linux PowerPC Notebook Project

Linux PowerPC

The Linux PowerPC Notebook Project is made up a group of Linux fans who want to revitalize PowerPC use. To get the ball rolling, they are currently working to raise money in order to hire a company to design a modern PowerPC motherboard. In their plan, this is just the phase one of creating a Linux PowerPC laptop. The company that they want to hire (ACube) has experience creating PowerPC hardware, including the AmigaOne 500. So far the group has raised € 4,310 out of a total goal of € 12,600.

Even though creating the motherboard is step one of a long road, the team already has an idea of what they want the end product to look like. Below is a list of specs that they hope to have in the future PowerPC laptop. These specs could change in the future

  • CPU: NXP T208x, e6500 64-bit Power Architecture with Altivec technology – 4 x e6500 dual-threaded cores, low-latency backside 2MB L2 cache, 16GFLOPS x core
  • RAM: 2 x RAM slots for DDR3L SO-DIMM
  • VIDEO: MXM Radeon HD Video Card ( removable)
  • AUDIO: sound chip, audio in and audio out jacks
  • USB: 3.0 and 2.0 ports
  • STORAGE:
    • NVM Express (NVMe), M.2 2280 connector
    • 2 x SATA
    • 1 x SDHC card reader
  • NETWORK:
    • 1 x ethernet RJ-45 connector
    • WiFi connectivity
    • Bluetooth connectivity
  • POWER: on-board battery charger and power-management
  • CHASSIS: standard notebook case 15,6”

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Advantages of PowerPC over x86

Why PowerPC? To begin with, the PowerPC architecture is much newer than the x86 architecture that we use every day. x86 was released in 1978 and PowerPC was released in 1991. Undoubtedly, this means that the creators of PowerPC learned from the mistakes and short comings of x86.

The rest of the reasons on the Linux PowerPC Notebook Project site are too technical for me to understand. For those of you who know about this stuff read on:

  • 64-bit architecture with a proper 32-bit subset
  • Wide vector instructions with large register file allow efficient data moving without use of off-chip memory
  • RISC architecture introduces Superscalar concept of multiple execution units: Branch, Fixed Integer, Floating Point
  • AltiVec SIMD vector processing
  • ISA 2.04/2.05/2.06 support multicore/multithreading, virtualization, hypervisor and Power Management

Based on my own research, the CISC architecture used more power and thus runs hotter than RISC. This is because a CISC chip completes fewer instructions per process, but each step is more complicated.

Also, it seems as though, PowerPC has an advantage when it comes to processing large amounts of data. According to an article in ComputerWeekly, PowerPC shines when it comes to “enterprise workloads”.

This includes “databases, data warehouses, data transaction processing, data encryption/compression, and certainly in high-performance computing, which most in business think of as analytics.” PowerPC comes out ahead in this regard because virtualization and hypervisors are included in the architecture. In the x86 architecture, most hypervisors are third-party products.

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Final Thoughts

Would I buy a PowerPC based Linux laptop? It would depend on two things:

  • If I could afford it
  • whether it had a big performance boost over x86.

My question is: has PowerPC development kept up with x86 development? According to one article I read, the reason that Apple switched to Intel x86 was because they were disappointed with IBM’s speed in improving the PowerPC chips. Of course, that was over a decade ago. Who knows what advanced IBM would have made in that time.

I also wonder why not focus on creating an ARM powered laptop? After all, ARM used the same RISC instruction set as PowerPC and is used in a wide range of computering devices. ARM has exploded in popularity with the release of the RaspberryPi. I’m sure there are more Linux distros with support for ARM than have support for PowerPC.

On the flip side, PowerPC is a lot closer to actually being ready for desktop use. IBM has continued to pursue development of the PowerPC architecture through the OpenPOWER Foundation.

Regardless, the PowerPC Linux laptop is not going to appear overnight. Righ now they are at the planning stages. There are multiple hurdles they will have to get over and more money they will have to raise. I wish them good luck in the endeavors.

Would you buy a PowerPC Linux laptop? Where do you stand in the PowerPC vs x86 discussion? Let us know in the comments below. If you want to donate to the project or learn more, visit their website.

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