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Kit Plummer
Software Engineer :: Techitect :: Evangelist
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As the Netbook market continues to evolve – so has the technical specifications that drive the smaller form-factors and architectures. I actually don’t believe that ARM has any place in the Netbook market.

Here’s why. I spend a considerable amount of time developing for the Gumstix platform. The Gumstix runs OpenEmbedded, a cross-compile environment for many embedded processors – most notably, the ARM family. Without going into great detail ARM != x86 (Intel stuff). The cross-compile dance is required to build all the Linux pieces specifically for the ARM architecture on a (normally) x86-based machine. While OpenEmbedded supports many of the pieces, that normally doesn’t cut it. If it is not a supported package the process (project creation, make manipulation and cross-compiling) is just gross. Now, coming from an embedded background I’m used to that. The Linux community in general is not. I can’t speak for the Winders folks, but guessing not. :)

Sure, the ARM platform will get you lower power consumption/longer battery life. But, at the cost of CPU/RAM resources, and the above mentioned architecture mess.

To be honest I’m not sure the ARM even has a place is micro devices like the Gumstix.

The fit-PC2 shows just how close we could be from a form-factor perspective to the Gumstix with an Atom-based(x86) processor and 1GB of RAM. Shoot, just get rid of the connectors and we’re damn close.

The fit-PC2 runs a full-blown Ubuntu environment, which means no cross-compiling.

The downside is that the fit-PC2 requires 12V and consumes ~6W. For many applications that may just work…leaving the door open for the ARM platform. But, I just have to wonder how long before we see 1+GHz Atom-based platform running off of 3.3-5v at 1-2W. Lights out ARM.

But, the ARM fights back. The BeagleBoard an almost viral phenomenon parented by TI is proving that the ARM is a valid, general purpose platform.

Again, I’m waiting with intense curiosity…I have to believe Intel is hard at work (probably with Apple’s interest in mind) on a super low-power high-performance processor that will bridge the gap and extinguish the need for cross-compiling.

All this stuff said, I do understand the deltas between the truly embedded architectures. I’m just a software engineer who appreciates the OS and application side of things and really want to see a simpler means for eliminating the void between desktop and mobile platforms.

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