Hardware Archive

The Qualcomm Snapdragon X architecture deep dive: getting to know Oryon and Adreno X1

In the last 8 months Qualcomm has made a lot of interesting claims for their high-performance Windows-on-Arm SoC – many of which will be put to the test in the coming weeks. But beyond all the performance claims and bluster amidst what is shaping up to be a highly competitive environment for PC CPUs, there’s an even more fundamental question about the Snapdragon X that we’ve been dying to get to: how does it work? Ahead of next week’s launch, then, we’re finally getting the answer to that, as today Qualcomm is releasing their long-awaited architectural disclosure on the Snapdragon X SoC. This includes not only their new, custom Arm v8 “Oryon” CPU core, but also technical disclosures on their Adreno GPU, and the Hexagon NPU that backs their heavily-promoted AI capabilities. The company has made it clear in the past that the Snapdragon X is a serious, top-priority effort for the company – that they’re not just slapping together a Windows SoC from their existing IP blocks and calling it a day – so there’s a great deal of novel technology within the SoC. ↫ Ryan Smith at AnandTech I cannot wait until AnandTech can move beyond diving into information provided by Qualcomm, and can start doing their own incredibly in-depth benchmarks and research. Assuming the effort succeeds, the Snapdragon X line will most likely form the backbone of ARM PCs for years – if not decades – to come, meaning that when you and I go shopping for a new laptop, this chip will be the one heavily promoted by stores and outlets. How closely independent benchmarks line up with Qualcomm’s eight months of promises and cherry-picked benchmarks will also tell us a lot about how trustworthy the company will be about the performance of its chips going forward. In smartphones – where we mostly see Qualcomm today – performance simply doesn’t matter as much, but when you’re dealing with laptops, and in the future possibly even desktops, performance suddenly matters a lot more, and Qualcomm’s claims will be facing a level of scrutiny and detail I don’t think they’ve ever really had to deal with before. PC enthusiasts don’t mess around. If the Linux support turns out to be as solid as Qualcomm claims, and if the performance figures they’ve been putting out are verified by quality independent reviewers like the people at AnandTech, I honestly don’t think my next laptop will be using x86. I just hope weird companies like Chuwi will release a version of their MiniBook X with one a Qualcomm chip, because I’ll be damned if I go back to anything larger than 10″.

Tuxedo showcases prototype Linux laptop with Snapdragon X Elite

I’ve long been waiting for a powerful ARM laptop that can run Linux comfortably, and it seems that with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X Elite SoC, that’s finally going to happen. We talked earlier about how for once, Qualcomm is taking Linux support for their new laptop-focused processors very seriously, and that promise and associated effort is paying dividend. Tuxedo, a popular Linux OEM from Germany, has announced it’s working on a laptop with the Snapdragon X Elite chip, and they showed off a working prototype at Computex in Taiwan. We have been working with a first prototype for some time, which will soon be replaced by a second one. The development is still in the alpha stage, as some drivers are still missing, which will hopefully be available with the next two kernel versions. It is quite conceivable that an ARM notebook from TUXEDO will be under your Christmas tree in 2024. However, there are still too many pieces of the hardware, software and delivery capability puzzle missing to even begin to set a release date. TUXEDO for ARM will come, but we don’t yet know exactly when. ↫ Tuxedo’s website Their timeline of more Qualcomm drivers making it into the next two kernel versions lines up with Qualcomm’s own timeline, so it seems we’re mostly just waiting for them to finish their Linux drivers and add them to the kernel. This is quite exciting, and a much better option for Linux users than buying a Windows version of an X Elite or Pro laptop and hoping for the best.

They’re putting “AI” in your BIOS

You know what could really use a dose of “AI”? Your BIOS. aiBIOS leverages an LLM to integrate AI capabilities into Insyde Software’s flagship firmware solution, InsydeH2O® UEFI BIOS. It provides the ability to interpret the PC user’s request, analyze their specific hardware, and parse through the LLM’s extensive knowledge base of BIOS and computer terminology to make the appropriate changes to the BIOS Setup. This breakthrough technology helps address a major hurdle for PC users that require or desire changes to their BIOS Setup for their personal computers but do not fully understand the meaning of the settings available to them. ↫ Insyde press release Google told users to put glue on pizzas and eat rocks, so I’m sure the combined efforts of a BIOS maker will surely not pose any problems when automatically changing BIOS settings based on the requests of users who do not really understand what they’re doing. This surely is a recipe for success, and I can’t wait to tell my BIOS to enable XMP, only for it to disable hyperthreading, change the boot order to only allow booting from the non-existent floppy drive, and to force the use of the integrated GPU when I’m actually using a dedicated one. This is going to be just fine.

Turbo9: a pipelined 6809 microprocessor IP

The Turbo9 is a pipelined microprocessor IP written in Verilog that executes a superset of the Motorola 6809 instruction set. It is a new modern microarchitecture with 16-bit internal datapaths that balances high performance vs small area / low power. The Turbo9R with a 16-bit memory interface achieves 0.69 DMIPS/MHz which is 3.8 times faster than Motorola’s original 8-bit MC6809 implementation. It is an active graduate research project at the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Florida. ↫ Turbo9 GitHub page The Turbo9 is aimed at SoC sub-blocks and small mixed-signal ASIC, so it’s definitely not intended to be some sort of general purpose CPU. The reason for opting for the 6809 instead of, say, RISC-V or ARM, is that the 6809 enables a far smaller footprint due to being 16bit, which is all the target market really needs from the Turbo9. The current version of the Turbo9 is thoroughly verified and is capable of running C code. However, we still consider this version v0.9 because we are missing a few items. All the 6809 instructions and addressing modes have been implemented and tested except SYNC and CWAI. The signed versions of the Turbo9’s 16-bit divide and multiply need to be completed. Interrupts are partially implemented including SWI and Reset. ↫ Turbo9 GitHub page This is the kind of riveting content you’ll only really find on OSNews.

Jef Raskin’s Canon Cat

Few things in technology excites me more than an amazing computer I have never heard of before – especially one with pedigree. Many people take a casual glance at this machine and say, “Isn’t that an overgrown word processor?” And one could certainly think so, in part because of its keyboard-centric operation, but mostly from the utterly uncomprehending way Canon advertised it in 1987. Canon dubbed the Cat a “work processor” because of its built-in telecommunications, modem and word processor even though Jef Raskin, its designer, had intended it as a “people’s computer” that could be inexpensive, accessible and fully functional — all things he had hoped to accomplish at Apple after first launching the Macintosh project, prior to departing in 1982. Canon, however, never fully grasped the concept either. Apart from the tone-deaf marketing, Canon sold the device through their typewriter division and required the display to only show what a daisywheel printer could generate, limiting its potential as a general purpose workstation. ↫ Cameron Kaiser Wait, wait, wait. You mean to tell me there’s a unique, well-designed computer that seemed ahead of its time, sold by a printer and copier company, that failed in the market due to botched marketing and grotesque misunderstanding among management of what the device is supposed to be? What are the odds this happens twice? The Canon Cat was designed and built by Jeff Raskin’s – of Macintosh fame – company Information Appliance, Inc., and licensed to Canon. It’s an all-in-one 68000-based computer with a bitmap display, an operating system stored in ROM, and a comprehensive Forth environment easily accessible despite the device autostarting to a word processor (because Canon). Much like some of the predecessor machines Raskin had worked on before licensing the Cat to Canon, the Cat has an intriguing input method that I’d never seen before. Instead of a mouse or even cursor keys, it has two keys labeled “Leap” that are used for manipulating the text cursor. In fact, there aren’t even conventional cursor keys. The Cat has the same “leap” keys as the Swyft and SwyftCard, in a bright but tasteful pink, and they work the same way to jump to portions of the document or into other documents. You can also use them to scroll with the SHIFT key, or move by single letters, sentences or paragraphs. The LEAP keys are also how you highlight text blocks to manipulate by LEAPing to the beginning, LEAPing to the end, and then pressing them together. ↫ Cameron Kaiser The Forth programming environment is also very interesting. It was hidden in that Canon didn’t really want you to use it, but Raskin’s company made no secret of it, and it was easily accessible. It uses a special dialect of Forth, which can be used at either a traditional OK prompt, or just by typing Forth code into the word processor, highlighting it, and executing it with a keyboard shortcut, after which any output will be displayed in the word processor as well. The Canon Cat was a market failure, and hence it shouldn’t be a surprise it’s exceedingly rare. The article further details the internals, some fixes that were required and performed, and much, much more. A follow-up article will delve deeper into the software, too.

MSI shows off motherboard with CAMM2 memory

Earlier this month, we talked about the arrival of the new CAMM2 memory module standard, specifically designed to make replaceable memory modules as fast and capable as soldered memory. There’s technically no reason for CAMM2 to not also be beneficial to desktop use, and it turns out MSI is experimenting with this. MSI on Thursday published the first image of a new desktop motherboard that supports the innovative DDR5 compression attached memory module (CAMM2). DDR5 CAMM2 modules are designed to improve upon the SO-DIMM form factor used for laptops, alleviating some of the high-speed signaling and capacity limitations of SO-DIMMs while also shaving down on the volume of space required. And while we’re eagerly awaiting to see CAMM2 show up in more laptops, its introduction in a PC motherboard comes as a bit of a surprise, since PCs aren’t nearly as space-constrained. ↫ Anton Shilov at AnandTech This MSI motherboard is a bit of an experiment, as it also contains other more experimental choices like back-mounted power connectors. While CAMM2’s space savings won’t mean much for most desktop builds, it does leave more room for CPU coolers, and it looks a bit cleaner, too.

Raspberry Pi officially announces intent to IPO

As expected earlier this year, Raspberry Pi is going public on the stock exchange in London. Back then, CEO Eben Upton said he did not expect the IPO to change how Raspberry Pi did things, but history tells us that initial public offerings tend to, well, change how companies do things. In their official announcement that they intend to hold an IPO, there’s an incredibly interesting and telling contradiction, as noted by @yassie_j on MastoAkkoma: Raspberry Pi, in their listing press release, says: The Enthusiast and Education market is the “heart” of the Raspberry Pi movement. But also says: Industrial and Embedded market accounts over 72 per cent So the heart seems to be going neglected, it seems, because there’s no way you’re going to not cash in on industrial applications. Especially when you’ve just done a big IPO. ↫ @yassie_j on Akkoma This exactly illustrates the fears we all have about what an IPO is going to mean for Raspberry Pi. It’s already become increasingly more difficult for enthusiasts to get their hands on the latest Raspberry Pi models, but once the IPO’s done and there’s shareholders breathing down their neck, that will most likely only get worse. If the industrial and embedded market is where you’re making most of your money, where do you think Raspberry Pi devices are going to end up? Luckily the market’s a lot bigger and more varied now than it was back when Raspberry Pi was new, so we have a wide variety of options to choose from. Still, I’m definitely worried about what Raspberry Pi, as a company, will look like five, ten years from now.

Obsolete, but not gone: the people who won’t give up floppy disks

If you remember a time when using floppy disks didn’t seem weird, you’re probably at least 30 years old. Floppy disks or diskettes emerged around 1970 and, for a good three decades or so, they were the main way many people stored and backed up their computer data. All the software and programmes they bought came loaded onto clusters of these disks. They are a technology from a different era of computing, but for various reasons floppy disks have an enduring appeal for some which mean they are from dead. ↫ Chris Baraniuk at the BBC Articles such as these in more mainstream media are always incredibly odd to me. Nobody bats an eye at someone lovingly maintaining a classic car, or restoring an old house, or a group of people petitioning a local government to not demolish a beloved old building or whatever, but as soon as computer technology is involved, so many people find it incredibly weird that classic computer technology, too, can be worth saving. It highlights how society views technology – disposable, replaceable, worthless, to be dumped and forgotten about as soon as something newer comes along. Even after at least two decades of articles like this, they keep being essentially republished with the same words, the same storylines about these weird people who keep using – get this! Look at these idiots! – older technology when faster, newer, shinier stuff is readily available. I’m glad the retrocomputing community seems to be growing by the day, and there’s now definitely a large enough internationally connected group of people and organisations to maintain our old computers and related hardware and software.

Raspberry Pi Connect: remote desktop for your Pi

Today we’re pleased to announce the beta release of Raspberry Pi Connect: a secure and easy-to-use way to access your Raspberry Pi remotely, from anywhere on the planet, using just a web browser. It’s often extremely useful to be able to access your Raspberry Pi’s desktop remotely. There are a number of technologies which can be used to do this, including VNC, and of course the X protocol itself. But they can be hard to configure, particularly when you are attempting to access a machine on a different local network; and of course with the transition to Wayland in Raspberry Pi OS Bookworm, classic X remote desktop support is no longer available. We wanted to be able to provide you with this functionality with our usual “it just works” approach. Enter Raspberry Pi Connect. ↫ Gordon Hollingworth Pi Connect uses WebRTC, and a daemon running on your Pi listens for incoming screensharing requests from the Raspberry Pi website to connect the VNC server on your Pi to the VNC client running in your browser. The service is in beta, it’s free, but the one major downside is that for now, there’s only one TURN server for this service, located in the UK, but they might set up more of them if demand is high enough. If you want to try this service on your own Pi running Raspberry Pi OS, you’re going to need to be using a Raspberry Pi 5, 4, or 400, using the latest version of the operating system running Wayland. Update your operating system, install the rpi-connect package, reboot, and you’re good to go.

Just a bunch of scanners (JBOS?)

This is the story on how I spent far too much money and time getting a scanner to work over iSCSI so that I could prove “Chris O” wrong on StackExchange. The TL;DR is that yes scanners work fine over iSCSI. ↫ xssfox The next step is connecting a bunch of flatbed scanners to a disk array enclosure, but that turns out to be quite an expensive little exercise. Regardless, this is absolutely wild, and I love it when people go to great lengths just to prove that something pointless can actually be done. Bravo.

LPCAMM2 memory is finally here

But today we got our hands on LPCAMM2 for the first time, and this looks like the future to us. LPCAMM2 is a totally modular, repairable, upgradeable memory standard for laptops, using the latest LPDDR chips for maximum speed and efficiency. So instead of overpaying (or under-speccing) based on guesswork about your future memory needs, you’ll hopefully be able to buy your next laptop and then install more RAM as needed. Imagine that! ↫ Carsten Frauenheim LPDDR memory, used in modern laptops, has been difficult – or impossible – to upgrade because its low power nature means it needs to be located as close to the processor as possible with short traces, since the longer the traces, the more power is needed to maintain signal integrity between the processor and RAM. This would defeat the entire purpose of low-power DDR memory to begin with. Originally developed by Dell and eventually adopted by JEDEC and the wider industry, LPCAMM2 solves this problem by using screw-down RAM modules located right next to the processor. These modules can, like regular memory modules, be replaced and upgraded when needed or desired. This is a great leap forward, and I really, really hope we’re going to see quick, widespread adoption.

Inside the Snapdragon 855’s iGPU

Qualcomm’s Adreno 6xx architecture has been superseded Adreno 7xx, but it’s still used in countless devices, including the current-gen Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. Here, I’ll be looking at the Adreno 640 GPU in the Snapdragon 855. Zarif98 on Reddit kindly provided a OnePlus 7 Pro, and I’ll be using that to check out Adreno 640. Compared to the older Snapdragon 821’s Adreno 530, Adreno 640 dramatically increases compute throughput while still working within a very constrained power and thermal envelope. Process node improvements help, and TSMC’s 7 nm process should be far better than the 14 nm Samsung node used in the Snapdragon 821. But cell phone SoC constraints meant Qualcomm couldn’t go around copy-pasting basic GPU building blocks and call it a day. ↫ Chips and Cheese Chips and Cheese with another deep dive.

Snapdragon X Plus will bring ARM to ‘even more’ Windows laptops

While it’s still yet to debut, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite is looking like a big deal for ARM-powered Windows machines and, now, it’s getting a more affordable cousin in the Snapdragon X Plus. Announced today, Snapdragon X Plus is based on the same Oryon CPU as Snapdragon X Elite, just with a bit less power. The chip has 10 cores to the Elite’s 12, and is also clocked down from the Elite’s 3.8GHz to 3.4GHz. ↫ Ben Schoon at 9To5Google It really seems like it’s finally happening – ARM computers for the general public (that aren’t from Apple). I really hope that Qualcomm can deliver on its promises, and that Microsoft’s involvement means these computers will be fairly standardised so it’s easier for non-Windows platforms to support them. I’ve seen quite a few rumblings from people invited to Qualcomm’s press events for these new ARM chips that the company is delivering Linux support alongside Windows support, so that’s at least a good start. Whenever we talk about ARM coming to the generic PC market, people rightfully point out the lack of standardisation in the ARM space, so that really is the deciding factor here for people like us, who tend to not be all too interested in locked-down platforms. If every one of these machines is different enough that supporting them is a nightmare – like the world of smartphones – ARM for PCs will be dead on arrival for me because I have zero interest in buying Windows-only hardware. One thing Microsoft tends to be good at is getting at least some standardisation to stick in the PC market, and I hope they’re going to that here, too – Microsoft probably isn’t relishing supporting each individual ARM machine in Windows ‘by hand’ either. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Making a flute controlled mouse

There is something about surprising interfaces: clapping to switch on lights is more fun than a flipping a switch. Pressing a panic-button to order a pizza is more fun than ordering via an app. Recently I came across this surprising interface: a flute controlled mouse cursor for a first person shooter. I recognize a good idea when I see one, and immediately wanted replicate the idea and make it freely available. So I got to work. ↫ Joren Six I don’t think I have ever seen something quite so unique.

Framework lays out plan to improve its firmware and software development cycle

Only two days ago we were talking about the software and firmware issues at Framework, and today the company’s CEO has announced they’re taking some pretty big steps to address these problems. When building products to last, it’s not enough to design the hardware to be repairable, upgradeable, and customizable. The overall longevity of devices as complex as modern notebooks also depends on how long the software and firmware continues to be useful. That includes compatibility updates to support newer generations hardware modules, fixes for bugs or compatibility issues found by end users, and especially patches for security vulnerabilities. We recognize that we have fallen short of where we need to be on software updates, and we are making the needed investments to resolve this. We now have a dedicated team of engineers at our manufacturing partner and a set of internal stakeholders focused on ongoing software updates for all of our products, going back to our original Framework Laptop with 11th Gen Intel Core. In the past, we were reliant on ad-hoc availability of engineering time from our suppliers (basically borrowing staffing from whichever new product development we had ongoing). This was inconsistent and resulted in slow progress. With a dedicated team, there is no longer resource contention, and we are able deliver shorter turnaround times from discovering issues to resolving them. ↫ Nirav Patel They’ve also shared exactly how the development, testing, and release process new firmware releases will work, from identifying any issues to the final release to consumers, and they’re hiring new employees focused entirely on expediting this process. They also promise to support each device for as long as their upstream silicon vendors will, but they can’t give any guarantees on how long that will be since those upstream vendors aren’t sharing details like that. All in all, I think this is about as good a response as you can get from an OEM, but as they themselves note, they’ll have to show their customers these aren’t just mere words. Assuming it pans out the way Framework is promising here, I think it’s a fair and customer-friendly process.

Framework’s software and firmware have been a mess, but it’s working on them

Framework puts a lot of effort into making its hardware easy to fix and upgrade and into making sure that hardware can stay useful down the line when it’s been replaced by something newer. But supporting that kind of reuse and recycling works best when paired with long-term software and firmware support, and on that front, Framework has been falling short. Framework will need to step up its game, especially if it wants to sell more laptops to businesses—a lucrative slice of the PC industry that Framework is actively courting. By this summer or fall, we’ll have some idea of whether its efforts are succeeding. ↫ Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica A very painful read, and I’m disappointed to learn that the software support from Framework has been so lacklustre – or non-existent, to be more accurate. Leaving severel security vulnerabilities in firmware unpatched is a disgrace, and puts users at risk, while promising but not delivering updates that will unlock faster Thunderbolt speeds is just shitty. They have to do better, especially since their pitch is all about repairability and longevity. This article has made me more weary of spending any money on Framework – not that I have the money for a new laptop, because reasons – and I feel more people will feel this way after reading this.

Radxa ROCK 5 ITX: a first look

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the ROCK 5 ITX coming soon and since then, samples of the Rockchip RK3588-based Radxa ROCK 5 ITX have been landing on doorsteps (or service points, screw you, UPS) of a lucky group of people and somehow I was one of those, so here’s a first look at Radxa’s latest Single Board Computer in a Mini ITX form-factor! It’s going to be a photo-heavy post and I make no apologies for that, it’s a very nice-looking PCB, with the black and gold colour scheme looking very stylish. I imagine that was a very conscious decision seeing as, as expected, they’re marketing this as a low-power desktop option and you probably don’t want a plain Jane motherboard taking pride of place in your new system, right? ↫ Bret Weber Now this – this, my friends, is exactly what the doctor ordered. I can’t wait for standard, ATX motherboard sporting ARM processors to become more common and readily available, hopefully standardised better than what we’re used to from the ARM world. I want my next (non-gaming) machines to be ARM-powered, and that means we’re going to need more of these ATX ARM boards, spanning wider performance levels.

Amazon virtually kills efforts to develop Alexa Skills, disappointing dozens

There was a time when it thought that Alexa would yield a robust ecosystem of apps, or Alexa Skills, that would make the voice assistant an integral part of users’ lives. Amazon envisioned tens of thousands of software developers building valued abilities for Alexa that would grow the voice assistant’s popularity—and help Amazon make some money. But about seven years after launching a rewards program to encourage developers to build Skills, Alexa’s most preferred abilities are the basic ones, like checking the weather. And on June 30, Amazon will stop giving out the monthly Amazon Web Services credits that have made it free for third-party developers to build and host Alexa Skills. The company also recently told devs that its Alexa Developer Rewards program was ending, virtually disincentivizing third-party devs to build for Alexa. ↫ Scharon Harding at Ars Technica I’ve never used Alexa – Amazon doesn’t really have a footprint in either The Netherlands or Sweden, so I never really had to care – but I always thought the Skills were the reason it was so loved. It seemingly makes no sense to me to start killing off this feature, but then, I’m assuming Amazon has the data to back up the fact people aren’t using them. It sucks, I guess? Can someone who uses Alexa fill in the blanks for me here?

HP 200LX and related palmtops

The HP 200 LX was a successful palmtop computer introduced in 1994. HP continued to sell it through 1999, an unusually long run for a 1990s computer model. In this blog post, we’ll dig into this largely forgotten form factor and why it became such a quiet success. ↫ Dave Farquhar These devices are incredibly cool, but I disagree that they disappeared, as the blog post states. Just recently I reviewed my main laptop, a very small Chuwi MiniBook (2023) with the N100, and in that article I also listed some other similar options that are still being made and sold today, from companies like GPD and OneNetbook.

PCIe 7.0 draft 0.5 spec available: 512 GB/s over PCIe x16 on track for 2025

PCIe 7.0 is is the next generation interconnect technology for computers that is set to increase data transfer speeds to 128 GT/s per pin, doubling the 64 GT/s of PCIe 6.0 and quadrupling the 32 GT/s of PCIe 5.0. This would allow a 16-lane (x16) connection to support 256 GB/sec of bandwidth in each direction simultaneously, excluding encoding overhead. Such speeds will be handy for future datacenters as well as artificial intelligence and high-performance computing applications that will need even faster data transfer rates, including network data transfer rates. ↫ Anton Shilov at AnandTech PCIe 7.0 won’t hit devices until late 2020s.