Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Future Of Computers (2)

Not so long ago, I wrote a post about how computers are going to disappear from our view. After having read up on the subject some more, I have gained new insights. Therefore, I now write a follow-up.


M-RAM

A very promising technology that could play a very important role in the miniaturisation of computer systems: Magnetic RAM.

From the site:

Magnetic RAM, a new memory technology that promises to provide non-volatile, low-power, high speed and low-cost memory. Often described as the 'holy-grail' of memory, MRAM has the potential to replace FLASH, RAM and even Hard-discs.


Just think about how much space it would save if hard-discs and dvd-drives would be replaced by non-volatile M-RAM, which will be the size of the DDR-RAM working memory that's in PC's today. And it's low-power and high-speed (2Ghz record at time of writing) too!

M-RAM could also allow for instant-on PC's, which basically implies nobody will ever be waiting for a booting PC ever again.

I for one can't wait until we get rid of those nasty rotating media, that actually need to physically rotate in order to be useful. Very annoying. M-RAM truly is the holy grail of digital memory, combining all of the advantages (non-volatile, low-power, high-speed, small-sized) of existing memory-technology, but none of the disadvantages (volatile, high-power, low-speed, large-sized).

Here are some pictures of M-RAM, along with a brief explanation of how it works.


Portable Computing Boom Through Integration

The so-called 'Portable Computing Boom' is a' comin', and the industry expects it in the coming years. Battery makers are gearing up for it already, as they expect portable computer sales to overtake traditional computer sales as early as 2009.

The Mac mini is a good sign of the times. While its performance is not on par with modern desktop computers, it's getting awfully close. If anybody had built a mini computer like this five to ten years ago (assuming it was even possible), its performance would have been disastrous compared with desktop computers. Portable computer-performance is definately catching up.

Another sign of the times are Mini-ITX computers. An important keyword here is integration. As more and more functionality gets stuffed into one motherboard (or chip, or chipset, for that matter), the machine will take up less and less space.

From the site:

The Mini-ITX mainboard successfully integrates various combinations of readily-available chipset and processor components from VIA that come with rich feature sets that include ultra low power native x86 processors, onboard LAN and various integrated AGP graphics and audio options. Further enhancing its versatility, the Mini-ITX mainboard can include CompactFlash and CardBus slots, TV-Out connector, SPDIF 5.1 audio, USB 2.0, 1394 (Firewire), integrated MPEG2/MPEG4 decoding, support for up to DDR400, Serial ATA and much more.


That's downright impressive. This integration trend has indeed been quite a stubborn trend for years now. Motherboards now have integrated 8-channel sound, ethernet, and firewalls. And what about cell phones? When you buy one, you might wonder if you have actually bought a cell phone. Perhaps you accidentily bought an mp3-player? Or is it a digital camera? Or a PDA, even? Oh wait... cell phones are all of that combined into one.

See my point?

Also, read this article about how consumer-tuned chips exemplify the integration trend:

As a given application increases in popularity, system shipments rise, competition emerges, and cost pressures consequently increase, Moore's Law inexorably comes into play. Chip vendors at the core of the system design pull functions that formerly resided in separate peripherals into their next-generation products. These core semiconductor suppliers also expand the overall capabilities of their products and therefore the ability for their customers to differentiate themselves from their competition.


The term "System on a Chip" or "SoC", has recently gained popularity. Take a look at what this Google search yields when searching for "system on a chip".

The SoC is certainly the holy grail of integration.


Portable Computing Boom Through Mobility

IBM researchers recently came up with something they have dubbed Soul:

Personal computers could soon fit entirely on a key ring. Researchers at IBM in New York, US, have developed a way to carry a powerful, personalised virtual computer from one PC to the next, without losing the user's work.


This is yet another approach towards a full blown portable computing boom.


Other Links

Visions of the Future, by Brendan Kitts and Stefan Koch
The Future Of Computers, by Robert Freitas


Conclusion

A serious assessment of current integration-, miniaturisation-, and mobility-trends show that the portable computing boom is indeed inevitable. We will be living in a truly portable society in the not too distant future.

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1 comment:

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