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Las Chingarerras por La Chingarerra

Chips and Chingarerras, Part 3

By Don Granberry, 7 July 2000

The key factor in making a truly mobile computer mobile is weight. The lighter the chingarerra is, the simpler the task of making it durable. Weight is primarily a function of power consumption. The larger the battery, the heavier the chingarerra will be. Power consumption is a function of computing power – little surprise there, right? According to The Register, the new 600-MHz Pentium III chips with SpeedStep™ technology calls for designers to expect a maximum power dissipation of 15.8 watts. Dissipation this high is called for with Pentium IIIs because this is the amount of power they will consume under load. Assuming Apple chose IBM’s 400-MHz PPC750CX chip (quite close to a 600-MHz Pentium III in performance) for our dreamed-of chingarerra, we would be looking at a power consumption of just 4.7 watts. Get the picture? We can use a large battery, thereby achieving long useful life in the field, or choose a small battery, and save weight. Let’s pull a dirty trick and make it user’s choice. Design the chingarerra so that it uses two 25-watt-hour batteries instead of the single, 50-watt-hour battery used in the PowerBook G3 line.

The computer industry has only recently begun to make good use of what used to be called “bubble memory”, or what is nowadays known as Flash RAM. Bubble memory does not make a good substitute for any of the many flavors of RAM because unlike other semiconductor devices, it wears out (although that may change soon), but it makes an excellent substitute for a drive. In particular, it can make an excellent substitute for a boot drive. Using a Flash RAM “drive” for a boot disk does two things for you: it allows your computer to start up as fast as your television set, and it saves on power consumption because all the key elements of the operating system are in the Flash RAM drive, which uses far less power than a hard disk.

To take fullest advantage of Flash RAM, or MRAM when it becomes available, I’d argue that our dreamed-of chingarerra needs at least three, Type-II PCMCIA slots. This would allow us to store things in bubble memory rather than calling on the drive to save every database record (and this device will see lots of database usage), or even to hold large swap spaces for a program like Photoshop. The operating system could be taught to write to disk whenever the Flash RAM drives begin to fill, then swap back to the Flash RAM drives once they are cleared. (As an alternative, the user could opt for something like IBM’s new MicroDrive™, which now comes in capacities of up to one gigabyte for under $500.00.)

The other large consumer of power in a mobile computer is the display. About the only way to help that along, given the nature of the technology involved, is to reduce the screen size as far as is practical. PDA displays, in my opinion, are too small. The screen of the old PowerBook 2400 however, is nearly dead-solid perfect for our dreamed-of chingarerra. The diagonal of a stenography pad is 27.8 cm, or 11 inches. The diagonal of the PB2400 display is 26.3 cm, or 10.4 inches. This should allow designers to construct a chingarerra for us that is just about the size of a standard clipboard made for 8-1/2" x 11" or A4 paper – perfect for carrying around on one arm. The display of our hoped-for chingarerra should be active-matrix LCD and have at least two resolutions available, 1024 x 768 and 800 x 600. This allows the user to maximize screen real estate or to use a lower resolution for larger screen objects if and when needed. The screen should also be an input device, and work with both a dead stylus and a pressure-sensitive pen, similar to Wacom’s PL-400 tablet.

So far I haven’t argued for anything overwhelmingly new or controversial, but now I will. Our chingarerra needs digital sound input. Not via USB, as that is just not a good way to handle audio. We need a good sound port with a professional-grade D/A converter so that we can record sound with a good microphone, straight to disk. Why? Because Apple wants to become the king of desktop video, that’s why. The sound systems of most cameras stink. Worse, no one makes an affordable recorder anymore and if you need to record sounds where you cannot take or do not need a camera, you are slam out of luck. By putting a professional-quality sound-in system in this chingarerra, a lot of people would buy them to do nothing but foley work. It would allow users to go around collecting interesting sounds to add to their videos without having to spend a fortune and searching for days and weeks for sound affects that often are not available from stock suppliers. If you have done any video, or needed a sound affect for a game you’ve written, you know exactly what I am talking about.

I will also argue for one other port that is likely to raise eyebrows. I think Apple should license the Visor’s Springboard™ expansion slot technology. There is a large number of Springboard modules (as well as other Palm-compatible instruments)and they strike me as being more convenient to use than those being made to work with USB. I suspect that the instruments being made to work with Springboard are going to become the most easily available, affordable and popular. Apple would do well to add this value to its laptop line. Now, instead of having just another laptop, we have a genuine iCorder.

With USB, a pressure sensitive screen that serves as an input device, PCMCIA, good sound-in and a Springboard expansion slot – all wrapped up into a rugged AnvilTough™ design that is a full house computer – we now have a field-work workhorse, and a chingarerra we can fall seriously in love with. You listenin’, Steve?

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