You’d need to have been living under a rock to have missed the arrival of the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover on the red planet.
But did you know that the chip running the whole thing isn’t the very latest that Intel has to offer? It isn’t even the latest chip that you’re going to find in a phone, or a smart TV, for that matter.
You would, however, find the PowerPC 750 in the G3 iMac that was made way back in 1998. Yes, an iMac took us to Mars and is now meandering around taking stunning images for us to gawp at.
First noted by New Scientist and then Gizmodo, the single-core chip is woefully underpowered by today’s standards. But it’s clearly enough for what it needs to do.
The PowerPC 750 was a single-core, 233MHz processor, and compared to the multi-core, 5.0GHz-plus frequencies modern consumer chips can achieve, 233MHz is incredibly slow. But the 750 was the first to incorporate dynamic branch prediction, which is still used in modern processors today. Basically, the CPU architecture is making an educated guess on what instructions the CPU is going to process as a way to improve efficiency. The more information that’s processed, the better the chip gets at predicting what it needs to do next.
However, and importantly, the chip that’s powering the rover is battle-hardened. Or, should we say, radiation-hardened.
However, there’s a major difference between the iMac’s CPU and the one inside the Perseverance rover. BAE Systems manufactures the radiation-hardened version of the PowerPC 750, dubbed RAD750, which can withstand 200,000 to 1,000,000 Rads…
So probably a little bit more than that aging iMac that’s been sat in a box for the last 20 years, then.
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