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Thread: When will ARM motherboards be available?

  1. #1
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    Default When will ARM motherboards be available?

    When will motherboards based on ARM processors be available?

    My use is for standard corporate desktops. Required applications for users in this small business are Firefox, OpenOffice and IM. Decent graphics will be necessary, in order to support streaming media. I'm not talking anything special here, just your basic desktop. In other words, Ubuntu on ARM should be perfect.

    The IA architecture is three decades old and showing its age. With Google and Ubuntu joining Debian as active development partners for the ARM platform, this seems to be the direction to look for the next decade. I even read a journalist speculate that Apple would move Mac to ARM.

    Unfortunately, there's nothing in the technical or even trade press to answer my question. Can anyone provide any insight as to when I'll be able to buy an ARM-based motherboard through the online retail channel to build desktop machines? What are the potential pitfalls of being an early adopter?

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    ARM motherboards will start existing whenever ARM processors stop being embedded, and ARM designs a socket.
    But principally whenever it starts making sense.

    But as for now, you can buy development boards with ARM processors really cheap, like the gumstix overo or the Beagleboard. Though, A cortex A8 isn't nearly as fast as a single-core Athlon II at 500mhz.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thpn View Post
    The IA architecture is three decades old and showing its age.
    ARM isn't much younger: from what I remember it's late 70s for 8086 vs mid-80s for ARM. And ARM was kind of Acorn's idea of a 32-bit 6502 (simple instructions with much higher IPC than more complex comparable CPUs like the Z80), so you could argue its design goes back even longer.

    As for ARM motherboards, I'd like to see some too, but at the moment they still seem to be aiming at the embedded market. Hopefully someone's going to start selling decent desktop ARM boards before too long.

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    Quote Originally Posted by movieman View Post
    ARM isn't much younger: from what I remember it's late 70s for 8086 vs mid-80s for ARM. And ARM was kind of Acorn's idea of a 32-bit 6502 (simple instructions with much higher IPC than more complex comparable CPUs like the Z80), so you could argue its design goes back even longer.

    As for ARM motherboards, I'd like to see some too, but at the moment they still seem to be aiming at the embedded market. Hopefully someone's going to start selling decent desktop ARM boards before too long.
    My predictions (ha!) will be first within netbooks - as a lower cost alternative to x86 processors for appliance style devices/appliance mode of more powerful notebooks. The value add for the appliance comes from the cloud - gmail, google apps, g-whatever.

    If that market proves relevant and profitable, then we will probably see ARM based nettops begin to come out. Of course Intel already treats Atom as an out-of-band product in it's accounting, so dropping the price to keep ARM out might still be an option for them.

    Fortunately Tegra already supports HDMI, so in theory we can already get BT enabled DVI capable devices without too much of a leap.

    Matthew

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thpn View Post
    When will motherboards based on ARM processors be available?
    They are. Look at the beagleboard e.g.. Still no mass ware you'll find in computer stores. Lots of embedded stuff but if you want non headless the choices become few and most of em prolly contain a ImgTec (PowerVR) proprietary GPU.

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    And there's the gumstick PC, but having a full ATX motherboard for an ARM processor is just overkill.

    If you want something low powered like a nettop but that isn't stupidly overpriced then look at (bear with me here) Thin Clients. They're designed to run an embedded OS that just communicates with a server to get most of it's computing power, but if you look around you can find some great deals. For instance:

    Fujitsu Siemens FUTRO A250:-
    AMD LX800
    Gigabit Ethernet
    256MB RAM
    256MB ROM
    eLux NG

    So it wouldn't be that hard to put a decent Linux distro on it, and it's all for the grand price of... 9.99.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thpn View Post
    When will motherboards based on ARM processors be available?
    It is an interesting question, but first you have to note that the infrastructure/market for other processors hasn't shaken out in the same way that the x86 architecture market has (do you see Gigabyte and Asus producing 'Power' boards? Or sparc? Or MIPS? Well, they don't do it for ARM, either).

    My use is for standard corporate desktops.
    The suggestion earlier for thin clients was interesting: quite often, the client end of a thin client system is built around an ARM processor, but not on a 'merchant' motherboard, but on one specifically designed for the purpose and specifically designed to fit in the custom case design.

    [QUOTE]The IA architecture is three decades old and showing its age.[QUOTE]

    Assuming that you mean x86/x86-64 and not IA432
    • three decades old and people have been saying it has not much future in front of it for two and a half of those
    • the x86-64 is quite a comprehensive reworking of the arch (not the instruction set, but the arch), as is the Core2Duo, and the nehalems are a more modest reworking of that (well, except for the memory controller, which had already been in place in the green team's parts), so how old is it - back to the earliest incarnation or back to the last major refresh?
    • and it would be nice if you could define what exactly you think would be improved by a 'clean sheet of paper' design


    I even read a journalist speculate that Apple would move Mac to ARM.
    Maybe, but I'd bet that the parts where low power consumption is a real advantage, iPADs and so on, would go that way first.

    Unfortunately, there's nothing in the technical or even trade press to answer my question. Can anyone provide any insight as to when I'll be able to buy an ARM-based motherboard through the online retail channel to build desktop machines?
    I can't either, but I'm not holding my breath for a board that takes socketed parts and that can be expanded in a similar way to 'normal' mobos at an affordable price.


    What are the potential pitfalls of being an early adopter?
    Well, you can't run windows...oh hold on, you said pitfalls

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    The interesting thing to note is that INTEL is moving towards embedded and towards no-windoze-no-way-hell-no with their new moorestown platform.

    FYI: making a socketed ARM chip is as easy as soldering an arm chip onto a little green board with pins sticking out. One of the big problems with the ARM architecture for this system is that every manufacturer of ARM chips has their own custom design layout, major different features, etc. For example, the cellphone ARM chips (i.e. qualcomm) may have multiple cores of different spec -- one for running applications, one for running the radio. Radio circuits -- not as useful on a stationary device.... and the pins are mapped in completely different ways. The problem is that with all the variations in these "chips", it would be very difficult to standardize in any meaningful way. At the same time, standardizing would tend to break you off of the chance to really customize the things into tiny packages, like cellphones.

    In my opinion, the major advantage ARM has is that it is very flexible and NON-standardized. You just don't see that with x86 since the platform is designed around being dropped into an enormous metal case where every different element to make the platform "flexible" snaps into a universal part-hub (also known as a motherboard).

    Each has their use, but they are totally different uses.

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    I don't see why ARM needs a socket any more than Atom does. I think it would be kind of pointless to have a traditional PC-style mainboard with lots of high-bandwidth slots, but some kind of standard built around desktop and/or set-top use might be interesting. I'm picturing something with, for example:

    - Dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 at 1.5-2GHz or so
    - Onboard 1080p-capable GPU (preferably with open drivers)
    - Some kind of high-speed DSP
    - Hardware video decode if CPU+DSP can't handle 1080p Blu-ray playback (just using this as a reference, not saying the thing necessarily needs to play Blu-ray)
    - At least 512MB RAM
    - Standard form factor (e.g. Mini-ITX, though that still seems too big)
    - 6 or more USB ports, with at least 2 being high speed USB (e.g. one for an external HDD or thumb drive, one for an internal flash memory reader)
    - 2 SATA ports (one for HDD/SSD, one for optical drive)

    Granted, at that point I'm not sure it would have much to offer against an Atom board, but it would be pretty cool to have the choice anyway.

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    Could someone keep the spam off the thread?

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