In this issue

  • CES, the Consumer Electronics Show
  • CES: NVIDIA DRIVE Xavier
  • CES: Psion remake, Planet Computers “Gemini”
  • Spectre and Meltdown roundup

CES, the Consumer Electronics Show

The annual CES show in Las Vegas brings with it spectacle, vigorous self-promotion, and a hint of what is coming in the coming year. Two announcements stood out from the hype this year: NVIDIA’s powerful new self-driving car platform, and a retro clamshell Android device, both powered by 64-bit Arm cores.

CES: NVIDIA DRIVE Xavier

Self-driving cars require lots of computing power to integrate information coming from high speed sensors plus deep learning for feature recognition. NVIDIA announced the “DRIVE Xavier” system-on-chip to power their latest self-driving platform, with a newly designed 8-core 64-bit custom Arm CPU. NVIDIA writes:

It’s built around a custom 8-core CPU, a new 512-core Volta GPU, a new deep learning accelerator, new computer vision accelerators and new 8K HDR video processors. And with our unified architecture, all previous NVIDIA DRIVE software development carries over and runs.

NVIDIA has developer kits available for sale – the Jetson TX1 and TX2 – which are from a previous generation of CPU designs. As far as I’ve been able to determine the new custom Arm SoCs are not yet available in development kit designs, but the new hardware is promised to be compatible with all provided libraries and software.

CES: Psion remake, Planet Computers “Gemini”

The 1990s saw the temporary popularity of computing devices from Psion, which offered a clamshell design with a small full keyboard hinged to a modest sized screen. The clamshell approach is enough smaller than a laptop that you can put it in your pocket, but with a large enough keyboard to not need an on-screen keyboard for your typing. At CES in Las Vegas, there is an attempt to revive this form factor from Planet Computers.

It’s a tricky combo to get right, and the original Psion designers are back at it with the “Gemini”, a hinged system with a 1080p screen and compact keyboard. Originally funded via Indiegogo, this device runs on a 10-core MediaTek Helio X27 processor with 4GB of ram and two USB-C ports. The promise is that when it ships it will run some flavor of Linux to go along with the stock Android release, but no distribution support details are forthcoming yet.

The BBC has a video interview with designer Martin Riddiford who walks us through the intended use of the system, both as a phone for taking and making calls and as a little Android laptop.

The Indiegogo offering raised $1.4 million, and at CES the product won “Slashgear Editor’s Choice Best of CES 2018 award”.

Availability of the system is unclear from any of the media reports.

Spectre and Meltdown roundup

Fallout continues from the Spectre and Meltdown attacks on a wide range of computing systems. Patches mitigating some of these cases are emerging.

FreeBSD has announced mitigations for variants of Spectre on on Cortex-A57, A72, A73, and A75. They write:

It has been reported the ThunderX is unaffected, however the ThunderX2 is vulnerable. The Qualcomm Falkor core is also affected. As FreeBSD doesn’t yet run on the ThunderX2 or Falkor no workaround is included for these CPUs.

Network World runs a story about Meltdown and Spectre’s impact on AMD and Arm, and concludes that “thankfully, is not much, but it is there.”

Red Hat has a three minute presentation on Spectre and Meltdown, using the analogy of the “Speculation Diner” to describe speculative execution and branch prediction.

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