Saturday, March 29, 2008

Networking education resources

If you want to get a good basic understanding of how basic networking works, you could do worse than to take the ProCurve Networking Primer. It offers the fundamentals in an easy to understand self-paced course. It doesn't have a lot of vendor bias in it.

HP offers a great deal of training in fundamentals for free. Some of it is specific to their products and some of it is not. On the ProCurve Training page you will find some materials to study if you are interested in these things. It's accessible to the public.

A lot of the HP training is available free to the public but it's hidden behind a membership page so people can't find it easily. This is silly because the training itself is hosted on a public FTP server. For example the exam preparation guides are in the epgs directory. There's quite a lot of interesting stuff on and it's wide open for browsing.

IBM also has a good deal of online training available here.

Naturally MIT's Open CourseWare covers networking as well

Friday, March 28, 2008

Nettop, netbook, Mobile Internet Device, Blah

Yeah, there's lots of vapor in the air regarding "thin is in" low power, small performance mini notebooks and portable PC components. It would easy to grouse about how we've heard this before and when the air cleared the thing cost $2500 if you could buy it at all and was lame until you dropped it, at which point it was worthless.

The thing is, that story's over. Flash storage as a medium has matured and become much cheaper. You can get small LCD (or newer tech) monitors at ridiculously low prices because of economies of scale. The small LCD in the eee PC for example is used in point of sale equipment, digital photo frames, kiosks, and a number of other devices. With a low power processor that's also cheap the Bill of Materials on this equipment starts getting interesting.

At IDF in a few days the NDA's for lots of companies building platforms on Intel's Diamondville and Silverthorne (nee Atom) processors expire and we're going to see what kind of device the major manufacturers can build with a 0.5W - 2.5W processor that is very cheap, runs IA32 architecture and clocks at reasonable (1.8 GHz?) speeds. I think there will be more than a few surprises in store.

I'm going to speculate there are more than a few that are a decent laptop computer that costs about what consumers are currently paying for an MP3 player like the Zune or the IPOD. That's going to drive a lot of market in the third world. It's going to change a lot of things about the bottom end of the laptop market. Some of these things are not going to be computers at all, but they also will be really cool.

One thing's for sure though: If any of them run Vista, they won't do it well.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Will Intel's Atom be a smash?

The buzz has begun on Intel's Atom processor. Formerly known as Silverthorne and Diamondville, this disruptive technology is set to sweep the world by summer.

What is it? Atom is a processor. It consumes between 0.6 and 2.5 watts running full out depending on the clock speed, and as little as .03 watts in sleep mode. It is tiny- 25 square millimeters or roughly 3 millimeters by 9. It's x86 compatible, as it's derived from Intel's Core architechture. Clock speeds for it are currently estimated at 1.8GHz at the top end, 500MHz at the bottom. The technology is capable of either hyperthreading or dual core.

What's the big deal? This is huge. Look at the requirements for Windows XP. 300MHz Pentium class processor with 128MB of RAM. This thing easily clears even the recommended requirements at the minimum 0.6 watts power level. With an Intel Solid State hard drive and 1GB of RAM this thing is a whole PC that fits inside a tin of Altoids and runs on AA batteries or can be embedded inside a 22" monitor for about the cost of the cardboard box it comes in. In silicon small = inexpensive and this is tiny. This moves a real PC into the realm of affordability for a huge segment of the world's population that was previously not served.

Mini-ITX is a popular platform, and VIA gets up to $300 for their 1.5GHz platforms in this form factor. "This complete platform is expected to be priced at no more than $50-60 in retail." Wow. Just wow. The implications for car PC and embedded media player applications is enormous.

What else? There's a Centrino Atom chipset aimed at the Eee, OLPC and Classmate class of cheap notebooks with wireless, fair video, and all the usual goodies that stays at low power. Over 50 subnotebooks that Intel is now classing as "Mobile Internet Devices" or MIDs are launching right away. Phone applications are obvious. Perhaps less obvious are the implications for home routers, thin clients, toys, home robotics, gumstix, Network Attached Storage, Wireless mesh networks, military applications, POE webcams, supercomputer applications and workstations.

The downside: Although some vendors will claim the "Vista Capable" label, we all know what that means. It means that the PC is incapable of giving a good experience when loaded with Vista. A version of Ubuntu is available for it already, though, that runs Open Office just fine so you should be able to open those PowerPoint presentations in Impress without any trouble on your Mobile Internet Device.

The interesting question really is "what would you do with it?" Really. Pretend for a moment you're a platform engineer and tell me what you would do with this thing.