Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Epic Troll #2: BN continues to twist the facts

Boycott Novell continues its tireless tattling against Novell. While I was out working for a living the Bloviating Neanderthals selectively quoted a benchmark published by the Phoronixians comparing the execution of openSUSE 11.1 and three additional distributions on an Atom-based motherboard, creating yet another false and distorted story [sic] supporting their twisted ideological crusade.

The Atom processor seems to be the current darling of the Free Software Mob. Many electrons have been spilled extolling its virtues, because of all those Atom-based netbooks shipping with various poorly hacked Linux-based distributions. If it's shipping with Linux then it's gotta be good, right? Intel released the Atom to counter ARM-based devices in the highly mobile computing space. ARM-based devices provide a reasonable trade off between functionality and very low power consumption. For a very low amount of power consumed in a very compact device weighing mere ounces, you get roughly 70%-80% of the Internet experience compared to, say, a basic desktop system running something as simple and cheap as a Celeron. What you don't get most of the time is satisfactory full streaming video. For most folks, the trade off is fair, and the very low power consumption leads to many hours of entertainment pleasure. Of course, with more advanced systems such as the iPod Touch, one can get 4-5 hours of video as well as 30+ hours of MP3 playback, and about 6 hours of surfing the web between charges. All in a device that measure 4.5 ounces. And not running Windows or Linux.

The problem is that Atom doesn't even come close to matching ARM's stingy power consumption. It doesn't appear to execute instructions any faster (especially when compared at identical frequencies), and devices built around the Atom, especially netbooks, have weights measured in pounds, not ounces. The only thing that the Atom brings is x86 instruction compatibility, which allows bloated operating systems such as Windows and Linux to be shoe-horned onto the devices.

Yes, you read right. In an embedded environment such as this, Windows and just about every standard Linux distribution you care to name is too bloated and produces a less than satisfactory user experience, especially when said user is coming from a regular notebook/desktop experience. In fact the poster child for bloated Linux attempting to run in this space is Nokia's Maemo, their Debian-based distribution, running on the 770. But I digress...

So here we have four good distributions running on a niche processor on a niche motherboard, and attempting to base the complete merits of said distributions based on that single test. At least, that's what the Bleating Nitwits tried.

Here's (as Paul Harvey used to say) the rest of the story. Soon after Phoronix published its review, Andreas Jaeger published his response to the benchmark, "Comments on Phoronix Benchmarking openSUSE 11.1." In a clear, lucid, and professional writing style Andreas focused on the two areas where openSUSE 11.1 had apparent issues with the benchmark, offering his explanation as to why the performance was as slow as it seemed, specifically on disk I/O and graphics performance on that particular platform. I'll leave it up to you, the Gentle Reader, to read what Andreas has to say in detail. But it is worth the read.

There is no "story" here, only one benchmark on a low-end-by-design processor and its supporting low-end-by-design motherboard. The Atom processor and electronics devices that incorporate it are neither leading nor innovative. They are instead crudely designed and cheaply built to go down-market and protect Intel's higher-end x86 processors. The Atom is the digital equivalent of the Yugo.

I have seen the Atom-based netbooks sold in Orlando at Walmart (HP and Asus) and Target (Asus). And in every store, without exception, they're cheaply made and held in low esteem by store staff and the general buying public, who would rather spend a little more and get a low-end desktop or notebook with a bigger screen and a decent keyboard, not to mention better performance and capability. The fact that some in the Linux community seem to be chasing this particular product category and trumpeting Linux's inclusion on this devices is sad indeed. In the end, the Atom and the netbooks built around them will leave a bad taste in consumer's mouths and a black eye on Intel, and that same bad experience will spill over and stain Linux as well. There is nothing to be gained in this particular marketing experiment except a bad reputation all around.

My advice: If you want to run Linux, put it on a real x86-based notebook or desktop running real x86 processors from Intel or AMD. Leave the toys to the kids.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I read that article on phoronix and the blog post by Andreas Jaeger and it was indeed insightful. I'm glad openSUSE devs enable that bareer.
    BTW you shouldn't mind Boycott Novell guys, time will prove their cause wrong.

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