Space MOOSE

spaceflight, technology, anime, politics, and whatever else I feel like writing about

DeX Mode, M1, Unified Compute, and the Death of the PC

This spring, I moved for a new job, and I needed a new battlestation. I set one up from scratch so that it could work with my work laptop - a monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, Ethernet, and sundry other USB peripherals connected to the computer by a single USB-C connection. This worked fine with an x86 laptop running GNU/Linux, an ARM laptop running MacOS, and... with an Android phone. The sort of platorm compatibility issues, port array concerns, driver issues, and expansion slot format wars that were raging so hard from the 1980s through the early 2010s have quietly ended. Except for expanding the RAM or storage, both of which are often soldered directly to the mainboard to save money these days, everything else you'd want to connect to a personal computer can be done as an external peripheral. This basically destroys the need for a common hardware/firmware platform. On the server side, there is such a need, but being able to discard IBM PC compatibility allows a return to the simpler datacenter architectures of yore, with remote access being done over serial concentrators. ARM's common standard server platform is already emerging as this, with PCIe+UEFI allowing for generic non-vendor-locked kernels and high speed I/O, but the console can just be a simple 8n1 serial line either as raw RS-232 or emulated over USB. This still allows an enormous amount of design flexibility for Amazon and Apple and everyone else building non-embedded ARM systems, from the CPU layer all the way up to how the boards are laid out, and I don't think the PC world will ever recover except for the systems that are servers by another name - workstations and developer kits. It's similar to what killed the minicomputer. Minis that took an entire board to hold a CPU got replaced by micros with single chip CPUs. Now microcomputers that needed a large, densely populated motherboard are getting replaced by systems on chip / systems on module. This is going to make roughly two and a half generations of people that came up on microcomputers extremely angsty, but the damage is already done. I was recently rereading the early MegaTokyo strips, and it struck me how alien Largo's attitude was to the modern day - nobody considers anything wrong with using a Raspberry Pi as a basic internet terminal, but Largo insisted on a watercooled hand built Xeon for what, IRC and Quake? The heyday of the hand build is over, and I say that as one who's been rolling hand built towers since childhood.