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Transportation Hardware

Auto Industry's Fastest Processor Is 128Mhz 397

Posted by kdawson
from the hot-in-here-or-is-it-me dept.
afabbro writes "GM stated that the 2011 Buick Regal will have the auto industry's fastest processor: 128Mhz, and 3MB of flash. 'Three meg of flash memory and 128MHz clock speed doesn't sound like a lot in terms of computing power until you consider the environment these controllers have to live in. Our controllers are made to operate reliably up to 260 degrees (127C) and down to -40 degrees (-40C) for the life of the vehicle.'"
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Auto Industry's Fastest Processor Is 128Mhz

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  • by mlts (1038732) * on Sunday November 14, 2010 @02:52AM (#34220372)

    128MHZ for a rugged CPU for automotive use is a good thing, but clock speed is just one of many factors. TFA was a tad light on information and worded as an ad (which is to be expected from GM's press website), but other than just mentioning vague details and the fact that Freescale made it, this doesn't really mean much without factoring in other details.

    Will this mean the 2011 Regal will be leaps and bounds over the 2010? Yes. How much is debatable.

    Will this matter in the total scheme of automotive technology? Not really. ECMs have been improving each year, so the 2011 Regal may have a bump in the control CPU's clock speed, but perhaps some other car maker would have a different architecture in place (multiple modules controlling different functions such as PATS/antitheft, O2 sensor, fuel sensor [1], etc.)

    Will other car companies have improvements in their technology? Assuredly. Ford has some new engines going in the mainstream line of vehicles. Other vehicle makers may be bringing diesels to the US.

    The big question in all of this: Is there a car example I can go on here?

    [1]: I'm sure all cars in the US will eventually be going Flex-Fuel (talk about bumping gasoline from 10% to 15% is happening in some places here in the US), so having the circuitry in place to handle varying amounts of ethanol will be crucial.

    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:13AM (#34220438) Homepage Journal

      It's a special use, being more like a very powerful microcontroller, it only needs so much power, and it has to last. While the average life of a car is nearly 10 years, it's not so terribly uncommon to keep a car going for almost 20 years, in contrast very few 20 year old PCs are still in regular use, I think a lot of people would be very hard pressed to find a ten year old computer being used daily, and PCs don't have to worry much about environmental factors.

      If the system is flex-fuel, it has to be able to take any range from 0% (occasional exemption from ethanol) to 85% ethanol. There is no control over what what the next tank will have, and you'll have some residual, making your ratio almost constantly varying.

      I thought most of ethanol's benefits were pretty reasonably debunked, at least corn ethanol anyway.

      • by SirThe (1927532) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:38AM (#34220556)
        Yes, the reason people don't have old PCs is because they break down, not because newer and better technology comes out.
      • Are they not using 20 y/o technology? I'm suspecting that they have just ruggedized a 20 year old processor/architecture for their use. Isn't the military doing the same? (Think about the P1's being used in aircraft)
      • Haha...you ever work in corporate IT? They are so damn cheap it's hilarious what they will do to keep those machines going. It's especially amusing seeing how much they would rather have me bill them to keep that machine going rather than just replacing it. At least those caps & PSU have to die some day!

        Oh, and ethanol has pretty much been a scam for corn farmers from day one. Still a bit annoyed they put ethanol in regular gasoline because it's fractionally cleaner. Fractionally cleaner in a sense th
        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          They are so damn cheap it's hilarious what they will do to keep those machines going.

          It's almost always because it would be far, far more expensive to replace an old PC than keep it running.

          Have you got the couple of million $local_currency that it could cost to replace an aging 486-DX100 - and the custom software that won't run on anything faster, the custom IO cards that drive the multi-million piece of machinery it controls, *and* all the approvals process to make sure it's not going to break anything o

          • No to mention the fact that in pretty much any corporate culture, it's hundreds of times easier to get a PO from management for "Repairing $device_that_we_already_have" than it is to get one for "Purchasing $new_device_to_replace_old_device_that_we_already_have" regardless of the fact that said old device is broken.

        • by Raenex (947668)

          Wooo...two for two in the random segway rants XD

          Don't get me started on the Segway...

        • They put gasoline in with the ethanol (E85) because engines don't start very well in the cold when running on pure ethanol. The gasoline helps to cure that behavior.
      • by RichiH (749257)

        > it's not so terribly uncommon to keep a car going for almost 20 years

        Or longer. My motorbike is 30 years old now. It's still running perfectly fine.

      • by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @08:31AM (#34221384) Homepage Journal

        in contrast very few 20 year old PCs are still in regular use, I think a lot of people would be very hard pressed to find a ten year old computer being used daily

        I've got a 15 year old PC that's not only used daily, it runs 24/7 to run a specific piece of software.
        I've also got a 14 year old one that does some network functions, although it would be much easier to replace than the first one, if it came to it.

        So, my anecdotal evidence trumps your statistics, because as everybody on /. knows, if you have a single contradictory outlier, it proves generally accepted trends are completely wrong.

        :)

    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:19AM (#34220478)
      This progression is to be expected. But the thing people should be asking is: does the new Buick ECM have an interface exposed that third parties can build readers for? Is there an assessable API? Probably not, so all this power will only be available to dealerships.
    • by inflex (123318) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @05:08AM (#34220820) Homepage Journal

      Agreed, it's not revolutionary - but each generation is a nice improvement.

      The tech is new but the design is biased towards factors other than outright performance (obviously). If you consider microcontrollers like the very popular Atmel AVR32 series, they're barely pushing the speed but their technology is very current. Things like integrated ADC/DAC/SPI/TWI~I2C/USARTS/USB/CAN/opamps/comparators/counters~timers/safety-circuits/power-savings (down to nA range) are what's important. The modern microcontroller is an amazing toolkit of modules, vastly reducing your board build complexity and improving your longevity.

        Looking at the highres photo of the board, you can see it's mostly just a hell of a lot of power regulators, switchmode-controllers and MOSFETS (for the switchmode power) with a couple of ASICs. There's also a lot of safety bits on there such as polyfuses. My first impression of this design is that there's a lot of isolated power channels to ensure that even if one goes down everything else keeps on going.

  • That in the early 90's that would have been a top end pc, and it's still probably more computing power than the space shuttle.
  • by whoever57 (658626) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:03AM (#34220400) Journal
    Environment similar to mil spec, durability like industrial, prices like consumer products.
    • by stimpleton (732392) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:29AM (#34220516)
      Ex Honda Mechanic here(1982-1989). "Environment similar to mil spec, durability like industrial, prices like consumer products".

      1984-86 Honda Accord/Accura igniter units(Fires the igntion coil at the right time), it was more like "Environment as in a home in winter, durability like a chinese small engine, and prices like a haliburtion supplied widget".

      If i'd replaced 200 of these things. Yes, i am sure todays automotive embedded stuff is better but its been a long road.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mashiki (184564)

        Metro's 90-04 were about the same. The block containing the electronic controls for the engine would actually corrode from the inside out. Things with automotive electronics only started to get "good" around 94 when GM first kicked out the 3800 series that was fully electronic controlled, and everyone and their grandmother saw "it was a good design" and copied the piss out of it.

        By around '96 things were leaps and bounds ahead of where they were even 2 years before that.

    • by RichiH (749257)

      Well, automobiles have economy of scale. But yes, mil & space are overpriced. News at 11 ;)

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Prices like consumer products? You can easily pay $1000 for an ECU which has, say, a ~30 MHz 32 bit microcontroller, even today. You're right about the environment though, especially when wunderidiots like Chevrolet put the PCM under the hood. For what, to save a couple feet of wiring? To eliminate one expensive connector?

      • especially when wunderidiots like Chevrolet put the PCM under the hood.

        Huh? Every GM I've ever looked at has the ECM under the dash. Not saying you're wrong, but what year/model are you referring to that has the computer under the hood?

  • Should be (Score:4, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:10AM (#34220422) Journal

    128 MHz should be enough for every car.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:13AM (#34220444) Homepage Journal

    Today while I was filling up my 2003 Corolla with gas, a guy drove up to the next pump in his 1952 MG convertible. Which gets 30MPG. My Corolla gets 27MPG.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OnePumpChump (1560417)
      I hope that's 27 city, because jesus christ, either there's something wrong with your car or there's something wrong with you.
    • by arcsimm (1084173) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:22AM (#34220496)
      His 1952 MG also crumples up like a soda can in an accident, whereas your Corolla is stuffed to the gills with crumple zones, traction-control gizmos, and eight thousand-odd computer-controlled airbags. On the other hand, it also weighs twice as much as the MG and handles like it, so good luck avoiding an accident that he could.

      On the bright side, you probably don't have to keep a fire extinguisher in your car to put out the daily wiring harness fires.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sznupi (719324)

        On the other hand, it also weighs twice as much as the MG and handles like it, so good luck avoiding an accident that he could.

        Handling might not necessarily follow greater weight like that - a lot of old cars had quite horrible one; suspensions/brakes/etc. greatly improved over the decades, plus now some electronic aid might help you out.

      • by Loualbano2 (98133) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @04:39AM (#34220746)

        "On the other hand, it also weighs twice as much as the MG and handles like it, so good luck avoiding an accident that he could."

        The Corolla probably handles better. See this article about an autocross race between an 2003 Honda Odyssey, a 60's Porsche 356 and a 60's Jag XKE.

        http://grassrootsmotorsports.com/articles/soccer-moms-revenge/ [grassroots...sports.com]

        ft

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          IME Toyotas handle like dogshit, especially Corollas. Celicas are not too bad but have a tendency towards understeer. Mazdas just feel cheap, but I've never driven an Evo with its strengthened unibody. They skitter around the pavement, and yes, I've been in RX-7s. The Miata is a notable counterexample also, it feels like a Nissan, which is to say almost solid (cage it up) and VERY light and tossable despite weighing as much as a Civic, or an Accord; both feel solid (for their weight) but also feel heavy whi

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sa1lnr (669048)

        "His 1952 MG also crumples up like a soda can in an accident"

        His 1952 MG also has a chassis, so I doubt it will crumple like a soda can.

        Chassis, something modern cars do not have.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by thogard (43403)

          I have a much newer 1975 MGB and it got hit by a pontiac 6000. There was antifreeze all over the ground where the cars made contact and the women said she was sorry for breaking my cute car and making it leak. I opened the trunk to make sure the spare antifreeze was still in its bottle and it was. The only damage the accident caused my car was it realigned the frame. The impact also fixed the trunk light switch some how and another light started working again so my car came out better. Her car had to

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dachshund (300733)

          It may not crumple, but it can do terrible things to the driver in an accident. Modern cars are designed to crumple (in a controlled manner) and have a reinforced passenger compartment to keep large pieces of metal from impaling human beings. I'll never find it now but there's a great video online of a big 60s era car in a front end collision with some tiny little "send your kids to college in me" buggy from 2010. Superficially the big car wins, but the "driver" (dummy) is almost certainly dead.

          I used to dr

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dbIII (701233)
        An MG actually has thicker gauge steel than nearly every post 2000 passenger vehicle on the road and it's reasonably strong steel too (probably nearly as strong as the high strength low alloy stuff used in thinner panels today) because the body IS the frame and chassis. The things are very heavy for their size. On the other hand a more modern car that crumples far more easily in a crash is absorbing a lot of the energy that was be breaking the bones of an MG driver.
    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

      Today while I was filling up my 2003 Corolla with gas, a guy drove up to the next pump in his 1952 MG convertible. Which gets 30MPG. My Corolla gets 27MPG.

      I was at a car show today, marveling over the newest crop of hybrids that get up to 41mpg. Wow! My 2001 Jetta TDI (diesel) just delivered 46mpg on a road trip a few weeks ago, and my car is in _rough_ shape.

      • by tg123 (1409503)

        Today while I was filling up my 2003 Corolla with gas, a guy drove up to the next pump in his 1952 MG convertible. Which gets 30MPG. My Corolla gets 27MPG.

        I was at a car show today, marveling over the newest crop of hybrids that get up to 41mpg. Wow! My 2001 Jetta TDI (diesel) just delivered 46mpg on a road trip a few weeks ago, and my car is in _rough_ shape.

        Yes thats about right a diesel engine is really fuel efficient which is why trucks use it.
        I think I read somewhere diesel fuel gives about 30% more energy compared to the same amount of petrol.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_efficiency [wikipedia.org]

        Hybrids real reason for development was to meet California's emissions laws the that fact you get similar fuel economy to a diesel is a bonus.
        http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/solutions/advanced_vehicles_and_fuels/ca-zev.html [ucsusa.org]
        http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/z [ca.gov]

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Does the 1952 MG have aircon, soundproofing, safety structure, rear seats...?

      He may get 30mpg but most people wouldn't want it.

      PS: I've seen the doors pop open on those things when you go round corners too fast.

  • Only -40? How do new cars do in REAL cold, anyway?
    • I have to agree here - I mean, I spent a year out in Saskatchewan, and it definitely got colder than -40 outside...
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Squeeself (729802)
        While the engine is running though? Show me someplace that gets 260F for that high end. It's talking engine temperature, which will likely stop working at low enough temperatures regardless of cpu when things actually do freeze...And when the engine is working, will keep warm enough to run properly anyway.
      • I have to agree here - I mean, I spent a year out in Saskatchewan, and it definitely got colder than -40 outside...

        If they built a car specifically for Saskatchewan winters, they would overclock it to run at twice the speed with no concerns of overheating.

        • by Khyber (864651)

          No, the CPU would slide out of the engine and use the roof for the heat sink! It would then proceed to OC itself 300x with a mere 1V bump and a hellacious multiplier increase and not manage to break a sweat.

    • by Aranykai (1053846)

      Your never going to start the car with the engine at -40 though. A block heater will be more than enough to warm up the ambient temp in the engine bay I would think.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by OnePumpChump (1560417)
        Uh, yeah, you are. Sometimes you've got to park all day someplace without power outlets.

        It's bad for the engine, and a bad habit to get into, but on older cars (good ones, anyway), you could, assuming a good charge on the battery and the starting system in good working order, start them at LEAST as cold as -50F, without block heaters.. (That being the coldest I ever did it.)
    • by geekoid (135745)

      You can't run an engine that's a -40. It will not work. You keep it warm, and start it. Once it's running it keeps warm.

      And Wind chill doesn't effect the engine. So we are talking about it actually being 40 below. Not a large customer demographic.

      • by shking (125052)
        In a large part of Canada (from the north of Lake Superior to the Rockies) you can guarantee at least a couple of days below -40 every winter... for real, with no wind chill fakery
  • by Mishotaki (957104)
    So... 3 years or 25 000 miles...
  • by Mishotaki (957104) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:22AM (#34220494)
    3 years or 25 000 miles...
  • by commlinx (1068272) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @05:06AM (#34220818) Journal

    Three meg of flash memory and 128MHz clock speed doesn't sound like a lot in terms of computing power

    Guess that depends on your point of view, a car travelling 360Km/Hr is travelling 100m/s, so in a millisecond travels 10cm or about 4 inches. Assuming one instruction per clock cycle you can do a lot of useful stuff with 128,000 instructions, or put another way probably about one million for every revolution of the wheel

    3MB of FLASH is huge as well when you aren't loading a lot of crap like multimedia, not that it would run Linux but I just took a look at the last kernel I built for an embedded platform and it came in under 2MB with quite a generous set of modules loaded.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      If you strip out all the parts of Linux you don't need, you can get it considerably smaller. [ucdot.org] And if you remove the ability to run additional processes, and put your entire program directly into the kernel, remove module support and compile all drivers directly, and so on, you can get it down even smaller than that.

    • by vlm (69642)

      The big problem with 3 megs of memory isn't that you can't boot windoze on it, but that you could have up to 3 million simple bugs in it. So as ECU memory sizes increase, the bugginess must increase.

  • I overclocked mine to 350 using an extra heatsink.

  • by geogob (569250) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @05:16AM (#34220858)

    Since we are talking about GM, I guess they could put in an uncooled Athlon XP. That would best match the CPU MTBF to the useful life of the vehicle.

  • Genuine question here: why do these things need to be so rugged? Why can't they just slot under the dashboard where the environment (I'd hope) is a little more comfortable?
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Genuine question here: why do these things need to be so rugged? Why can't they just slot under the dashboard where the environment (I'd hope) is a little more comfortable?

      They can't slot into the dash because they need to still be there when the dash comes out. They often do bolt under the dash, but they still need to be rugged in that context; not against intrusion by contaminants, but against vibration and impact. At minimum this means a cast metal case with rubber vibration isolation. Most manufacturers (with the notable exception of GM) have managed to figure out that it's really rude to the customer to put the PCM under the hood where it will eventually die a heat-relat

  • Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at six o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of gravel, work twenty hour day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would thrash us to sleep with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!

    Meanwhile I'm working on a micro-controller project that runs at 500Hz (not kilo, just hertz).

    If you keep the code tight and hand-craft it, 128Mhz is blindingly fast.

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