- Apple iMac’s PowerPC 750 processor runs Perseverance rover on Mars.
- PowerPC 750 is technically a RAD750 chip that can stand the radiation but costs over a whopping $200,000.
NASA’s Perseverance rover is the latest and the most advanced machine yet that has reached Mars. As far as the rovers are concerned, “state of the art” becomes a subjective term to consider. Perseverance runs on PowerPC 750 which happens to be a single-core, 233 MHz processor with 6 million transistors. It famously powered the original “Bondi Blue” iMac in 1998. It is the same processor that NASA uses in its Curiosity rover.
Disapproval with PowerPC 750:
But some people disapprove of it. People face a lot of difficulties while buying various computer parts nowadays. Obviously, it is easy for NASA to have the budget for Intel’s $500 Core i9-10900K CPU that has 10 cores and has a clock speed of 5.3 GHz within $2.7 billion costs for Perseverance rover. An interesting thing that New Scientist explains is that such an advanced chip can deem useless for operating conditions on Mars.
The reason behind this is Mars offers less protection from harmful radiations and charged particles compared to what Earth’s atmosphere has to offer. A burst of radiation can literally destroy the sensitive parts of a modern processor. With the increasing complexity in the chip, the problems can also increase. Moreover, at a distance of 138 million miles, NASA cannot swap the chip if the problems start to happen. For these reasons, Perseverance comes with two computing systems: one acts as a backup if problems crop up. (A third copy of the module is placed on the rover for image analysis).
Variation of PowerPC 750:
To increase the durability of the system, the PowerPC 750 chip in Perseverance varies from the one that old iMacs used to have. Technically, it is a RAD750 chip, which happens to be a special variant to be strong against radiation. It costs over $200,000. The chip is popularly used in spacecraft as well. In addition to Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, the chip also powers the Fermi Space Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Deep Impact comet-hunting spacecraft, and the Kepler telescope.
AaaaaaThe processor seems weaker compared to the processor deployed in smartphones and gaming devices. But NASA’s spec sheet for Perseverance states that it’s highly powerful compared to earlier rovers like Spirit or Opportunity: it features 200MHz clock speed which is 10 times faster compared to processors in the old rovers. Also, it comes with 2GB flash memory and offers 8 times storage capacity.