Humanity’s most sophisticated spacecraft ever sent to another planet, uses the sort of processor which is so slow it makes a first generation smartphone look blistering fast.
According to AP, the 900-kilogram rover runs on a computer with the same power as a smartphone. To keep the power low, the chip which runs rover’s post-landing software has a processing speed of just 200 megahertz which is about a fifth of the average smartphone.
The software will have to run 10 scientific instruments and 17 cameras and beam back high resolution snaps.
Curiosity sends data, including images, back to Earth through its multiple antennas via the two Mars orbiters, Reconnaissance and Odyssey. It can also send messages directly to Earth. It can relay data along this network at at up to two megabits per second.
What this has highlighted is how much redundant processing speed there is in a modern PC and mobile phone. If tasks are specific, it is possible to save a lot of energy by running slower processors. 200 megahertz has not been state of the art on a PC since 1995 but are still occasionally used in System on Chip (SoC) designs in industry.