Programming 2 – High Level vs. Low Level

Language efficiencies

Jeffery Holtmyer has commented to an earlier post regarding the efficiency of high-level versus low level coding.

Please fill this out with how the higher level languages create efficiencies or do not. Most of the people I talk with correlate a higher level language with higher efficiency in the code.

To my mind, the reason for the confusion here is that we are talking about two different efficiencies.

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Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.33.27 AM

Dear Nest

Open Letter

Dear Nest folks:

Unfortunately I am requesting to be removed from your mailing list. I was looking forward to buying some of your products, but will not be doing so due to the purchase of your company by Google.
Google makes a great search engine, and I use it frequently, but I have never used gmail nor Docs, all for the same reason:
  • With Google the user is the product and I am not happy with that. 
  • Google has a view of privacy that is totally self-centered and does not match with mine.

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Apple Metal Explained

Pedal to the Metal

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In my post to Seeking Alpha I wrote:

  • The final sleeper feature with deep implications for Apple’s future is Metal.
  • Metal is a new technology for writing graphics programs, particularly animations and games. It allows programmers to write code at a much lower level than previously, and this produces a real, up to 10x performance improvement.

Clearly the newest Apple hardware (iPhone, iPad,a nd possibly Apple TV box) will be getting upgraded processors (system on a chip or SoC), the A8. I wrote in detail on the current A7 in this post, and I also presented my speculations on the A8. While Apple’s creative design keeps them a step ahead in the processor race, because they control both the operating system (iOS) and the processor technology

  • Apple is in a unique position to optimize system graphics performance

 

So what is it that they have done?

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Programming Languages – Basics

To understand programming languages, one needs to know a bit about how a processor works. A Processing Unit is that part of an integrated circuit chip that actually performs computations. It needs to read instructions, interpret them, and perform them. This is all done by a set of Logic Gates implemented by sets of transistors on the chip. Modern chips have up to 7 billion transistors or more than one billion logic gates.

  • All electronic computation is controlled and computed by electronic signals passing in step through these logic gates.
  • A processing unit instruction is a digital number that triggers a set of data to pass through a particular computation unit of the processor.

Each PU has some internal memory called registers, usually some dedicated to instructions and some to data (although they could be mixed). Here data and instructions are stored for quick access to the PU. So the PU goes through a cycle of:

  1. Read an instruction from main memory into registers (if not already available)
  2. Load an instruction from instruction queue
  3. Interpret instruction
  4. Perform instruction
  5. Leave results in specified location
  6. Return to step #1

Instructions to a processor are extraordinarily simple, each performing just one very specific, elemental task. They do things like:

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Understanding the GPU

What is a GPU?

Short answer: Graphics Processing Unit – a computer chip (or a part of one) that is responsible for processing graphic and video image data. To understand it, let’s begin by looking at the difference between it and the Central Processing Unit.

  • Caveat: This is a very simplified discussion that conveys the general concepts but may not convey a precise model of modern chips.

The CPU (generally considered the “brains” of a computer) is responsible for running the overall computer system. It reads programs from memory and executes them. Using both built in (hardwired, or firmware based) and memory based instructions, it is responsible for scheduling all the different processes that want to run concurrently, responding to user inputs, sending data to various peripheral systems, maintaining levels of security, and so on.

In order to accomplish all this, the CPU has a very rich set of instructions that it understands, and this instruction set has been tuned over decades to handle this wide set of operations efficiently. It should be remembered that every processing unit can perform one and only one instruction at a time – or more accurately these days, one per core or thread. (Detail: actually, there are execution units that do perform several operations in a pipeline fashion, but the basic concept holds.)

Now a crescent wrench is a fine tool. Large and heavy, it is adjustable and therefore adaptable to many uses from plumbing to auto repair. If, however, you intend to remove your engine head, then you will be much better served with a speedy little ratchet with the proper socket. This one socket only fits a single size – but does it very well. crescent-vs-ratchet

 

So too the GPU. It has a much smaller instruction set, but this is tuned to the types of mathematical operations that are needed for processing images, and – most importantly – it has lots of threads to run many operations in parallel.

 

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Microsoft Surface vs Apple: DATA – Make your own analysis

Microsoft has introduced its new Surface Pro 3 computer, billed as both a tablet and a laptop. Naturally, they promoted it as the greatest thing, both at the announcement event, and on their website.

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There, under the selection Surface Pro 3 vs. MacBook Pro, they do a comparison with the MacBook Pro. For those who think that comparing the Surface Pro 3 to a MBP is stretching things a bit, below is a list of comparison figures for you to contemplate. Meanwhile, others say that SP3 is really targeting the MacBook Air ( amore reasonable comparison in my view. At Seeking Alpha, Quoth the Raven has a reasonable analysis, although I think he should to examine the real comparison data here.

[click to enlarge]

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 7.48.06 AM  Notes:

  1. Processor – I am asserting that Apple’s A7 64-bit SoC is roughly equivalent to the Core i3 in the low end surface. Geekbench data below more or less corroborate that, and the Anand tech graphics data indicates the A7 may have a significant edge.
  2. Graphics Processors (GPUs) are built into the Intel chips. Microsoft did not provide detailed specs with its news release, so real comparisons are impossible to make. Just learned the i5 model is the i5-4300U model with HD 4400 GPU running at 2.5Gz. this is similar to the previous model, so I do not expect the benchmarks to increase significantly.
  3. Prices are rounded up $1 or less to nearest multiple of 10.
  4. Keyboard for the Surface 3 costs $130. A similar keyboard, Logitech Ultrathin Bluetooth for iPad Air costs $70 on Amazon. (Weight = 330 g)
  5. Memory – On the MacBooks, I have included both RAM and SSD (RAM based drive) sizes. On most configurations listed, the RAM can be increased as a build to order option.
  6. Weight – I list here the weight both alone and with the keyboard

Unfortunately there is no way of making an objective comparison Continue reading

Apple IWatch: What Will It Cost?

26 March, 2014

© 2014 J. M. Manness

The beauty of Apple’s (AAPL), from an investor’s point of view, is that they have, over the last fourteen years created new gadgets that have each become almost a necessity in our lives. For over a year now we have been hearing rumors of a forthcoming iWatch. We hear rumors of sapphire displays, curved displays, biometrics, health sensors, and more. While evidence mounts for some of these rumors, we are all unsure as to what it will bring, if it comes at all. For the investor, however, the specific features are less important than what this new product will contribute to the bottom line. In this article I will analyze what we can expect from price points. In a companion article I will see if we can come up with some idea as to the market for such a device. Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) has recently released its smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear that runs the Android operating system by Google (GOOG). It has a price of $299, which seems like a reasonable price to expect from Apple. Apple is famous for their high margins so let’s see if Apple can match that price given the margins they want. To do so, I have used the build of materials costs as estimated by IHS. The table shows the IHS figures for the iPhone 5s, and my estimates for correlating costs for the new iWatch. iWatch-cost-analysis

 A line by line discussion of the cost structure is given in a separate post.

Processor – A8w

One thing that should be discussed is the processor. I believe that a new processor is being developed to going to this product. I am calling it the A8w. The reason for this processor is that they need a processor which is powerful yet small and has very low power consumption. So this will be produced on the new 28 nm chip processing technology. The regular A8 will be for larger products so the A8w will be a much smaller cousin. In particular, the smaller chip Will have greatly reduced graphics processing systems built in. Additionally, it will be beneficial to have the chip running a 16-bit architecture so that Apple will need only one iOS code-base. (it will, of course, be only a subset of the full iOS.) To my mind, this is one very important reason that the iWatch is not yet out. It is waiting for a processor that is capable and power efficient and small enough for the application. This is one thing Apple does well (at least most of the time): note release things before the proper technology is available.

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Bottom line

As you can see, the total projected cost Will be quite a bit less than the iPhone. Figure I come up with is a total BOM cost of just $71. If we want the same gross margin for the iWatch as for the iPhone 5s (16 GB), then it can sell for as little as $249, fifty dollars less than the Galaxy Gear. Of course, this does not including the development costs which must be exorbitant. So perhaps they will stay with $299 anyway. Of course it maybe possible that there are other expenses that I have not anticipated. Still, this seems a reasonable estimate of what it will cost to build the new iWatch.

Conclusion

Apple’s stock price is stalled. Revenue growth has slowed significantly from earlier years, and many investors do not see Apple as a growth stock any longer. While many argue that Apple is undervalued even for current revenues and income, others see a danger of the iCompany losing even more ground to competition, if not in unit sales, then to decreasing margins. New devices are critical to the stock price. Outside of the leadership, no one knows for sure if an iWatch is in the works or not, and if so then what features or price structure it will have. Here I have shown at least that Apple could produce an iWatch at a competitive price and keep its high margins. A follow up post will cover just how many iWatches we could expect to see sold, and how much that would add to revenue. ===== Related Articles: Detailed line item description of iWatch costs Apple’s A8 — What It Will Be And Why It Matters ==== Disclosure: I am long AAPL. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.