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OS ROM for the desktop

Return to the days of the entire OS being in ROM
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(+5, -2)
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While watching my home windows 98 machine boot today on my 1GHz Athlon, i was thinking <deep sigh> "remember the old days, when that c64 or timex sinclair booted right out of ROM in a couple seconds?". Then i thought about the project i'm on where i am working with an embedded processor that boots the linux kernel out of flash, and how it boots in about three seconds.

Then i thought "hey! we should put the OS back into ROM for desktop computers!" Mass produced, ROM is a stink of a lot cheaper than hard drive space, even at the current HD prices. Sure, you would not be able to replace your kernel and some of the surrounding OS tools without replacing the ROM, but hey, how many people replace their kernel on windows very often? I would be willing to pay to buy a new ROM to plug into my motherboard every couple of years and have it boot in a few seconds rather than wait a few minutes a couple of times per day.

Any system-upgradable stuff could be thrown onto a specific sector of the HD (just as the OS is now), or even configured in a motherboard-resident flash. Remember, memory is dirt cheap - even NAND flash is cheap.

I don't have real numbers on cost of HD/MB or ROM/MB, but i'll use the case where they're equal. (they aren't. ROM is much cheaper) If you assume that you reboot your computer once per day, and that it takes three minutes to boot from the HD (like mine) and three seconds to boot from ROM (like my embedded linux computers at work), you find you will save 17hrs 56.5minutes (~18hrs) per year for living your life. If the storage space was the same cost, you would virtually *save* money because you would have that extra free space on your hard drive which was formerly taken up by 100Megs of your OS. (although likely more if using MS)

All that by distributing the OS on ROM instead of installing to a hard drive. It would also avoid many of microsoft's unhappiness with pirated versions and licensing, as it would be much harder to pirate (from a common tools point of view), and it wouldn't be worth it to most people, anyway.

Distributing an OS on a hard-to-upgrade ROM might also create more pressure on the OS companies to release a **STABLE** product, first time out of the gate. There would _not_ be the idea floating around of "oh, well we should release this by <insert date> to take advantage of the <insert holiday> rush - we'll fix all the bugs with upgrades over the internet".

cameron, Oct 29 2001

Same complaint http://www.halfbake...h_20on_20and_20play
Less specific about the solution, though. [jutta, Oct 29 2001]

thinknic network computer http://www.thinknic.com
a (cd) ROM only thin desktop / thick client [tenhand, Oct 29 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]

Archiving Computer Archiving_20Computer
Copies data on slow MO disks to RAM [Vernon, Mar 25 2009]

Solid State Disk Drives Solid_20State_20Disk_20Drives
How to get the most out of a lot of RAM [Vernon, Mar 25 2009]


       I've often dreamed about something similar.   

I want a modular computer based on a black box component design. Every component (video card, network card, CPU) is a box (square or rectangular) 3" on a side (or a multiple thereof). 5 of the 6 sides would have multiple socketed connectors like a Nintendo console. The remaining side would be dedicated for drive aperatures (for floppy / Zip / DVD / CD) or feet.

       The components would connect to each other through an interconnect cartridge which could also provide compatability, data buffering, switching, QOS and RAM.   

       Getting back on subject, I anticipated all software (OS included) to be executed via ROM chips in cartridges - just like a Nintendo game. Long term storage would be executed via a hard drive cube (semi-portable), flash RAM in a cartridge or Zip/Jazz type device (both very portable).   

       Upgrading hardware or software would be a cinch and, execpt for a few key components, could be performed on the fly (hot swapped).
phoenix, Oct 29 2001

       I have this theory that the number in the name of Windows OS's relates to the time in seconds that it takes to boot.
angel, Oct 29 2001

       3.1 would be 31 seconds I supose (or 3.1 seconds on a pentium 4?) xp would be xseconds times p seconds where microsoft refuse to tell us what the numbers are? and I don't even want to think about windows 2000   

       Actualy my win98 is taking less than a minute now that I've cleard out some of the junk that was loading on startup...
RobertKidney, Oct 29 2001

       Win3.1, from memory, booted in about 15 seconds on a 486/66. Of course, that's cheating because it doesn't count the time for DOS to boot.   

       My Win95 machine takes more than 95 seconds to boot, though, and my WinME machine is slower too because it has far more stuff loading at start-up. (Perhaps ME is a twisted form of Roman numerals?)   

       More recent than the C64 and Spectrum, Acorn machines also had OS in ROM. For some reason, they took quite a while boot (about on par with normal HDD-based machines.
cp, Oct 29 2001


       Disk is damn cheap. Let's see some evidence that ROM is cheaper.   

       ROM can't be upgraded or patched or modified in any way. Ich. Most of all, this wouldn't help nearly as much as you think. Boot times are not dominated by just transferring the OS from disk into RAM -- you can blit disk into RAM on most modern computers in a few seconds. It's all about crufty old hardware and crufty piles of operating system components. PDAs and embedded systems boot quickly because they have neither.   

       (And PDAs actually take a while to boot, when you really "boot" them. In normal use, they're just "suspended" when off.)
egnor, Oct 30 2001

       This is largely off-topic, but the MS bloat is incredible. Cameron mentioned an OS taking 100 megs. Can you believe, WinXP takes a full gig (i'm fairly certain, haven't checked my facts though)??? What's taking so much space? What is this mess MS is putting in our OS's? Ok, that little diatribe's over.   

       My friend's a computer wizard. He's working on building a PDA that runs from some sort of Flash instead of RAM so it boots instantly and doesn't drain batteries while turned "off." Now whether he'll actually get the project DONE is another matter...   

       I really rambled... live with it. I'm sleepy.
magnificat, Oct 30 2001

       egnor - ROM is cheap. Ask any ASIC manufacturer/sales rep for some quotes on ROM in million unit volumes. I haven't been a professional hardware designer for almost five years now, but even five years ago it was cheap cheap cheap. (comparatively, that is)   

       Of *course* the ROM itself is not patchable. That's what the "RO" (read-only) part of ROM is all about. However, it is upgradable. That idea was briefly mentioned in my idea above. I also covered how to apply patches without swapping out the ROM.   

       As far as it "wouldn't help nearly as much as you think", you need to cook up some numbers to try and convince me rather than assuming i'll believe it outright. While you *are* right that the hardware configuration consumes time, my experience working with hardware (embedded, custom designs, and plugin modules) and software (application and kernel) says that "Put the OS in ROM, and you'll be cooking in seconds".   

       ...and we all know cooking leads to baking. ;-)
cameron, Oct 30 2001

       You can get *gigabytes* of rotating media for under $100. Just how much does a gigabyte of ROM cost? Remember, these computers will have a hard disk anyway, so it's just a matter of the price differential from making it a little bigger. I can't find prices online; can you? Otherwise it's just my say-so vs. yours.   

       Your embedded, custom designs, and plugin modules did not have to deal with unknown PC hardware and (I suspect) they did not have to run Windows. Booting an embedded OS on a fixed hardware configuration is one thing; booting a Windows PC is another.
egnor, Oct 30 2001

       I have some rough figures.
Maxtor HDD, 5400rpm: AU$5/gig;
WD HDD, 7200rpm: AU$5.50/gig;
PC-133 SDRAM: AU$160/gig;
ROM: not sure, but I doubt it'd be cheaper than SDRAM - it's also significantly slower;
Flash ROM: haven't been able to chase down exact prices, but I believe that it's on the order of $25/meg!


       [egnor] I believe that operating systems only spend a few seconds initialising the hardware. More to the point is the amount of rubbish that they're loading into RAM at boot-up.   

       WinME seems to allocate on the order of 90mb just sitting there doing nothing, and Win95 uses around 50mb. If you are running a recent version of Windows with <128mb, lots of the disc access you see at boot-up may be due to swapping.   

       Microsoft isn't the only guilty party here ... Currently, the Linux machine I'm sitting at has 112 mb RAM used, although that's with lots of stuff open.
cp, Oct 30 2001

       Flash is currently selling for about a US dollar a megabyte. This compares with about USD 1 - 2 for a gigabyte of hard drive at consumer sizes.   

       Most hardware companies use some form of programmable memory, such as Flash, to store firmware (firmware=the code that makes hardware devices run without having to load any software from disk, etc.) This is used in hardware devices such as PC DVD-ROM drives, portable MP3 players, etc, to allow for upgrades. It is possible to use ROM in conjunction with a disk to allow upgrades, but that would be a little retrograde, somewhat on the level of setting DIP switches.   

       In practice, I think a lot could be done simply by making better use of a hard drive. If the system would save a memory image containing all the drivers and config data correctly organised, that could be loaded very quickly. On the other hand, a large part of a boot sequence is taken up by testing hardware and seeing if the system has changed.
pottedstu, Oct 30 2001

       pottedstu: Windows can already do that save-memory-dump-to-disc thing. It doesn't seem to boot any faster, and it doesn't want to work on all machines. (Not sure why.)   

       What you really want is a system where the entire RAM is dumped to the swap partition, and then read back as needed (as opposed to what Windows does, where the whole lot is read back at boot time).   

       Windows' scheme for detecting what hardware has changed doesn't work very well. In an attempt to upgrade a machine by changing motherboards, it somehow gained the idea that it no longer had an IDE controller attached.
cp, Oct 30 2001

       Makes you wonder if anyone is paying attention.   

       The issue is not one of cost, but of speed. Yes, hard drives are cheap. Yes, hard drives have great capacity. But hard drives are (relatively) slow. That's true of any mechanical device and always will be.   

       If you want to address the issue of cost, look at SDRAM (or RDRAM). Prices are lower than ever. The cost of any new technology must be recovered before prices can drop. If you build it, they will come.   

       Lastly, EEPROMs exist. Flash memory exists. Both technologies store data in a non-destructive manner, but can be rewritten. The real point is: if I can buy a Nintendo cartridge and expect the software therein to perform without patches, why can't I set the same expectation for my office productivity application? Or my OS for that matter?
phoenix, Oct 30 2001

       I work for Caldera. We put the linux kernel into the BIOS. The operating system is actually online in a few seconds; it takes too long to ring disks online and such, but I work in the embedded market, where disks are optional. Seriously: the OS resides in the flash ROM of the computer. Beat that bootup time :)
loopus, Oct 30 2001

       I am a regular PC user and would love to know how to beat the boot up time on my PC, also is it possible to install C++, C++Visual and PYTHON on 1 singular PC...Would appreciate any advise fm all the BIG Computer GURU's out there.....my email address is : ibayley@yahoo.com....Thank u
ibayley, Oct 30 2001

       Embedded systems and desktop computers are apples and oranges. Nintendo cartridges can be produced without the need for patches because they are developed for a monolithic architecture (which is not to say bugs don't appear). Your operating system needs to be frequently updated because the hardware on which it runs and the standards it uses are frequently updated. Loading a customized kernel from flash on known hardware is not equivalent to loading a modern desktop OS on generic hardware.   

       I have an "internet appliance" here which boots its OS and GUI from Flash. It runs on standard PC hardware, with no hard drive. I've installed various operating systems on it. It's always slow to boot. It seems you'll have to do better if you want to improve boot time, eh?
francois, Oct 31 2001

       In practice, I don't think that boot-time is a major thing. In my experience, computers tend to be rebooted just once or twice per day, and I just leave my machine alone for a few minutes, come back, and it's ready. (Yes, it would be probably be better from the power-consumption perspective if computers weren't left on all day, but that's another matter again.)   

       Most modern PCs can supply a fair amount of power when they're powered down (~1 amp, I think). This could probably be used to keep the contents of the SDRAM alive, with everything else shut down, and thus "boot-up" would be almost instantaneous.
cp, Oct 31 2001

       phoenix - you are right, we have gotten sidetracked. The original point of this idea was for a FAST boot up at a reasonable cost, and had almost nothing to do with the relative cost of hard drive space versus ROM...especially since the OS would be distributed on ROM with no install to the HD in the first place.   

       Anway, that being said, back onto the side conversation ;-)   

       I want to remind everybody that i'm not talking about FlashROM (which is about $1/MB) or even EEPROM. I'm talking about custom-burnt ASICS from a factory in volumes of millions of units.   

       I contacted a local sales rep that deals with our company on the topic of ROM costs. Unfortunately, the reply was less than useful. (He reps many companies for many different types of hardware and doesn't get a lot of custom ASIC requests) His exact phrasing was "Each ASIC ROM is usually evaluated on a case by case basis." Although we discussed the NRE costs. Over a million pieces the NRE would amortise to about $0.025/unit regardless of size. (which would work out to about a fortieth of a cent per MB for a 100MB ROM. Of course, this doesn't help us for the final cost one whit.) I asked him for some contact addresses who could provide more info. I'll post it here if i ever get any, even if nobody gives a tinker's damn anymore. ;-)   

       Some local pricing for disk space (non-volume prices) work out to ~$0.01/MB for HD space and ~$0.30/MB for DRAM. (those are canadian dollars) I really do believe custom ROM to be cheaper than DRAM in large volumes, and a poll of some hardware designers at work agreed. No word on to what degree it is cheaper, but i am willing to concede it may not be cheaper than HD space. ROM *used* to be a stink of a lot cheaper than HD space. ;-)   

       cp - the ROM i describe isn't slower than DRAM, AFAIR. Flash is much slower, though.   

       pottedstu - i also like the idea of more efficiently using the HD. I remember a lifetime ago when i had a c64. There were programs that would take 10 minutes to load...but i got a loader app that allowed me to load those same programs in under a minute. I don't know what it did to make the access so much faster. (and likely it couldn't be as easily applied to today's tech)   

       Anyway, as phoenix pointed out, all this is way off track. The point was speed. My computer takes too long to boot and i want it to do it quickly. On exactly the same architecture, it takes my windows 98 about 3 minutes to boot, and linux about 45 seconds. (this isn't MS bashing time - even 45 seconds is too long :P) I want a desktop computer to boot in under 10 seconds! :-)))
cameron, Nov 01 2001

       [Cameron] Okay, point taken. I'm willing to believe that you can get cheap ROMs. But you'll probably have to do more than just shove everything into ROM to achieve your goal, because just the BIOS self-test takes around 10-20 seconds.   

       Also, I'm not sure if HDD access is as much of a problem as you think it is. As an experiment, I logged in and out of KDE a couple of times so that it would be loading entirely from disc cache, and ... it took 18 seconds to load KDE entirely from cache (Duron 800, 256mb PC-133 SDRAM), and around 35 seconds from HDD. That's not counting the couple of seconds that it takes to start the X server, either. Does anyone know how to easily measure this for the rest of the OS, or for Windows?   

       [Rods Tiger] Re. your link, bear in mind that the stated data rate is "500--800 Kbytes/sec". That's waaay slower than a hard drive.
cp, Nov 01 2001

       Oh well. I guess that's what halfbakery is all about...half baked ideas. :-)
cameron, Nov 01 2001

       I would gladly deal with not having to upgrade / patch / whatever the thing if it meant it would be stable. Half of the problem it seems with the industry is that it's never staying put, and my disaster of a box is the result. I just want to turn it on and watch it do what's it's supposed to do and not have to mess with the damn thing.
RayfordSteele, Sep 09 2002

       Have a look at RISC OS - ROM based StongArm OS. Version 5 just announced - www.iyonix.com - runs on XScale processors. *Lots* of applications available.
phantasm, Nov 06 2002

       This may be irrelevant, but I can't help thinking about the text-based BBS I ran for several years from a RAMdrive in a laptop with no hard drive. (Yes, they had laptops with only floppy drives!) It sat on a bookshelf, unattended; I logged on from another computer on a 2nd phoneline. The software was quite stable and utilized a self-maintaining, fixed-size database. The few times the power went out, the battery acted as a UPS. Worked great! Ah, simpler times...
Ander, Feb 24 2004

       Vista boots off my notebook's SSD in 15 seconds. 5 of that is taken up by the $#@% bios doing its thing.
Spacecoyote, Mar 25 2009

       [phoenix], nice try, but in one respect not what I would have said. See, in the Good Old Days ROM was rather slower than RAM. I don't know if that is still true, though. If so, I would want to be able to copy ROM to RAM and run the code in RAM. I've mentioned the equivalent of this before in a couple other Ideas (see links).
Vernon, Mar 25 2009


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