Saturday, October 15, 2016

It's Talos time (plus: 45.5.0 beta 2 now with more AltiVec IDCT)

It's Talos time. You can now plunk down your money for an open, auditable, non-x86 workstation-class computer that doesn't suck. It's PowerPC. It's modern. It's beefy. It's awesome.

Let's not mince words, however: it's also not cheap, and you're gonna plunk down a lot if you want this machine. The board runs $4100 and that's without the CPU, which is pledged for separately though you can group them in the same order (this is a little clunky and I don't know why Raptor did it this way). To be sure, I think we all suspected this would be the case but now it's clear the initial prices were underestimates. Although some car repairs and other things have diminished my budget (I was originally going to get two of these), I still ponied up for a board and for one of the 190W octocore POWER8 CPUs, since this appears to be the sweetspot for those of us planning to use it as a workstation (remember each core has eight threads via SMT for a grand total of 64, and this part has the fastest turbo clock speed at 3.857GHz). That ran me $5340. I think after the RAM, disks, video card, chassis and PSU I'll probably be all in for around $7000.

Too steep? I don't blame you, but you can still help by donating to the project and enable those of us who can afford to jump in first to smoothe the way out for you. Frankly, this is the first machine I consider a meaningful successor to the Quad G5 (the AmigaOne series isn't quite there yet). Non-x86 doesn't have the economies of scale of your typical soulless Chipzilla craptop or beige box, but if we can collectively help Raptor get this project off the ground you'll finally have an option for your next big machine when you need something free, open and unchained -- and there's a lot of chains in modern PCs that you don't control. You can donate as little as $10 and get this party started, or donate $250 and get to play with one remotely for a few months. Call it a rental if you like. No, I don't get a piece of this, I don't have stock in Raptor and I don't owe them a favour. I simply want this project to succeed. And if you're reading this blog, odds are you want that too.

The campaign ends December 15. Donate, buy, whatever. Let's do this.

My plans are, even though I confess I'll be running it little-endian (since unfortunately I don't think we have much choice nowadays), to make it as much a true successor to the last Power Mac as possible. Yes, I'll be sinking time into a JIT for it, which should fully support asm.js to truly run those monster applications we're seeing more and more of, porting over our AltiVec code with an endian shift (since the POWER8 has VMX), and working on a viable and fast way of running legacy Power Mac software on it, either through KVM or QEMU or whatever turns out to be the best option. If this baby gets off the ground, you have my promise that doing so will be my first priority, because this is what I wanted the project for in the first place. We have a chance to resurrect the Power Mac, folks, and in a form that truly kicks ass. Don't waste the opportunity.

Now, having said all that, I do think Raptor has made a couple tactical errors. Neither are fatal, but neither are small.

First, there needs to be an intermediate pledge level between the bare board and the $18,000 (!!!!) Warren Buffett edition. I have no doubt the $18,000 machine will be the Cadillac of this line, but like Cadillacs, there isn't $18,000 worth of parts in it (maybe, maybe, $10K), and this project already has a bad case of sticker shock without slapping people around with that particular dead fish. Raptor needs to slot something in the middle that isn't quite as wtf-inducing and I'll bet they'll be appealing to those people willing to spend a little more to get a fully configured box. (I might have been one of those people, but I won't have the chance now.)

Second, the pledge threshold of $3.7 million is not ludicrous when you consider what has to happen to manufacture these things, but it sure seems that way. Given that this can only be considered a boutique system at this stage, it's going to take a lot of punters like yours truly to cross that point, which is why your donations even if you're not willing to buy right now are critical to get this thing jumpstarted. I don't know Raptor's finances, but they gave themselves a rather high hurdle here and I hope it doesn't doom the whole damn thing.

On the other hand, doesn't look like Apple's going to be updating the Mac Pro any time soon, so if you're in the market ...

On to 45.5.0 beta 2 (downloads, hashes). The two major changes in this version is that I did some marginal reduction in the overhead of graphics primitives calls, and completed converting to AltiVec all of the VP9 inverse discrete cosine and Hadamard transforms. Feel free to read all 152K of it, patterned largely off the SSE2 version but still mostly written by hand; I also fixed the convolver on G4 systems and made it faster too. This is probably the biggest amount of time required by the computer while decoding frames. I can do some more by starting on the intraframe predictors but that will probably not yield speed ups as dramatic. My totally unscientific testing is yielding these recommendations for specific machines:

1.0GHz iMac G4 (note: not technically supported, but a useful comparison): maximum watchable resolution 144p VP9
1.33GHz iBook G4, reduced performance: same
1.33GHz iBook G4, highest performance: good at 144p VP9, max at 240p VP9, but VP8 is better
1.67GHz DLSD PowerBook G4: ditto, VP8 better here too
2.5GHz Quad G5, reduced performance: good at 240p VP9, max at 360p VP9
2.5GHz Quad G5, highest performance: good at 360p VP9, max at 480p VP9

I'd welcome your own assessments, but since VP8 (i.e., MediaSource Extensions off) is "good enough" on the G5 and actually currently better on the G4, I've changed my mind again and I'll continue to ship with MSE turned off so that it still works as people expect. However, they'll still be able to toggle the option in our pref panel, which also was fixed to allow toggling PDF.js (that was a stupid bug caused by missing a change I forgot to pull forward into the released build). When VP9 is clearly better on all supported configurations then we'll reexamine this.

No issues have been reported regarding little-endian JavaScript typed arrays or our overall new hybrid endian strategy, or with the minimp3 platform decoder, so both of those features are go. Download and try it.

Have you donated yet?


  1. I don't see a comma in the filename so I'm not sure what to say. I didn't rev the version in this one either, though, so 45.4 is expected.

  2. Donated. BTW, I see an intermediate option for $8,750.

    VP9 is now a lot better on my G4 1.67 PowerBook, almost as good as VP8. On some videos, judging by the framerate, I really can't tell the difference. Some videos don't play well at 360px, no matter if it's VP8 or VP9, and for these it's good to be able to switch to 240px or lower. Exposing the MSE option in the GUI is probably the best solution.

    1. See, they read this blog. :) The intermediate option wasn't there when I first backed it. I still think that's a little high, but it's not as OMGWTFBBQ.

      I'm still going to keep working on the VP9 option. I think there are definitely further possibilities for optimization, though the low-hanging fruit is probably gone at this point.

  3. I'd love to get one of these machines, but the price today is a bit too high for me. I think I will try the six month access though. Really looking forward for your first-hand experience with your Talos.

    In terms of TFF: thank you for all your efforts.

    1. Thanks! I hope the "rental" option gives people some way of remotely running GUI applications. Since it's SSH access there should be a means of tunnelling X11.

  4. Been testing beta2 on my machine (iBook G4 PowerBook G4 and PowerMac G5 7,2). Things are looking well. Even on the iBook I can see some YouTube videos in 360 and 240.

    Thanks for your work!

  5. I'm curious as to what OS were going to run if we upgrade to Talos? I presume something Unix based with GNUstep and a Mac-like GUI, right?

    1. I would run Debain or Ubuntu, but having the option of an OS based on GNUStep would be nice.

  6. Just came across , which I hadn't seen in ages, and immediately had to think of this post :)

  7. One of my favorite PC journalists posted this:


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