back to article NASA's $2.5bn Curiosity rover: An Apple PowerBook on wheels

It's a bit sturdier than the average Apple product, but the Curiosity rover that touched down on Mars on Monday is powered by the same processor family used in Apple's 1997 PowerBook G3 laptop. For its nuclear-powered life-hunting tank, NASA chose a 200MHz PowerPC 750 CPU specifically hardened to withstand radiation and space …


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  1. Efros


    The PowerPC was not an Apple product, made by Motorola or IBM. Apple chose to use it.

    1. LarsG

      Based on a military principle

      It has to be soldier proof, or in this case Mars proof so

      KISS principle

      Keep It Simple Stupid

      The more complex the more to go wrong, that's why rifles only have one hole for the bullet to come out of.

      It's a safety feature.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Based on a military principle

        The word 'stupid' is usually accompanied by a smack around the head and spoken in a slightly louder voice.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Based on a military principle

        Not just that. But use old tried and tested hardware with a long errata and knowledge base.

    2. Seb123

      Re: Cough...

      And the article is quite clear on all of that information.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: Cough...

        I think Reg headlines need their own forum...

      2. JEDIDIAH

        Re: Cough...

        ...once you get past the blithering fanboy headline.

      3. Mark .

        Re: Cough...

        Yes but it's another case of a misleading headline, making a tenuous link to Apple to appear to give them credit, whilst leaving the true details buried in the text. It means people who see this headline in the front page or "popular" topics will be misled, if they aren't interested enough to read the full article. It's bad enough the endless such-and-such "done with an Iphone", when when the use of a phone is the least important part of the process - now we have references where it isn't even anything to do with Apple in the first place.

    3. Ivan Headache

      Re: Cough...

      PowerPC - made by the PowerPC consortium - comprising Motorola, IBM and .......... Apple.

      1. Lee Dowling

        Re: Cough...

        And Apple had zero do to with the hardware, which already existed.

        Basically, they were going to be the "software" partner.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: Cough...

          Also you could get NT3.x and NT4.0 on a PPC

    4. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Cough...

      Nowhere does it say Apple made it?

      It was one of the few large desktop customers for the PPC sadly. The BeBox had one before they stopped making the hardware and then went to Intel.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Cough...

        OS/2 was available for PPC, sort of. See

        1. hayseed

          Re: Cough...

          PPC NT 4.0 (let alone 3.5) and OS/2 PPC are in FAR fewer people's frame of reference...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cough...

      So, in other words, this article no reason whatsoever to mention Apple. So everybody can shut up now.

      1. Stuart Billington

        Re: Cough...

        It's there to provide a familiar frame of reference for the speed of the processor. This, and for you and all of your associated muppetards to get their hands off their sister and type something inane on the keybamaboard-thingy.

      2. Dick Pountain

        Re: Cough...

        Every ful kno that mentioning Apple twice on every page makes you COOL. Ask the Guardian...

    6. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Cough...

      Yes, but giving Apple credit for non-Apple innovations, inventions and development firsts is typical Apple fanboi behavior.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cough...

      "The PowerPC was not an Apple product, made by Motorola or IBM"

      Lets read the article again...

      "is powered by the same processor family used in Apple's 1997 PowerBook G3 laptop."

      I don't see anything about the processor being an Apple product. It only says "used" by Apple in a 15yo laptop

      1. mhenriday

        «I don't see anything about the processor being an Apple product.

        It only says "used" by Apple in a 15yo laptop» And this reference, while no doubt pleasing to the fanboi contingent, is completely irrelevant to the subject of the article, which is the point made above by several commentators. Shouldn't be all that difficult to understand, with careful study and application....


  2. probedb


    They both had a PowerPC processor so that makes it an Apple Powerbook?

    It also has wheels so I guess it's also a Ferrari because they have wheels too.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Really?

      Actually it has 6 wheels, so more like a Tyrell.

      1. JetSetJim

        Re: Really?

        Or perhaps a car made by Milton Reeves:

    2. Anonymous Coward


      "It also has wheels so I guess it's also a Ferrari because they have wheels too."

      No, the wheels only make it a /portable/ PowerPC. To be a Ferrari within this context it would need to have been painted red ;-)

    3. Hyper72

      Re: Really?

      It's just an easy way of providing a frame of reference so people can understand the relative capabilities, in comparison.

      I'm sure the majority of readers understood.

      Don't cry.

  3. EddieD


    The /top/ Macbooks feature a 2.9GHz I7, most don't.

  4. g e


    So my Amiga A500 was really a Kurzweil K2500rs sampler cos it used a 68000 chip?

    1. Mike Richards

      Re: Riiight

      Either that or a Zanussi washing machine with great games.

  5. Matt Williams

    So if aliens were to catch all of these things we're firing out into space they would observe Moore's law.

    1. Pen-y-gors


      The post is required, and must contain letters.

    2. Nights_are_Long

      Nha it just means that Geoff Goldblooms Mac attack on the alien ship would have worked....

      I'll Get me space suit :p

  6. Ged T

    Shameful Trolling

    Maybe its just me, but is this article the weakest attempt, ever, to bask Apple in the glory and triumph that NASA enjoyed, with the help of a BAE Systems supplied computer, using an IBM-designed and manufactured CPU?

    What a pointless "article".

    1. g e

      Re: Shameful Trolling

      Mind you everyone can always point to it when Fappleists shout 'biased' for any other fruity article.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shameful Trolling

        Anna Leach is on trolling league of her own, she's the one that article after article, almost without fail, makes me want to give up reading The Register. I've even written a regexp that blocks ads just on her articles so that El area gets no financial compensation from me reading this rubbish.

        In this single article she manages to insult the teams who created the rover and the PowerPC 750, but not satisfied with that troll then brings up the PowerBook 6300 for no good reason instead of mentioning machines that actually had the PowerPC 750...

    2. NogginTheNog

      Re: Shameful Trolling

      Not quite: the article was interesting and informative, the tenuous link to Apple used to get people to read it was the part that lets it down.

    3. Seb123

      Re: Shameful Trolling

      I guess it depends on how you read whether you have "Must hate Apple" glasses on, but I really didn't see any of what you saw. No, I am not an apologist - I don't particularly care enough for Apple or any other computer manufacturer to get angry about trivial things like a humorous article.

      Some of you need to step back from the monitor and chill out for 10 minutes, instead of bashing the keyboard in anger. If there is one site that does not particularly care for Apple in its reporting, it's the reg.

      1. Seb123

        Re: Shameful Trolling

        *Edit: I guess it depends on how you read AND whether you have "Must hate Apple" glasses on

      2. JEDIDIAH

        Re: Shameful Trolling

        > I guess it depends on how you read whether you have "Must hate Apple" glasses

        This kind of mindless pointless over-hyping by the media is where that "must hate Apple" attitude comes from.

        This situation had exactly SQUAT to do with Apple but some fanboy had to associate them with a project they really had nothing to do with.

        1. Seb123

          Re: Shameful Trolling

          Ms Anna Leach can be accused of many things, but I think she would take exception to being called an Apple fanboy, since she certainly isn't that. She can't resist taking a dig at Apple with every opportunity.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shameful Trolling

      I have to agree with you, why Apple even mentioned is realy not the direction of things anybody wants, even Apple.

      What next reports that Peter and Jane are huge Apple fans who went back in time to brainwash us via there cunning maths questions!

      Had the article highighted that the issues in space mean that you cant just use off the shelf CPU's and bung them into a lead casing and looked at the issues in more detail, that would of been a good read. Had it gone and linked the programming standards and the like involved and a bit of details about the code and how all this runs on less CPU power than a 10 years old mobile phone then that would of been a little bit more suitable.

      But no, somebody had to mention Apple and highjack there own article, thats our job as and when you do that in the article then you leave us with no choice but to call you out on it :p. <---JPL's programming standard used to code the code that is running on Mars as we speak. Now that is a worthy read and no Apples involved.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    oh dear

    Dear El Reg, this is the worst article I have ever seen and now The Register has gone way down in my estimation.

    As per the other comments that CPU is a tenuous link indeed and the headline implied a Powerbook was somehow part of the core Curiosity package.

    Shameful indeed.

    1. Seb123

      Re: oh dear

      I think it's meant to be a humorous anecdote.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: oh dear

      Maybe she thought all bright sparks avidly reading everything about this would've read the article yesterday stating which computer was actually being used? Or be bright enough to realise before even reading her article that she may have been being humorous? Guess that's not permitted by all you fanboys - sad, humourless gits the lot of you. Piss off and read NASA's page instead, saddos ...

  8. ukgnome

    Nuclear powered apple - Squeeeellllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      you would'nt want one of them getting a bit hot in yer trouser pockets..

      i wonder how much accidently sterilising a young yank vip would cost flapple.

      and just the ouch factor making my eyes water!

  9. John Deeb

    xerox laser on wheels then?

    But no commenter suggests that an article called "A Xerox laserprinter on wheels" would sound better?

    Apple used this processor for personal computing and to my knowing no other brand. Therefore it's a funny comparison with enough technical and historical connection to be meaningful. The Apple hate seems a bit over the top here and that is said my someone who doesn't even like Apple anymore.

    1. g e

      Re: xerox laser on wheels then?

      It'd be about ther same size, too ;o)

    2. Lee Dowling

      Re: xerox laser on wheels then?

      I found the Apple link extremely tenuous, personally. But then, given the author's previous articles:

      It's hardly surprising. Every other one is about Apple in some form or another.

      I know we all have preferences, and those preferences creep through into articles, but we can stop the really gratuitous examples of trying to equate a NASA Mars landing and Apple somehow. Hell, even if they'd just compared it to, say, a modern laptop (brand name not required) and explained that "even Apple used similar chips historically" would have been enough.

      I count three "Apple"'s, three "PowerBook"'s, one "MacBook" and one "iPod", in an article about something where there is ZERO Apple hardware or business connection. That's excessive for a six paragraph article.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: article isn't giving Apple undue credit...

      I agree with you 100%, John.

      I am far from an Apple fan, but bashing this article just for providing a comparison for reference takes some serious blinkers.

  10. Steven Davison

    Actually, I think it's supposed to be a joke....

  11. Skyraker
    Thumb Up

    Great article .......

    .... would read again.

  12. Gerard Krupa

    Apple Analogy Falls Over

    I don't see anything about Curiosity having to pay $20 for its operating system update.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple Analogy Falls Over

      You prefer paying over $100, or much, much, more if it's a "server" version?

  13. DrXym Silver badge

    So it's the same CPU

    Except for the fact it's not? It might be a distant relative and use substantially the same instruction set but it's not the same chip at all.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: So it's the same CPU

      Yeah, I hear the PowerPC is used in automotive systems all over the place but they are all slightly different, in the sense that some opcodes may be missing (or have been added) and bus width and I/O signals may differ, causing demand for integrated systems developers.

      It's even in the F-35.

  14. Neill Mitchell

    The key question here is...

    Has the rover got rounded corners?


    1. P. Lee

      Re: The key question here is...

      It goes round corners, it'll fall foul of some patent.

      "Method for moving low power cpu in over rocky ground without life."

      Oops, I think I spoilt the surprise.

      1. Volker Hett

        Re: The key question here is...

        So no korean rover with double the ram, double the cores and a sd card slot running on a MPC7447?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        I don't think the Americans have mastered going round corners in general yet, so hopefully there aren't too many patents.

        Yes, I am feeling optimistic today.

    2. Silverburn

      Re: The key question here is...

      No...but it does have a "mobility system" apparently.

      ie wheels.

      They should have just gone the whole hog and called it a "mobility solution".

      1. JetSetJim
        Black Helicopters

        Re: The key question here is...

        Then Motorola would've sued - Motorola Corporate owns the TM on both Mobility & Solution(*)

        (*) - During the split to Mobility & Solutions, Motorola Mobility (aka handsets & set-top boxes) was affectionately known as "Motorola Problems"

  15. Mike Richards

    Better article than

    Those elsewhere which compared the rover to an iPhone. Forgetting the important point you get a better signal from a rover on Mars than an iPhone on O2.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    at least this "article" actualy managed to mention that there are two of these creaky old cpu's/pc's on board,others not even mentioned that rather important fact,although if it had been me in charge,with what must be a very small package i would have fitted 4 of em.

    p.s if anyone knows anyone at nasa working on next planetary mission,i have a couple of OLD htc kaiser/tytn2 mobiles i can sell them,cheap,at only half the price of what they just paid for those two bae packs,will even wrap up in gold foil etc if they want,i still reckon i could retire very comfortably even at only half price !!.

    anyone know overall cost for the two packs on curiousity,fitted.

    $5m -$15m? ? each. lets play guess the price until a nasa accountant ruins the game.

    1. Lee Dowling

      Re: doh

      Two is actually a silly number for failover. It's not enough to provide much long-term security.

      Four is worse, though, than three when it comes to simultaneous operation and checking of results. What they should do is run an odd number that's *AT LEAST* three and then take the "majority" opinion like an awful lot of avionics does. That way, you can at least spot a majority. With four, if any two share a common path that the others don't (e.g. a power line on one side of the board) and that fails, you get a 50-50 problem where you have no idea which ones are wrong.

      But if I was designing failover for, say, a server BIOS then two is about right. It's something I never expect to happen but when it does I can start replacing the board while it's still working. For anything more critical, and in such a harsh environment though, I'd have more failover/backup chips. Hell, give me 200 1MHz chips rather than 1 200MHz chip any day, in those circumstances.

      I'm always disappointed, though. The only Mars mission I *want* to see is for something to land, repair the old rovers, give them a dustoff, maybe an upgrade or two, and send them on their way again. I wouldn't even care if it had no science of its own, if it could do that.

      Put me in charge of a Mars mission and you'd have hundreds of cheap bots and rovers all running about. You'd cover more area, get more science done (e.g. 10% are chemical-analysis, 10% are rock-grinders, etc. so who cares if one gets stuck unless you NEED it?) and you could have some form of repair / diagnosis rather than having to spend MONTHS working out if it's safe to move the rover wheels again because it's the only thing in that area and has to "repair" itself if you break it.

      Sod all that, play the numbers game and while you're there have them all watch each other and be able to fix each other (even if it takes forever over with a bunch of humans over a remote connection). And the element of humanity and community would make it seem much more inhabitable as a planet altogether.

      "We now follow the news of bot #36 on Mars, who's managed to get further than anyone else and found the intriguing sample that NASA so desperately want to analyse. According to its controller back on Earth, Dave Smith, It appears to be on the Olympus Mons crater at a point higher than any other has reached, but now has become stuck there while the winter sets in. NASA are organising a bot rescue party and plan to warm the stricken bot using the warmth of the motors from the other bots until they can return him, or the sample, to the home base. Already 4 bots have perished on the dangerous mission, but it's considered worthwhile if it means that sample makes it back home while its still fresh...."

      1. ian 22

        Re: doh

        And here I was thinking you were leading up to Three Dog Night's "One Is The Loneliest Number".

        'Two can be as bad as one, it's the loneliest number since the number one...'

        Yeh, old and crazy before my time....

    2. Lee Dowling

      Re: doh

      Oh, and the RAD750 used cost about $200,000 each, according to Wiki:

  17. deadlockvictim

    Curiousity & Powerbook G3s

    What first thing came to mind when I read the intro was wondering whether it cost as much as a PowerBook G3 when they released. Probably not.

    On another note, I want to know what it does to cats. That must have been a fun easter egg to program.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wouldn't a Raspberry Pi have been more powerful, lighter and less power hungry?

    This could have been the mother of all 'Pi projects :( There's also an educational angle for any martians.

    1. Fred Mbogo


      The moment you create a radiation hardened ARM processor, you can go ahead and use it for that purpose.

      Rad resistant processor have a totally different internal structure. Lots of ECC and internal checks to prevent single bit errors in the L1 and L2 caches. Plus, as other commenters have pointed out, they are running in a cluster to increase reliability.

      In non-computing systems, processors aren't valued only by the "Gigahurrz", their reliability and toughness is a more important factor. If you need heavy crunching, its easier to send it out elsewhere and then receive the results via radio link.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Nope

        I wonder if they might have been able to build it with a non-hardened "co-processor" in a powered-down state until it arrived? (If I understand right, radiation is far more damaging to electronics that's powered-up than if it isn't ... though I'm not sure whether Mars's atmosphere is an adequate radiation-blocking substitute for Earth's in this context).

        Downside: weight penalty. Upside: a *much* more powerful computer available, should it survive transit.

    2. Silverburn

      It wasn't ready 3 years ago when the specs were frozen.

    3. Dave 142

      You do realise they had to launch this thing a little while ago right?

  19. RainForestGuppy

    A BAE Rad750, DOn't let Lewis PAge read that. He'll go on one of his "BAE is the tool of the anti-christ" style rants

    1. jphb
      Thumb Up


      BAE - is that British Aerospace Engineering? A British company manufacturing computers, that can't be right surely?

  20. James Pickett

    The OS is a bit different, too (thankfully)..

  21. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. wowfood

      Re: Not even an original.....

      Uhm. Most of the articles on El Reg are ripped from other sites and re-worded (aka dumbed down for their readers) Hell half of the things I see on here are from techradar / engardget, with a bit of the writers own opinion thrown in for good measure.

      Somebody gets the information first, and the rest copy from them. Hell those people probably copied the information from somebody elses publication.

  22. E 2

    Apple computer you say?

    Saint Jobs' $2.5B computer.

    "It just works" hahahahaha

  23. badger31

    the first thing Curiosity did after landing ...

    was to check for an operating system update and install it.

    Holy shit - that was brave! Imagine it got all the way to Mars, only to be bricked by a failed update. I'll bet there were some sweaty palms while that update was running.

  24. patglo

    As demonstrated in Independence Day, the PowerPC architecture is a superior platform for extraterrestrial operation. Peace!

  25. NukEvil

    Mobility System...

    The words "Mobility System", with an arrow pointing to a wheel. Did that image come from Faux News or the Daily Fail?

    I need to know, because I want to torch the correct news agency headquarters this time.

  26. YumDogfood

    It was such a bad article...

    ...that all us commentards came out in force (~2 pages so far) to increase the hit count and load up adverts (for those without advert/pic blockers.) Nice.

    The spiky rubberhead pic. Because I really dig the look.

  27. Herby

    Update of operating system...

    Was probably to change the functionality. The nice rover has landed, and doesn't need any of the landing code any more. On the other hand, the rover part of the code isn't needed during landing, so it was loaded up.

    Seems pretty logical to me.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense

    Yeah, its not going to take off again is it :-)

    I still say it was a wa$te to crash the flying platform, it would have been amusing to fly it around for a few minutes and take pictures then soft land it a kilometre away.

    I suppose the reason was that they didn't want it crashing on the rover..

    AC/DC 6EQUJ5

  29. Dave 142

    I think that smaller chips are more susceptible to radiation damage as well.

  30. Fred M

    The irrelevent Apple mention

    I've got to agree with the other comments about the pointless inclusion of Apple in the title. Yes - it's clear from the text that Apple had nothing to do with Curiosity but it's lazy fanboi journalism. The most recent one that irked me was on the BBC News site - "Apple chip designer Arm Holdings in 23% profits boost" - where the first word of the headline has to be Apple even though they're just one of many ARM customers.

    1. deadlockvictim

      Re: The irrelevent Apple mention

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Apple buy ARM Holdings some 10 years ago? I could check it up but, then again, I couldn't be arsed. If I'm right, then this would make Apple mention not so quite correct.

      1. Simon Harris

        Re: The irrelevent Apple mention

        ARM Holdings was a joint venture between Acorn, Apple and VSLI, set up in 1990 with Apple having a 43% stake ($1.5billion). During the 1990s John Scully era, Apple's finances were crashing and they sold most of their stake by 1999 at a $700million loss.

  31. Bradley Hardleigh-Hadderchance
    Thumb Up

    Can I be the last to say?


    I'd love to go there for hols. Not much atmosphere. True. But have you been to Skegness this time of year?

    It just seems so, I don't know, quiet?

    Yes that's it. Quiet. Me and the missus (don't have one, but indulge me here): 'Not too many of those German types about dear? ' 'No dear, very QUIET.'.

    What more could a man ask for. I am envious of a lump of metal with rubber wheels.

    Seriously. So many fuck ups, so they thought 'Fuck it' - let's go to town. If we are going to fail. Let us fail superbly. And they did not fail. They succeeded superbly.

    Don't have a hat. But if I did, it would be in my right hand, my face looking at my knees, hunched over, muttering something like: <Lt. George of Blackadder III> Bally well done! Hurrah!</Lt. George of Blackadder III>

    This world is so fucked up, but if mankind (a few scientists from NASA) can achieve something like this, maybe there might be hope.

  32. AfternoonTea

    15 year old hardware on a state of the art Mars rover? I see no problem in this, after all in Bender used an Athlon II in 3011.

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