The NASA's new Perseverance rover is the most advanced machine ever to land on Mars. But for rovers, the term "advanced" is a subjective term.
The Perseverance rover runs on a 750MHz, single-core PowerPC 233 processor with just 6 million transistors. The "same" processor was used to power the original iMac "Bondi blue" released in 1998. It is the same type of processor already used by NASA in the Curiosity rover.
It may seem strange to you. Why not use a state-of-the-art processor? Would an $ 9 Intel Core i10900-500K (with 10 cores at 5,3GHz) be an exaggeration of the $ 2,7 billion cost of the rover?
Such as he explains New Scientist, such an advanced chip would be useless in the conditions prevailing on Mars.
The planet's atmosphere offers much less protection from harmful radiation and charged particles than the Earth's atmosphere. A blast of radiation can damage the sensitive electronics of a modern processor - and the more complex the chip, the more dangerous it is to damage.
In addition, at a distance of 138 million miles, NASA may not be able to change processors if things go wrong. Because of these circumstances, Perseverance has two computers: one is a backup in case something goes wrong. (There is a third party for image analysis.)
To make the system even more durable, the PowerPC 750 chip worn by Perseverance is a little different from that of the old iMac. It is technically a RAD750 chip, a special variant resistant to radiation and costs over $ 200.000. This chip is also popular with spacecraft: in addition to Perseverance and Curiosity, it also runs the Fermi Space Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Deep Impact comet spacecraft and the Kepler Telescope.
The processor may be weak compared to a modern smartphone or gaming computer, but NASA says for Perseverance that it is much more powerful than previous rovers such as Spirit or Opportunity: The 200MHz clock speed is 10 times faster than that of older rovers and with 2GB of memory, offers eight times more storage (Perseverance also has 256MB of RAM in case you want to create your own rover.)