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AnandTech – Intel and Micron IMFT Announce Worlds First 128Gb 20nm MLC NAND

English: NAND Flash memory circuit
Image via Wikipedia

The big question is endurance, however we wont see a reduction in write cycles this time around. IMFTs 20nm client-grade compute NAND used in consumer SSDs is designed for 3K – 5K write cycles, identical to its 25nm process.

via AnandTech – Intel and Micron IMFT Announce Worlds First 128Gb 20nm MLC NAND.

If true this will help considerably in driving down cost of Flash memory chips while maintaining the current level of wear and performance drop seen over the lifetime of a chip. Stories I have read previously indicated that Flash memory might not continue to evolve using the current generation of silicon chip manufacturing technology. Performance drops occur as memory cells wear out. Memory cells were wearing out faster and faster as the wires and transistors got smaller and narrower on the Flash memory chip.

The reason for this is memory cells have to be erased in order to free them up and writing and erasing take a toll on the memory cell each time one of these operations is performed. Single Level memory cells are the most robust, and can go through many thousands even millions of write and erase cycles before they wear out. However the cost per megabyte of Single Level memory cells make it an Enterprise level premium price level for Corporate customers generally speaking. Two Level memory cells are much more cost effective, but the structure of the cells makes them less durable than Single Level cells. And as the wires connecting them get thinner and narrower, the amount of write and erase cycles they can endure without failing drops significantly. Enterprise customers in the past would not purchase products specifically because of this limitation of the Two level memory cell.

As companies like Intel and Samsung tried to make Flash memory chips smaller and less expensive to manufacture, the durability of the chips became less and less. The question everyone asked is there a point of diminishing return where smaller design rules, thinner wires is going to make chips so fragile? The solution for most manufacturers is to add spare memory cells, “over-providing” so that when a cell fails, you can unlock a spare and continue using the whole chip. The over -provisioning no so secret trick has been the way most Solid State Disks (SSDs) have handled the write/erase problem for Two Level memory cells. But even then, the question is how much do you over-provision? Another technique used is called wear-levelling where a memory controller distributes writes/erases over ALL the chips available to it. A statistical scheme is used to make sure each and every chip suffers equally and gets the same number of wear and tear apllied to it. It’s difficult balancing act manufacturers of Flash Memory and storage product manufacturers who consume those chips to make products that perform adequately, do not fail unexpectedly and do not cost too much for laptop and desktop manufacturers to offer to their customers.

If Intel and Micron can successfully address the fragility of Flash chips as the wiring and design rules get smaller and smaller, we will start to see larger memories included in more mobile devices. I predict you will see iPhones and Samsung Android smartphones with upwards of 128GBytes of Flash memory storage. Similarly, tablets and ultra-mobile laptops will also start to have larger and larger SSDs available. Costs should stay about where they are now in comparison to current shipping products. We’ll just have more products to choose from, say like 1TByte SSDs instead of the more typical high end 512GByte SSDs we see today. Prices might also come down, but that’s bound to take a little longer until all the other Flash memory manufacturers catch up.

A flash memory cell.
Image via Wikipedia: Wiring of a Flash Memory Cell
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AppleInsider | Rumor: Apple investigating USB 3.0 for Macs ahead of Intel

USB Connector

A new report claims Apple has continued to investigate implementing USB 3.0 in its Mac computers independent of Intels plans to eventually support USB 3.0 at the chipset level.

via AppleInsider | Rumor: Apple investigating USB 3.0 for Macs ahead of Intel.

This is interesting to read, I have not paid much attention to USB 3.0 due to how slowly it has been adopted by the PC manufacturing world. But in the past Apple has been quicker to adopt some mainstream technologies than it’s PC manufacturing counterparts. The value add is increased as more and more devices also adopt the new interface, namely anything that runs the iOS. The surest sign there’s a move going on will be whether or not there is USB 3.0 support in the iOS 5.x and whether or not there is hardware support in the next Revision of the iPhone.

And now it appears Apple is releasing two iPhones, a minor iPhone 4 update and a new iPhone 5 at roughly the same time. Given reports that the new iPhone 5 has a lot of RAM installed, I’m curious about how much of the storage is NAND based Flash memory. Will we see something on the order of 64GB again or more this time around when the new phones are released.  The upshot is for instances where you can tether your device to sync it to the Mac, with a USB 3.0 compliant interface the file transfer speed will make the chore of pulling out the cables worth the effort. However, the all encompassing sharing of data all the time between Apple devices may make the whole adoption of USB 3.0 seem less necessary if every device can find its partner and sync over the airwaves instead of over iPod connectors.

Still it would be nice to have a dedicated high speed cable for the inevitable external Hard drive connection necessary in these days of the smaller laptops like the Macbook Air, or the Mac mini. Less space internally means these devices will need a supplement to the internal hard drive, one even that the Apple iCloud cannot fulfill especially considering the size of video files coming off each new generation of HD video cameras. I don’t care what Apple says but 250GBs of AVCHD files is going to sync very,…very,… slowly. All the more reason to adopt USB 3.0 as soon as possible.

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Augmented Reality Maps and Directions Coming to iPhone

iOS logo
Image via Wikipedia

Of course, there are already turn-by-turn GPS apps for iOS, Android and other operating systems, but having an augmented reality-based navigational system thats native to the phone is pretty unique.

via Augmented Reality Maps and Directions Coming to iPhone.

In the deadly navigation battle between Google Android and Apple iOS a new front is being formed, Augmented Reality. Apple has also shown that it’s driven to create a duplicate of the Google Maps app for iOS in an attempt to maintain its independence from the Googleplex by all means possible. Though Apple may re-invent the wheel (of network available maps), you will be pleasantly surprised what other bells & whistles get thrown in as well.

Enter the value-added feature of Augmented Reality. Apple is now filing patents on AR relating to handheld device navigation. And maybe this time ’round the Augmented Reality features will be a little more useful than marked up Geo Locations. To date Google Maps hasn’t quite approached this level of functionality, but do have most of the most valuable dataset (Street View) that would allow them to also add an Augmented Reality component. The question is who will get to market first with the most functional, and useful version of Augmented Reality maps?

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AppleInsider | Apple seen merging iOS, Mac OS X with custom A6 chip in 2012

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...
Image via Wikipedia

Rumors of an ARM-based MacBook Air are not new. In May, one report claimed that Apple had built a test notebook featuring the same low-power A5 processor found in the iPad 2. The report, which came from Japan, suggested that Apple officials were impressed by the results of the experiment.

via AppleInsider | Apple seen merging iOS, Mac OS X with custom A6 chip in 2012.

Following up on an article they did back on May 27th, and one prior to that on May 6th,  AppleInsider does a bit of prediction and prognosticating about the eventual fusion of iOS and Mac OS X. What they see triggering this is an ARM chip that would be able to execute 64-bit binaries across all of the product lines (A fabled ARM A-6). How long would it take to do this consolidation and interweaving? How many combined updaters, security patches, Pro App updaters would it take to get OS X 10.7 to be ‘more’ like iOS than it is today? Software development is going to take a while and it’s not just a matter of cross-compiling to an ARM chip from a software based on Intel chips.

Given that 64-bit Intel Atom chips are already running on the new Seamircro SM10000 (x64), it won’t be long now I’m sure before the ARM equivalent ARM-15 chip hits full stride. The designers have been aiming for a 4-core ARM design that will be encompassed by the ARM-15 release real soon now (RSN). The next step after that chip is licensed and piloted, tested and put into production will be a 64-bit clean design. I’m curious to see if 64-bit will be applied across ALL the different product lines within Apple. Especially when the issue of power-usage and Thermal Design power (TDM) is considered, will 64-bit ARM chips be as battery friendly? I wonder. True Intel has jumped the 64-bit divide on the desktop with the Core 2 Duo line some time ago and made them somewhat battery friendly. But they cannot compare at all to the 10 hours+ one gets on a 32-bit ARM chip today using the iPad.

Lastly, App Developers will also need to keep their Xcode environment up to date and merge in new changes constantly up to the big cutover to ARM x64. No telling what that’s going to be like apart from the previous 2 problems I have raised here. Apple in the 10.7 Lion run-up was very late in providing the support and tools to allow the developers to get their Apps ready. I will say though that in the history of migrations in Apple’s hardware/software, they have done more of them, more successfully than any other company. So I think they will be able to pull it off no doubt, but there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And hopefully we’ll see something better as the end-users of the technology, something better than a much bigger profit margin for Apple (though that seems to be the prime mover in most recent cases as Steve Jobs has done the long slow fade into obscurity).

If ARM x64 is inevitable and iOS on Everything too, then I’m hoping things don’t change so much I can’t do things similarly to the way I do them now on the desktop. Currently on OS X 10.7 I am ignoring completely:

  1. Gestures
  2. Misson Control
  3. Launch Pad
  4. AppStore (not really because I had to download Lion)

Let’s hope this roster doesn’t get even longer over time as the iOS becomes the de facto OS on all Apple Products. Because I was sure hoping the future would be brighter than this. And as AppleInsider quotes from May 6th,

“In addition to laptops, the report said that Apple would ‘presumably’ be looking to move its desktop Macs to ARM architecture as well. It characterized the transition to Apple-made chips for its line of computers as a ‘done deal’.”

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Apple patents hint at future AR screen tech for iPad | Electronista

Structure of liquid crystal display: 1 – verti...
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Apple may be working on bringing augmented reality views to its iPad thanks to a newly discovered patent filing with the USPTO.

via Apple patents hint at future AR screen tech for iPad | Electronista. (Originally posted at AppleInsider at the following link below)

Original Article: Apple Insider article on AR

Just a very brief look at a couple of patent filings by Apple with some descriptions of potential applications. They seem to want to use it for navigation purposes using the onboard video camera. One half the screen will use the live video feed, the other half is a ‘virtual’ rendition of that scene in 3D to allow you to find a path or maybe a parking space in between all those buildings.

The second filing mentions a see-through screen whose opacity can be regulated by the user. The information display will take precedence over the image seen through the LCD panel. It will default to totally opaque using no voltage whatsoever (In Plane switching design for the LCD).

However the most intriguing part of the story as told by AppleInsider is the use of sensors on the device to determine angle, direction, bearing to then send over the network. Why the network? Well the whole rendering of the 3D scene as described in first patent filing is done somewhere in the cloud and spit back to the iOS device. No onboard 3D rendering needed or at least not at that level of detail. Maybe those datacenters in North Carolina are really cloud based 3D rendering farms?

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Macintouch Reader Reports: User Interface Issues iOS/Lion

Magic Mouse on MacBook Pro. Canon Rebel T1i wi...
Image via Wikipedia

Anyways, I predict a semi-chaos, where – for example- a 3 fingers swipe from left to right means something completely different in Apple than in any other platform. We are already seeing signs of this in Android, and in the new Windows 8.Also, users will soon need “cheat sheets” to remember the endless possible combinations.Would be interesting to hear other people’s thoughts.

via User Interface Issues.

After the big WWDC Keynote presentation by Steve Jobs et. al. the question I have too is what’s up with all the finger combos for swiping. In the bad old days people needed wire bound notebooks to tell them all about the commands to run their IBM PC. And who can forget the users of WordPerfect who had keyboard template overlays to remind themselves of the ‘menu’ of possible key combos (Ctrl/Alt/Shift). Now we are faced with endless and seemingly arbitrary combinations off finger swipes/pinches/flicks etc.

Like other readers who responded to this question on the Macintouch message boards, what about the bad old days of the Apple 1 button mouse? Remember when Apple finally capitulated and provided two mice buttons (No?) well they did it through software. Just before the Magic Mouse hit town Apple provided a second mouse button (at long last) bringing the Mac inline for the first time with the Windows PC convention of left and right mouse buttons. How recently did this happen? Just two years ago maybe, Apple introduced the wired and wireless version of the Mighty Mouse? And even then it was virtual, not a literal real two button-ness experience either. Now we have the magic mouse with no buttons, no clicking. It’s one rounded over trackpad that accepts the Lionized gestures. To quote John Wayne, “It’s gettin’ to be Ri-goddamn-diculous”.

So whither the haptic touch interface conventions of the future? Who is going to win the gesture arms race? Who is going to figure out less is more when it comes to gestures? It ain’t Apple.

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Toshiba unwraps 24nm flash memory in possible iPhone 5 clue | Electronista

The microcontroller on the right of this USB f...
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The schedules may help back mounting beliefs that the iPhone 5 will 64GB iPhone 4 prototype appeared last month that hinted Apple was exploring the idea as early as last year. Just on Tuesday, a possible if disputed iPod touch with 128GB of storage also appeared and hinted at an upgrade for the MP3 player as well. Both the iPhone and the iPod have been stuck at 32GB and 64GB of storage respectively since 2009 and are increasingly overdue for additional space.

via Toshiba unwraps 24nm flash memory in possible iPhone 5 clue | Electronista.

Toshiba has revised its flash memory production lines again to keep pace with the likes of Intel, Micron and Samsung. Higher densities and smaller form factors seemed to indicate they are gearing up for a big production run of the highest capacity memory modules they can make. It’s looking like a new iPhone might be the candidate to receive newer multi-layer single chip 64GB Flash memory modules this year.

A note of caution in this arms race of ever smaller feature sizes on the flash memory modules, the smaller you go the less memory read/write cycles you get. I’m becoming aware that each new generation of flash memory production has lost an amount of robustness. This problem has been camouflaged maybe even handled outright by the increase in over-provisioning of chips on a given size Solid State Disk (sometimes as low as 17% more chips than that which is typically used when the drive is full). Through careful statistical modeling and use of algorithms, an ideal shuffling of the deck of available flash memory chips allows the load to be spread out. No single chip fails as it’s workload is shifted continuously to insure it doesn’t receive anywhere near the maximum number of reliable read write cycles. Similarly, attempts to ‘recover’ data from failing memory cells within a chip module are also making up for these problems. Last but not least outright error-correcting hardware has been implemented on chip to insure everything just works from the beginning of the life of the Solid State Disk (SSD) to the finals days of its useful life.

We may not see the SSD eclipse the venerable kind off high density storage, the Hard Disk Drive (HDD). Given the point of diminishing return provided by Moore’s Law (scaling down increases density, increases speed, lowers costs), Flash may never get down to the level of density we enjoy in a typical consumer brand HDD (2TBytes). We may have to settle for other schemes that get us to that target through other means. Which brings me to my favorite product of the moment, the PCIe based SSD. Which is nothing more than a big circuit board with a bunch of SSD’s tied together in a disk array with a big fat memory controller/error-correction controller sitting on it. In terms of speeds using the PCI Express bus, there are current products that beat single SATA 6 SSDs by a factor of two. And given the requirements of PCI, the form factor of any given module could be several times bigger and two generations older to reach the desired 2Terbyte storage of a typical SATA Hard Drive of today. Which to me sounds like a great deal if we could also see drops in price and increases in reliability by using older previous generation products and technology.

But the mobile market is hard to please, as they are driving most decisions when it comes to what kind of Flash memory modules get ordered en masse. No doubt Apple, Samsung and anyone in consumer electronics will advise manufacturers to consistently shrink their chip sizes to increase density and keep prices up on final shipping product. I don’t know how efficiently an iPhone or iPad use the available memory say on a 64GByte iTouch let’s say. Most of that goes into storing the music, TV shows, and Apps people want to have readily available while passing time. The beauty of that design is it rewards consumption by providing more capacity and raising marginal profit at the same time. This engine of consumer electronics design doesn’t look likely to end in spite of the physical limitations of shrinking down Flash memory chips. But there will be a day of reckoning soon, not unlike when Intel hit the wall at 4Ghz serial processors and had to go multi-core to keep it’s marginal revenue flowing. It’s been very lateral progress in terms of processor performance since then. It is more than likely Flash memory chips cannot get any smaller without being really unreliable and defective, thereby sliding  into the same lateral incrementalism Intel has adopted. Get ready for the plateau.

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AppleInsider | Expanded GPU support in Apple’s Mac OS X 10.6.7 hints at future Mac hardware

HIS Radeon HD 5850 AMD ATI
Image by Forrestal_PL via Flickr

“Could Apple be opening up the platform more?” he asked. “What happens to NVIDIA? Why support for cards that aren’t in Macs yet? Will the 2011 Sandy Bridge iMacs contain one or more of these new 6xxx cards?”

via AppleInsider | Expanded GPU support in Apple’s Mac OS X 10.6.7 hints at future Mac hardware.

This is an interesting tidbit of news. A Macintosh hacker has discovered within the most recent update of Mac OS X 10.6 a number of hardware drivers for ATI graphics cards that do not ship and are currently ‘unsupported’ on the Mac. Anyone who has attempted to buy after market, third party OEM graphics cards for Macs know this is treacherous minefield to navigate. The principle problem being Apple absolutely positively does not want people sticking any old graphics card in the Macintosh Pro towers. Or even in old legacy towers going back to the first PowerPC/PCI based Macs. No, you must buy direct from Apple the bona fide supported hardware with drivers they supply. In a pinch you might be able to fake it with a PC graphics card that has had its BIOS flashed to make it appear to be a genuine Apple part.

But now if Apple is just bundling up a bunch of drivers for various and sundry graphics cards (albeit from one supplier: ATI), is it possible you could finally buy any card you wanted and it would work? That would be big news indeed for any owner of an end-user upgradeable Macintosh Pro owner and welcome news at that. I’m hoping that this news continues to develop and Apple comes out with a policy or strategy statement heralding a change in past policy towards peripheral manufacturers. More devices being supported would be a great thing.

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AppleInsider | Insider Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Auto Save, File Versions and Time Machine

Original 1984 Macintosh desktop
Image via Wikipedia

However, Windows’ Shadow Copy is really intended for creating a snapshot of an entire volume for backup purposes; users can’t trigger the creation of a new version of an individual file in Windows. This makes Lion’s Versions a very different beast: its more akin to a versioning file system that works like Time Machine, but local to the user’s own disk.

via AppleInsider | Insider Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Auto Save, File Versions and Time Machine [Page 2].

Reading this article from Apple Insider’s series of previews of Mac OS X 10.7 has been an education in both the iOS based universe and the good ol’ desktop universe I already know and love. At first I was apprehensive about the desktop OS taking such a back seat to the mobile devices Apple has been introducing at an increasingly fast pace. From iPods to iPhones to iPod Touch and now the iPad, there’s no end to the permutations iOS based devices can take. Prior to the iPhone and iPod Touch releases, Apple was using an embedded OS with none of the sophistication and capability of a real desktop operating system. This was both a frugal and conservative approach as media players while having real CPUs inside were never intended to have network stacks, garbage collection on UI servers, etc. There was always enough there to present a User Interface off some sort, with access to a local file system and ability to sync files between a host based iTunes client and the device (whichever generation iPod it might be). Along with that each generation hardware most likely varied by degrees as video playback  became a touted feature in newer iPods with bigger internal hard drives (so-called video ipods). I can imagine that got complicated quickly as CPU and video chips and media playback capabilities ranged widely up and down the product line. As each device required its own tweaks to the embedded OS, and iTunes was tweaked to accommodate these local variations, I’m sure the all seeing eye of Steve Jobs began to wince at the increasing complexity of the iPod product line. Enter the iOS, a smaller, cleaner fully optimized OS for low power mobile devices. It’s got everything a desktop OS has without any of the legacy device concerns (backward compatibility) of a typical desktop OS. This allowed for creating ‘just enough’ capability in the networking capability the UI Server and the local storage. Apps written for iOS were unique to that environment though they might have started out as Mac OS X apps. By taking the original code base, re-factoring it and doing complete low level rewrites from top to bottom, you got a version of the Safari web browser on a mobile device. It could display ANY webpage and kind of do some display optimizations of the page on the fly. And there were a number of developers rushing to get an app to run on the new devices. So wither the Apple Mac OS X?

Well in the rush of creating an iOS app universe, the iOS development team added many features along the way. One great gap was the missing cut & paste analogy long enjoyed on desktop OSes. Eventually this feature made it in, and others like it slowly got integrated. Apple’s custom A4 chip using and ARM Core 8 cpu was tearing up the charts, out competing every other mobile phone OS on the market. Similarly the iPad took that same approach of getting out there with new features and becoming a more desktop like mobile device. A year has passed since the original iPad hit the market, the Mac OS is due for a change, the big question is what does Steve Jobs think? There were hints and rumors he wanted everyone to enjoy the clean room design of the iOS, dump the legacy messiness of old Mac OS X. Dan Lyons of Newsweek gave voice to these concerns quite clearly in his June 8 article in Newseek. Steve Jobs would eventually reply directly to this author and state emphatically he was wrong. Actions speak louder than words, Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in 2010 seemed to really hard sell the advantages of developing for the new iOS. Conversely, Microsoft has proven over and over again, legacy support in an OS is a wonderful source of income, once you have established your monopoly. However, Apple has navigated the legacy hardware seas before with its first big migration from Motorola 68000 processors to the PowerPC chip, then subsequently the migration from PowerPC to Intel chips. From a software standpoint attrition occurs as people dump their legacy hardware anyways (not uncommon amongst Apple users to eventually get rid of their older hardware). So to help deliver the benefit of newer software requirements are now fully in place that even certain first gen Intel based Macs won’t be able to run the newest Mac OS X (that’s the word now). Similarly legacy support for PowerPC native apps running under Intel in emulation (using the Rosetta software) will also go away. Which then brings us to the point of this whole blog posting, where’s the beef?

The beef dear reader is not in the computers but in ourselves. As Macintosh OSes evolve so do the workflow and the new paradigm being foisted upon us through the use of mobile devices is the lack of need to go to the File Menu -> Choose Save or Save As… That’s what the new iOS design portends in the future. Same goes for open documents in process, everything is done for you at long last. The computer does what finally you thought it did all the time and what Microsoft eventually built into Word (not the OS itself), Autosave. Newly developed versions of TextEdit made by Apple to run under OS X 10.7 were tested and tried out to see how they work under the new Auto Save and Versions architecture. Now, you just make a new document and the computer (safely) assumes you will most likely want to save the document as you are working on it, and you may want to go back and undo some changes you made. After all these years of using desktop computers, this is now built right in at long last. So from the commandline to the GUI and now to the Mobile OS, computer architects and UI engineers have a good idea of what you might want to do before you choose to do it, and it’s built in at the lowest level of the OS finally! And all of these are going to be in the next version of Mac OS X, due for release this July, 2011. After reading these articles from AppleInsider looking at the screenshots, I’m way more enthused and willing to change and adapt the way I work to the new regime of hybrid iOS and MacOS X going forward.

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TidBITS Macs & Mac OS X: Apple Reveals More about Mac OS X Lion

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Finally, despite Apple’s dropping of the Xserve line (see “A Eulogy for the Xserve: May It Rack in Peace,” 8 November 2010), Mac OS X Server will make the transition to Lion, with Apple promising that the new version will make setting up a server easier than ever. That’s in part because Lion Server will be built directly into Lion, with software that guides you through configuring the Mac as a server. Also, a new Profile Manager will add support for setting up and managing Mac OS X Lion, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. Wiki Server 3 will offer improved navigation and a new Page Editor. And Lion Server’s WebDAV support will provide iPad users the ability to access, copy, and share server-based documents.

via TidBITS Macs & Mac OS X: Apple Reveals More about Mac OS X Lion.

Here’s to seeing a great democratization of OS X Server once and for all time. While Apple did deserve to make some extra cash on a server version of the OS, I’m sure it had very little impact on their sales overall (positive or negative). However, including/bundling it with the base level OS and letting it be unlocked (for money or for free) can only be a good thing. Where I work I already run a single CPU 4core Intel Xserve. I think I should buy some cheap RAM and max out the memory and upgrade this Summer to OS X Lion Server.