NASA just landed another rover on Mars and that’s enough to get the space enthusiasts pumped up. The Perseverance rover will hunt for signs of microbial life as well as study soils while taking panoramic photos of the Martian landscape. All of these simply point at NASA using a modern high-tech computer to help Perseverance in its endeavours. What if we tell you that the latest Mars rover has the same levels of computing power as a 1998 Apple iMac?

A recent report from NewScientist, shared by Gizmodo sheds light on the computing bits of the Perseverance rover. As opposed to the common belief, NASA’s newest Mars rover has the same amount of computing capabilities as a 22-year-old desktop PC from Apple. Powering the rover is a RAD 750 processor that is based on the PowerPC 750 processor. What’s surprising is that this chip has proven itself previously on other spacecraft, including another Martian rover.

Latest NASA Mars rover uses an old iMac-based processor

The RAD 750 processor onboard the Perseverance rover has a single-core 233 MHz CPU with a total of 6 million transistors, similar to the PowerPC 750 processor. Since the conditions on Mars are harsh for electronics (let alone human lives), this processor is made durable against radiation to keep it working. This single upgrade makes the RAD 750 chip cost upwards of $200,000.

NASA Mars rover

NASA Mars rover “Perseverance” | Image: NASA

Joining the rather underwhelming specifications list of the Perseverance computer is a 2GB flash memory and 256MB of RAM. Yeah, try selling a modern-day smartphone with such specifications in 2021!

Before you start dismissing the rover’s efforts, do know that a PowerPC 750-based processor is the best bet for the Mars rover. A modern-day multi-core Core i9 processor could give the Mars rover unbridled power but may also leave it vulnerable to more damage. There are so many bits on a modern-day chip that could wrong by just a sudden burst of radiation.

A PowerPC 750-based chip is simpler in comparison and reduces the risk of damage. As a precaution, NASA does have a backup computing system onboard the rover in the event of the main unit’s failure.

Apple iMac 1998

Apple iMac 1998

Do note that this chip with its 200MHz clockspeed is said to be ten times faster than older Martian rovers. The storage is also eight times more than Opportunity and Spirit. NASA adds that this chip has previously powered the Fermi Space Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Deep Impact comet-hunting spacecraft, and the Kepler telescope.

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