Wednesday, November 17, 2004

How less can('t) be more on the Tungsten T5

Yes, we all heard of the new Palm OS Handheld called the Tungsten T5. It sports 256 MB of Flash Memory-what was that once again? NAND Flash used as RAM is the new buzz feature that is busily discussed and that has generated a lot of strain on developers. You may ask why a subtle change in memory architecture causes the developer mailing lists to go havoc and bubble with information. Didnt we have that with the Palm III-it used DRAM insted of the SGRAM forthe storing of data? There was no fuzz that time!
I agree on this, but the change from RAM to NVFS/NANDFlash memory is much greater than the change from one type of RAM to another.

Flash is a different type of memory that doesnt loose its data when power is removed. However, most types can only be written(and sometimes read) in sectors-that means that you cannot change a single bit or byte at once, as you can do with RAM. You can only specify the sector address, and out flows a stream of serial data. Thus, it is rather difficult to run a program without a RAM buffer!
In addition, it is much slower than real RAM -and thus the TT5 has a shadow ram of 32MB! 16MB of it are used as storage space for the OS. The remaining 16 MB of RAM are subdivided into a cache for writing and reading data and into 4MB of dynamic stack. Just remeber that the Tungsten T3 has 12MB for stack and operating systems-while the T5 must work with chintzy 4MB. Big background tasks will now consume the memory that the foreground app needs-didnt we have that with then Tungsten T? In addition, the whole write cache is sized only 10MB-so you cannot open a PRC file or a single database record that has more than 10MB even if there is enough storage free. Imagine this-the good old m515 can handle PRC files bigger than the T5. With data records, the problem isnt as bad-as only the record that is currently beeing used resides in the cache! However, huge PRC files or reading and using more than 10 MB of data at the same time may become a problem!

In addition, many PalmOS applications use one database with many little records-the PalmOS allows up to 64k with only little performance penalty. However, on the TT5, each record resides in an own sector and munches up at least 512 bytes(I am not 100% sure about this number). Thus we now have the same sector problem that the FAT file system has had for many years on the PC-but now on the Palm!

Concludingly, there is an old german saying: Weniger kann oft mehr sein! Translated, it means as much as less can be more! However, this is definitely not true witht he new T5 and its memory architecture!

If you want further information, just scan the PalmOS Mailing List for the words Big issues with the T5.
Additionally, the following pages may be helpful:
PalmONE Pluggedin program
Red Mercury Flash answer page

As always, I am looking forward to interesting comments!


Blogger Ben Combee said...

A few inaccuracies:

1) On the T5, you can use databases that are larger than 10MB. For record databases, the cache works on a per-record level, not a per-database level. Resource databases are completely read into memory when they are opened, since most PRCs are programs, and many programs would fail if all of their resources couldn't be loaded/locked into memory as one big group.

2) There are two different kinds of Flash memory. Traditional flash, as used to store the OS on the Palm III, is NOR flash. Electrically, this looks like a ROM chip and all addresses can be accessed by setting the appropriate set of address pins and reading the data pins that are asserted by the chip. A newer form of Flash memory is NAND flash, which is used on the T5. Here, addressing is done on the block level, and the entire contents of the block is retrieved off the chip as a serial data stream. With this kind of setup, it's impossible to run a program directly from the flash without having a RAM buffer to act as an intermediary. NAND flash is less expensive to produce, as there is less driver hardware needed on the chip, and it is denser, storing more data in the same chip area.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lass es:

- Dein Deutsch ist besser als dein Englisch.
- FlashROM ist kein neues "Buzzword", das gibt es in PDAs seit der Pilot Personal Baureihe.
- FlashROM wird IMMER Sektorweise beschrieben! Im T5 wird die Arbeit der Sektorisierung allerdings im FlashChip selber erledigt.
- FlashROM ist NICHT zwangsweise langsam im LESEzugriff, jedenfalls weiss z.B. ein T3 das nicht, dessen OS, wie das aller anderen Palms mit FlashROM, direkt aus dem FlashROM läuft.
- Der Palm III war in zwei Versionen auf dem Markt, die erste davon hatte SRAM, später dann DRAM (EDO, KEIN SDRAM!). Software-Entwickler haben das nicht mal gemerkt.
- die 32 MB SDRAM sind KEIN "ShadowRAM", sondern ganz konventionell aufgeteilter Speicher, wie bei anderen Geräten auch.
- 4 MB Dynamic Heap sind zwar weniger als beim T3, aber es ist immer noch vergleichsweise ordentlich und sollte keine großen Einschränkungen bringen.

Dann folgen noch Spekulationen über maximale Dateigrößen und anderer Unsinn.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Tam Hanna said...

first of all, thanks Ben for the comment. That was constructive criticism, and I will fix the post straight away! Secondary, to the anonymous poster:
Lieber Mr. Anonym, es ist anscheinend sehr schwer heutezutage, seine Argumente in zivilisierte Form zu bringen. Ich danke für das Kommentar mit dem Buzzword, allerdings-bitte lies mal die Red Mercury Page und das Kommentar von Ben Combee selbst!
Wäre übrigens interessant zu wissen wer da dahinter ist!

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The T5 as well as being a new place for bugs to occur, was also a colossal let-down.

No Wi-Fi?
No metal case?
No slider?
No microphone?

This isn't the Tungsten T5, it's the Tungsten E2.

Oh yeah, and the best thing is, since it's in the Tungsten E casing, it's going to suffer from the extremely common problem where the speaker stops working after a couple of months.

Hail to the T5.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Tam Hanna said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Tam Hanna said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Tam Hanna said...

Sorry, but I had something wrong in the previous versions of this comment..

Well, thwe Tungsten T5 was definitely a letdown for the users. However, I recently started to hate my TT3s Slider, because it is getting looser and looser due to excessive usage!
The ommission of WLAN is bugging, but I have only bluetooth networks and so it doesnt bug me that much. Bluetooth is way easier to configure and uses much less power.This, long surfing sessions are feasible at proper speed of up to 700000bps-if the OS wouldnt limit data transmission to 115200 bps! However, this is enough for me.

That the TT5 misses the microphone is something that I couldnt quite understand-but the Voice Memo never quite workmed on my TT3 so I basically said byebye to this feature with my TT.

The headphone output of my TT3 doesnt work either-so I prefer the non-working speaker to the headphone actually!

Many PPCs dont have a metal case-and nobody seems to bug there. I dont really understand why palm users insist on this soo much- a sturdy plastic case(not like the IIIc!!!)can be nice too!

Totally, the TT5 is a bit of a dissappointment for me-but some others seem to like it. As long as PalmOne doesnt discontinue the TT3(maybe they released a bad TT5 to boost sales of the TT3 stock)-the world however is o.k. for me. If you want a slider, go for ther TT3. If you dont, go for the TT5.

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really do worry about the speaker issue though.

I guy I work with, his Tungsten E has been sent back to PalmOne five times so far, and every time it's come back, worked for a month, and then stopped again.

The funny thing is, the workaround for the speaker/case issue is to clamp the case together with a clip or some sticky tape. But as simple as the workaround is, you would expect PalmOne to learn that a certain casing just doesn't work.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Tam Hanna said...

PalmOne and Audio never seemed to be too good a gang. My Tungsten T bust 6 pairs of headphones, my Tungsten T3's headphone output only powers one earbud unless you press it down(->mechanical problem, contact broke loose->bad solder).
My IIIc's plastic case broke up too. PalmONE basically wont/cant get their devices built sturdily.
Another example is their stylish power button. We hat this problem first with the V, now I have experienced a Tungsten E and my own Tungsten T3 with the same Problem!
Their device quality is steadily declining.....

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