Futurism
Old Tech, New Tricks

NASA’s New Mars Rover Is Less Powerful Than Many Smartphones

byTony Tran
Feb 20
Futurism

It's about as powerful as an old iMac.

iMars

If you thought a NASA rover that cost $2.4 billion to build and launch would be more powerful than your old smartphone, you have another thing coming.

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed successfully on Mars Thursday, is powered by an old chipset that gives it about the same processing power as an iMac from 1998, according to PCMag‘s breakdown. More specifically, it’s packing 256MB of RAM and 2GB of storage, with a 200MHz processor

For comparison’s sake, that’s substantially less computing power than the original Apple Watch, which packs 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage, with a 520MHz processor.

But don’t be down on NASA — space engineers tend to use extremely time-tested computing components for maximum reliability. After all, if Perseverance runs into trouble, the nearest Apple Store is tens of millions of miles away.

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Flying Snapdragon

The Ingenuity helicopter on board Perseverance also leverages a surprisingly archaic processor called the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. 

Though it’s slated to be the first drone to take flight on the Red Planet, the chipset is more commonly found in mid-2010s era smartphones including the Samsung Galaxy S5, the LG G3, and the HTC One M8.

That means the smartphone in your pocket is likely more powerful than the Mars rovers and helicopter — though granted, you don’t have a team of the world’s smartest people helping you explore the planet.

Camera Culture

Though the rover’s processor is a bit archaic, the tools it’s carrying are not. In fact, Perseverance is touting a total of 23 cameras including those used for landing, navigation, and mineral analysis, according to NASA

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It also comes with a variety of communications tools to relay information back to Earth as it explores the Martian surface. So even if its computing capabilities are a bit sluggish, it’s unlikely your phone is ever going to pull off anything of similar scientific or historical importance.

READ MORE: 4 Android Smartphones with as Much Power as NASA’s Mars Helicopter [PCMag]

More on Perseverance: Incredible Photo Shows NASA Mars Rover Hanging Below “Sky Crane”


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