The Null Device

Another use for spare CPU cycles

In 2003, we have 2GHz Pentium boxes, which we use to surf the web and check our email. This means that we have all that left-over CPU power to emulate vintage machinery, like arcade machines and old computers and analogue synths, and analogue televisions

Yes, analogue televisions. The latest release of jwz's big boffo compedium of doovy display hacks, aka xscreensaver, has code that emulates the circuitry of a NTSC television; originally, this was intended for an Apple II emulator, including the blue/orange fringes of letters. Gradually this evolved into a general-purpose TV emulator, one which can add authentic ghosting, snow, colour distortion and other television artefacts to the JPEGs on your desktop. Which is pretty nifty, in a somewhat perverted kind of way.

As computers get faster, emulators get more and more fine-grained, and evolve from emulating the high-level behaviours of the machines to emulating their implementation, down to the electrical characteristics of the circuits. How long until we see, for example, TB-303 emulators which simulate the cheap, loose-tolerance components used in the original 303s, or analogue synth emulators that come realistically untuned as they "warm up", neatly getting rid of that unsexy digital precision?

There are 5 comments on "Another use for spare CPU cycles":

Posted by: gjw Mon Oct 27 10:48:01 2003

It looks great (the Apple ][ is fun too)- I'll be waiting for them to make it a display driver for MAME.

Posted by: sam http:// Mon Oct 27 12:49:27 2003

Jeez.. Now I'm certainly no luddite; far from it. I enjoy playing emulator games and everything. But it seems to me that technology is really being wasted. Shouldn't there be some Internet-based parallel effort at curing cancer or something, like they do with SETI?

Posted by: acb Mon Oct 27 12:56:56 2003

Once Moore's Law runs out of steam, expect CPU power to no longer be squandered. Once the crunch hits, the programming world will be overcome by the horror of realising that something like 99% of all CPU cycles are wasted (from the point of view of the final outcome). Assembly language programming will come back into vogue, executables will become smaller, and grid computing will take up much of the slack.

Or maybe not.

Posted by: gjw Mon Oct 27 12:57:04 2003

I think there is sam:

Posted by: sam http:// Tue Oct 28 15:13:52 2003

I don't know acb, that sounds like a possible future to me! We'll certainly have gone full-circle then.

gjw: that's rather good news! I think I'll put my PC to good use.