Pentium vs. PPC

The Official Airbag |337 h4x0r study to find the supreme personal computer.

Test No. 343: Drivers Ed.

Personal computer processors are more powerful today than their grandparents back in the early 80’s. Yet the Space Shuttles are all driven by outdated 8088 processors that used to run the Apple IIc and Commodore 64. So if an old 8088 can power the worlds premiere space vehicle, how well would a Pentium 4 or PowerPC based computer run things?

In this test we attempt to interface a Powerbook G4 and HP zt1130 with a 1999 Jetta 1.8L. The second part of the test is to see how well these systems will drive the car around the neighborhood.

To get started we needed a way to get the laptops to speak with the car, which features limited computer capacity, mostly sensor arrays. At first it was suggested that we could use Bluetooth but alas our Jetta only shipped with an extra cigarette lighter port, great for taking a ride to Marlboro Country but doesn’t do a thing for our needs.

Eventually we stumbled upon the ultimate in car and computer interface: the Sony CPA-9C CD/MP3/MD to Cassette Adapter. After a trip to Best Buy we rerouted power from our sensor array to the standard AM/FM Cassette player, a standard option in 1999 Jetta’s. Then it was just a matter of inserting the tape into the player, adjusting the base to 9 and treble to 7, and then plugging the headphone jack into the, er, uh headphone jack in the laptop. Interface complete!

Success was limited with each platform. The Powerbook G4 recognized the car immediately and changed the default language pack to German. However, our team encountered some problems when the Apple wanted to start saving MP3 files to the carburetor. It took hours to convince the Powerbook that this was just a car and not part of the ‘Digital Hub’.

Our Windows XP based laptop only installed a generic ‘car’ driver through it’s Plug-N-Play option. It took the team of experts five hours to find the right driver for this model and year of Volkswagen. After two more follow-up calls to engineers in Germany, Windows finally installed a driver that didn’t conflict with other parts of the OS.

Once we rebooted with the new driver, XP found twelve critical updates for the Jetta peripheral drivers and we also had to find an install CD so we could load the German Language Pack.

On the road we had better success. In this test we drove around the high speed test track in Tustin, California, better known as El Camino Real (that’s Spanish for the real road).

The Macintosh handled the job with relative ease. That’s mostly because we were able to compile some Lego Mindstorms code for MacOS and wonder-of-wonders there is little difference between driving Lego vehicles vs. a Jetta. It wasn’t until we were pulled over did this part of the test encounter a problem. The laptop would not shut up and kept trying to convert the Policeman to Apple Xism, the watered down religion of the UNIX lifestyle.

In our second test, the XP also did remarkably well. However, this laptop also talked too much and kept wanting to discuss the road ahead. Five minutes into the test were almost slammed into the side of a school buss when the laptop received notice that we had received mail in our Hotmail account. After an hour we were able to disengage the pesky MSN Messenger but from then on out the XP kept driving in circles, complaining that we had stripped key functionality from it’s operating system.

Winner — Apple Powerbook G4

Aside from the constant discussions of the next best thing, digital lifestyles, and thinking different, the Powerbook did very well in driving us around town. It also rewired the car to accept alternative fuel sources, a nice bonus to this test.

Research continues and more will be reported back at a later date. Please remember that these tests were conducted under extreme safety conditions (expect for the time we spent having the laptops drive us around) and should never be replicated at home.