NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover runs on processors used in 1990s Apple iMacs

The same processor that powered Apple’s iMac computers from the late 1990s is being used to run NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover

Joanna Nelius for Gizmodo:

While NASA is technically using a specialized processor to power the Perseverance rover, it’s not far removed from the world of consumer electronics—about 23 years ago.

NewScientist reports that the Perseverance rover is powered by a PowerPC 750 processor, which was used in Apple’s original 1998 iMac G3 — you remember, the iconic, colorful, see-through desktop. If the PowerPC name sounds familiar, it’s probably because those are the RISC CPUs Apple used in its computers before switching to Intel. (Although now the company is back on the RISC train with its homegrown M1 processor.)

There’s a major difference between the iMac’s CPU and the one inside the Perseverance rover. BAE Systems manufactures the radiation-hardened version of the PowerPC 750, dubbed RAD750, which can withstand 200,000 to 1,000,000 Rads and temperatures between −55 and 125 degrees Celsius (-67 and 257 degrees Fahrenheit).

MacDailyNews Take: It’s all about reliability (our venerable Blueberry iMac, with which this site was originally built, still works).

Apple's revolutionary iMac G3 in its original Bondi Blue color
Apple’s revolutionary iMac G3 in its original Bondi Blue color

NASA’s Curiosity rover — which landed on Mars in August 2012, also used a RAD750 radiation-hardened single board computer. NASA’s Orion spacecraft employed the same RAD750 processor.

“Compared to the [Intel] Core i5 in your laptop, it’s much slower…it’s probably not any faster than your smartphone,” Matt Lemke, NASA’s deputy manager for Orion’s avionics, told The Space Review back in 2014. “But it’s not about the speed as much as the ruggedness and the reliability. I need to make sure it will always work.”


  1. In reality the RAD750 is a far cry from the PowerPC 750. It starts with the silicon process and works up from there. The two are almost different processors. It’s not just rad hardening and thermal range increase. (A similar difference was with the RAD6000 and the original single chip version of the POWER processor as well as the space qualified version of the 603 versus the PowerPC 603e.) To say anything like the processor in Perseverance is the same one as in the 1998 iMac misses the mark by a long shot. A lot is the same (load/store, pipelines, instruction set, etc.) but much is different.

    1. Or you could simply designate the article as “fake news” which grifter Trump loved to slander truthful news if that news disagreed with his lies. On the other hand, the article is not to be confused with a science report offering rigorous proof when it’s really written for the general reader, perhaps even a rah rah article to bring clickbait joy to Apple enthusiasts who may have fond memories for Apple’s early history which must be a key reason for MDN’s citing it here.

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  2. Back in the 1980s, I worked at home on a Mac 512K. At work, I used (and helped maintain) an Alpha Micro minicomputer system driving our county voting and justice system database managers and providing word processing through a couple of dozen VT-100 dumb terminals. They both used the same Motorola 68000 processors. The whole point of a general purpose CPU is to support versatility.

  3. Drear Apple product enthusiasts and colleagues,
    Thank you all for the overwhelming number of votes from friends and fiends on my correct and insightful comment.

  4. That’s cool. I still have an original Bondi Blue iMac G3 (Rev. B with better video). I should try powering it up to make sure it still works. It has an accelerated CPU board, about double speed of stock. But it’s still G3 (750). It runs Mac OS 9.x (boots directly) and classic Mac OS apps. Super-fast for this purpose. It has a special “Voodoo2” video card in the secret PCI mezzanine slot. The 3Dfx video only kicked in for games that supported it, otherwise the built-in ATI video was used.

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