NASA’s latest Perseverance rover is the most advanced machine to ever land on Mars. But “state of the art” technology can be a subjective term. Perseverance runs on a PowerPC 750, a single core, 233MHz processor with only 6 million transistors most famous for powering the original “Bondi blue” iMac from 1998. It is also the same processor type NASA uses in its Curiosity rover.
This may seem like a waste because surely NASA could have had the budget for something more contemporary and modern but as New Scientist explained, advanced chips are actually a detriment to the unique operating conditions of the Red Planet.
It is largely due to the atmosphere in Mars which offers less protection from harmful radiation and charged particles than the Earth’s atmosphere. A bad burst of radiation can easily wreck the sensitive electronics in a modern processor; and the more complex the chiptech more can go wrong. Due to these conditions , Perseverance uses the PowerPC chip to make the system much more durable.
Technically, it is a RAD750 chip, a special variant that is hardened against radiation which makes it popular for spacecraft In addition to Curiosity and Perseverance, it also powers the Fermi Space Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Kepler telescope.