The anatomy of a system
Computers come in any number of sizes and shapes, with capabilities ranging from simple singing birthday cards to supercomputers capable of simulating multiple nuclear detonations simultaneously. All systems are defined by their total processing power, their program size, their interfaces and their fingerprint.
McNeill-Uxia computer power assessment scale
|Rank||Typical system||Total processing power||Program size||Number of programs||Cost|
|0||Embedded system||1||1||1||< 50€|
|2||Personal Computer||16||4||4||~ 500€|
|3||Small corporate server||256||8||32||~ 50k€|
|4||Large corporate server||65 536||16||4096||~ 1M€|
|5||Supercomputer||4 294 967 296||32||134 217 728||~ 50M€|
The total processing power is simple to understand: this is the maximum processing power the system is capable of giving to all of its programs combined. The sum of processing power needed by the programs run by a system can not ever exceed the system’s total processing power.
The program size describes how much processing power the system can provide to a single program. All but the most simple modern systems employ a multi-core architechture which means that while multiple programs can be run side by side there is a limit to the amount of processing power that can be dedicated to each program.
A system can run any number of programs up to its number of programs. Each program can use processing power up to the program size.
A system can host any number of rooms, although empty rooms are truncated by most modern DataStreet™ viewer programs.
Interfaces define the interactions a system is capable of having with the physical world. For example the targeting computer of a smartgun operates the gun through an Interface. Usually the basic interfaces that let a computer to be operated at all (mouse, keyboard, screens in an old fashioned computer, VR goggles or cybernetic links in a modern computer) are bundled up with the computer’s operating system forming the most important interface of the system: the Operating System. Each interface of the system is located in a room, where programs are able to interact with it.
The system also has a unique fingerprint based on all of the above. A firewall can use this fingerprint to to ban a user from a system by having the system refuse all interactions with the banned hardware. A list of fingerprints banned this way is usually distributed to other computers of the corporation, or worse to every owner of a particular firewall program. Because buying a new computer every time a firewall bans you gets expensive, most netrunners become adept at altering their system’s fingerprints or have programs that alter the visible fingerprint of their system. It is not uncommon for serious runners to have multiple systems set up so they can instantly switch to a new system once the previous one gets banned.
The visible fingerprint of the system can be altered programatically by emulating another system. This is done by running emulate functions: each emulate function provides the emulated system one quarter of a point of processing power. See Programs for more details. The emulated system can have a program size and number of programs up to that of the physical system emulating it, although smarter firewalls will instantly ban any system deemed too “exotic”. The advantages of this approach are that you can instantly alter the emulated system, rendering you effectively immune to having your hardware banned, and should anything bad happen to your emulated system you just end the program and run a new emulation. It might even fool greenhorn digital investigators into thinking your rig consists of a very large number of linked toasters. The downside is that you get to use only a fraction of the total processing power of your system.
Just as it is with programs, altering a system’s fingerprint is not terribly difficult. A few spare components, about thirty minutes of work and a TD 15 TECH+Electronics skill roll usually does the trick. Most runners buy more than one computer so they quickly accumulate enough miscellaneous odds and ends for this. If you have just one computer 200€ at the supermarket should get you everything you need for this.