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Is the x86 Ready for Consumer Appliances?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the is-intel-the-way-to-go dept.

Intel 105

rckymntrider asks: "By now, it's pretty obvious that the movers and shakers of the PC industry are shifting their attention to consumer electronics. Consumers today demand capabilities from their set-top boxes that PCs already deliver (examples: HDTV and gaming). They just don't want a bulky, hot and noisy PC next to their beautiful new plasma TV. Intel, for instance, announced several initiatives for bringing their technology to the media/home automation front, including the establishment of a $200M fund for companies in that arena (small change if you ask me). As a small manufacturer of media-centric devices (I will not name the company and product -- this is not a plug), I have become very frustrated at the availability of hardware for 'consumer' type of applications. ATX? Micro ATX? Too big. Eighty watt CPUs? You're kidding me! Mini ITX? Better but not powerful enough and *way too expensive*. Besides, every new piece of hardware that comes out is practically designed for Windows, and we all know that this is not the operating system that will drive consumer appliances, right? So to sum it up, do you think that the traditional x86 architecture, even with the advent of PCIX and the likes, is suitable for consumer anything? What other platforms do you see on the horizon that could still offer things like High Definition video capability and not double as mini-heaters? Have you ever heard (or envisioned) of a platform designed for powerful but still cost-effective consumer appliances? VIA tried with their EPIA platform but - in my opinion - they failed. Do you think Intel will do it? If not, then who?"

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105 comments

National Semi was doing it (3, Interesting)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 10 years ago | (#8322911)

They sold off their x86 Geode platform to AMD a year or so back.

The Geode is in plenty of consumer devices, if you care to tear them open to take a look.

Re:National Semi was doing it (2, Informative)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 10 years ago | (#8325228)

Yeah, right. Geode has clockspeeds in the 200-300MHz range. Even a VIA C3 at any clockspeed can murder a Geode.

Re:National Semi was doing it (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8325253)

What do you need all that speed for, though?

The real speed that's necessary is in the graphics chip and keeping the board low cost like the Geode allows you to splurge in the design on a more powerful video chip.

Re:National Semi was doing it (2, Informative)

DShard (159067) | more than 10 years ago | (#8325495)

Mainly for transcoding video streams on the fly. a 1 ghz celeron should buy you the ability to transcode one stream to disk while watching the other. The graphics chipset will not do this. I suspect that video transcoders will come out to accelerate this at some point but I know of none at the moment.

Re:National Semi was doing it (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 10 years ago | (#8337683)

Yes, but this is an embedded device. YOu don't transcode videoon the fly with one of those. You do it in hardware with specialized DSPs- the cost is HUGLY cheaper with hardware decoding. If you need a GHZ processor for an embedded device, you're not taking advantage of having a hardware platform.

Re:National Semi was doing it (1)

aminorex (141494) | more than 10 years ago | (#8339673)

Tivo did quite well by doing a first iteration
on an easily accessible platform, and a second
iteration with more sophisticated (expensive)
hardware design.

Re:National Semi was doing it (2, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 10 years ago | (#8341616)

Tivo was in a race to be first to market. Being on the market was more important than the money hit of the moree expensive components. This is a rare situation. Noone addressing this kind of product now is. You'll be competing against entrenched solutions. You need to compete on price, which means an x86 solution is out.

Re:National Semi was doing it (1)

Joe Tennies (564856) | more than 10 years ago | (#8330071)

Anyone that argues that the EPIA platform failed due to its hardware hasn't looked into it much. The EPIA failed due to the worst freakin drivers you've ever had the misfortune of using. Rarely have they had all the features working at one time... actually I think it was NEVER that they've had it all working. Most of the features don't even work at the BIOS level. If they had gotten that right, they'd have done much better.

Just a Question... (3, Insightful)

Ieshan (409693) | more than 10 years ago | (#8322932)

Besides, every new piece of hardware that comes out is practically designed for Windows, and we all know that this is not the operating system that will drive consumer appliances, right?

Well, that's a good question. Windows is sorta big and bulky, but it runs on an awful lot of things. I mean, think about how versatile the code really is, even if it does crash. Take that requirement out of the picture - that the OS has to run on Nteen thousand different hardware configurations, just one, your superblender - and it might not be the worst choice one could make.

But then, I might be completely uninformed. It's just conjecture.

Re:Just a Question... (4, Interesting)

Feztaa (633745) | more than 10 years ago | (#8322973)

I mean, think about how versatile the code really is, even if it does crash. Take that requirement out of the picture - that the OS has to run on Nteen thousand different hardware configurations, just one, your superblender - and it might not be the worst choice one could make.

I dunno, that sounds a lot like the old argument "windows is crashy because it supports so much hardware, MacOS is stable because the hardware is tightly controlled" -- then linux came along and provided much stability, and greater hardware support than windows (more processors than just x86, anyway).

Re:Just a Question... (2, Informative)

TwistedKestrel (550054) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323445)

I wonder what kind of fantasy world you live in where you can say that Linux has greater hardware support than Windows. Every single box in my house has a piece of hardware that has poor or non-existent support in Linux. Yes, I can run Linux on sparc, powerpc, x86, and IA-64, but it doesn't support my wireless card on any of them! And why would supporting more hardware make Windows "crashy"? That's not even remotely logical, unless you argue that Windows has to support hardware that is somehow inherently unstable ... but in that case it's hardly Window's fault, is it?

Re:Just a Question... (2, Insightful)

Feztaa (633745) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323524)

Did I say that windows is inherently crashy because of it's hardware support? No, I said that it was a common argument, put forth by other people.

Remember the early 90's? People who would argue about the relative merits of Windows/Macintosh would say that MacOS is more stable because of Apple's tight control of the hardware, while windows lost stability because it needed to support such a wide range of configurations. It was like common knowledge, or something.

Re:Just a Question... (1)

TwistedKestrel (550054) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323609)

Sorry, I misread you there.

Heh, but if we're talking 90's here, I'm not sure stable was a word that could be applied to MacOS or Windows.

Re:Just a Question... (2, Interesting)

Paul d'Aoust (679461) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324022)

I certainly wouldn't agree that Linux has "greater" hardware support than Windows. But, with the smaller set of devices it supports, it has infinitely better hardware support (for certain pieces of hardware, that is).

This is what I love about Linux hardware support:

  • USB hotplugging -- PnP in Windows 98, and even Windows 2000 is a joke and never worked properly for me. I think Linux is a breeze compared to those. As long as I've compiled the proper kernel module, I plug it in-- zip, there it goes!
  • All the drivers are included in a standard distribution (though this is less of an issue with the advent of Windows XP and all the hardware it supports). If I want to compile in DRI support for my Matrox card, I just compile the (included) kernel module. Same for my network card. No searching around for the manufacturer's discs.

Okay, I've run out of points and it's late. And I would be patently wrong if I said that hardware support in Linux is easier than in Windows too -- I've given up on my poor old scanner and webcam. But I prefer Linux hardware support on the x86.

Re:Just a Question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8325390)

XP doesn't support my old IBM webcam, linux does. I'll give you that.

But stfu about linux having more drivers out of the box you stupid shit. of course winXP supports more hardware then the previous editions, just like the next version will support more. It doesn't matter if you're running linux or windows as far as hardware support, it really comes down to how new is your hardware. And odds are, if your hardware is just hitting the market, that manufacturer has already made Win drivers, as wher e you have to wait for some 30 year old geek in his mom's basement to write the linux drivers.

Re:Just a Question... (1)

bfree (113420) | more than 10 years ago | (#8329207)

The flip side of what you say (and it is summed up in your first sentence) is that Linux is more likely to support older hardware, so which has greater hardware support depends on the age of the hardware in question, or the general answer is, as you said "It doesn't matter if you're running linux or windows as far as hardware support" unless you want to buy new hardware (which will come with Windows pre-installed on hardware selected for its windows drivers or will be a component which will ship with drivers for some of the newest OSs (in rare cases including Linux)).

Re:Just a Question... (2, Insightful)

Grab (126025) | more than 10 years ago | (#8325697)

Yeah, PnP was lousy in Win98. But how good was Linux at PnP 6 years ago? WinXP is just fine on USB, and that's what would be used. I suppose USB might be used on consumer devices to offload recorded TV programs or music files onto a USB stick, maybe.

Re driver inclusion, this is no argument at all. This is a consumer electrical device, remember? Everything included in one box. Any drivers needed would be preloaded.

The main argument for Linux would be efficiency. Consumer electronics needs to be cheap, so if OS ABC needs a 2GHz processor and 512MB RAM, and OS XYZ needs a 500MHz processor and 64MB RAM, the second one will generally win. That's where Linux would score over WinXP.

The other argument for Linux is software availability. There's a zillion programs available for DVD and whatever on WinXP, but they're all commercial, so reusing them as the basis of a PVR or whatever would cost money. If reusing open source code turns out to be cheaper bcos you don't need to pay stacks for licensing, that'll be a strong influence.

Grab.

Re:Just a Question... (1)

LousyPhreak (550591) | more than 10 years ago | (#8341642)

Yeah, PnP was lousy in Win98. But how good was Linux at PnP 6 years ago? WinXP is just fine on USB, and that's what would be used.

sorry to disagree with you but usb pnp support is definately NOT fine! I know of at least 3 cases where installing a scanner is a major problem on win2k (not xp, wont touch that ;) ), if you do anything thats not described in the manual in the exact order (install software, plug in).

once you plug in the scanner BEFORE you installed the software (what you usually do with usb devices) you have a hard time removing any trace oft the scanner before its even possible to install the software correctly, which includes tampering with the registry (nothing a standard user should do).

just my .02

Re:Just a Question... (4, Insightful)

Ieshan (409693) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324367)

Of course it's remotely logical.

Windows gets accused of bugs it's often not responsible for. Because some shoddy developer never realized that people might be running on system configuration X instead of system configuration A, when his application crashes, people often blame Windows hardware support.

I'm not advocating for Windows, I'm just saying it's got decent hardware support and that when writing an application for one specific set of hardware it's made to appear infinately better because the consumer can't screw with the default application environment.

Most of the problems aren't with unstable *hardware*, it's unstable and ugly Windows Malware.

Re:Just a Question... (1)

Orien (720204) | more than 10 years ago | (#8339526)

Windows gets accused of bugs it's often not responsible for.

OK, I'll give you that, but the problem is that it doesn't ever fail gracefully. If a 3rd party program sends a hardware call that causes a problem the whole friggin system stops cold and you have to turn it off! You can't blame Malware for that. It is no ones fault but Microsofts that their system can't handle errors. Thier .NET languages are moving in the right direction with the Try, Catch, control structure but it will be a while before that has enough market penetration to matter. Case in point: A few years ago I bought a GeForce 2 MX 400 video card from a generic maker. I had nothing but problems with it. I had a friend who had the exact same computer as me, but he bought his GeForce from a name brand and he didn't have any trouble at all. My system would crash after about 30 seconds. After I had given up, nVidia released an updated driver for it, and after I installed that, my system never crashed again. So what caused the problem? I'm sure the generic brand had either bad parts or a faulty implementation of the chipset, but Windows simply couldn't handle the problem. I'm amazed how we are supposed to give Microsoft a free pass on this and just accept it. Under linux with that same exact card it would run totally fine with no problems as long as I was doing 2D stuff. If I ran a 3D app X windows would crash and I would be back to the command line, but the OS wouldn't stop! All I had to do was type startx again and I was back on the desktop. Granted X should have more graceful handleing of that too, but I never had to do a cold shut down. On a mac if you have hardware problems like that it will either detect it at boot time and not boot, or it will disable the device so it won't cause problems.

Another example is my CD Burner. It's a Plextor drive, so name brand, but for some reason about 1 out of every 3 that I burned ended up with a Blue Screen (tm) and a cold reboot. There is just no excuse for that. If a CD burning app is terribly written then when the problem happens Windows should just halt the application, not just roll over and quit. The worst thing that should ever happen is you end up with a wasted CD. Once again, under Linux with the same drive, I never once had an application or system crash. I've had a few coasters instead of cd's but it never crashes the whole system.

So to sum up, no Windows doesn't have decent hardware support, but it had more to do with error handling than anything else.

Re:Just a Question... (1)

aminorex (141494) | more than 10 years ago | (#8339603)

Hardware is never "inherently unstable".
It is the combination of hardware and software
which may be stable or unstable. As Marc
Andreeson observed, Windows is just a badly
debugged collection of device drivers. As
such, it is unstable.

Re:Just a Question... (2, Insightful)

cypherz (155664) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323569)

>it does run on an awful lot of things.
Winders doesn't really run on very many platforms does it? I mean there's the versions for the PocketPC, and there's x86 (Is there still an Alpha version?), but what else really? BSD and Linux of course have been ported to everything under the sun.

Re:Just a Question... (2, Interesting)

torpor (458) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324467)

Windows is sorta big and bulky, but it runs on an awful lot of things

WTF. Last I checked, Windows only ran on x86 hardware. That's not really 'an awful lot of things', its just pure x86. Oh sure, it used to run on a few other 'exotic' processors, yeah. The last time I really cared about Windows was when I could run it on a dual-CPU MIPS box, and that was years ago. Ain't so no mo' ...

Linux, on the other hand, you can *DEFINITELY* say that it runs on an awful ... and really ... that list grows daily ... awful lot of things.

Linux has more CPU-dependence than any other OS, in my opinion, before it...

Re:Just a Question... (1)

j-turkey (187775) | more than 10 years ago | (#8331332)

That's not really 'an awful lot of things', its just pure x86

I tried reading it in the same context as you and thought the same thing. He must have meant an awful lot of computers -- not different types of architecture.

Re:Just a Question... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324789)

I mean, think about how versatile the code really is, even if it does crash. Take that requirement out of the picture - that the OS has to run on Nteen thousand different hardware configurations, just one, your superblender - and it might not be the worst choice one could make.

Take a look at Windows CE. It supports very little hardware, is stripped down to bare bones, and it's still an unstable little bugger...

Of course! (2, Insightful)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323018)

They're already here! There's an AMD 486 inside my graphite Apple Airport Base Station : )

Of course I'm joking, but what the poster really wants to know... is *Windows* ready for consumer appliances?

I think not, myself ^^

Your .sig (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8323253)

Your link just bounces to the front page of groklaw, you probably ought to check it...

x86 is just another processor (4, Interesting)

Marillion (33728) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323048)

Well okay, it has market share.

I've written programs on VAX, Dec Alpha, RS6000, PowerPC, PA-RISC, 6502, Sparc, Ultra Sparc, 68000 and every version of x86 since the original PC. Really, don't get hung up about x86. In the grand scheme, it's just another CPU. Unit cost, energy cost in a million unit device will more than out weigh nearly anything that might make you choose x86.

well, inherently, sure, but practically... I dunno (4, Interesting)

Paul d'Aoust (679461) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324076)

"if you build it, he will come." x86 the architecture itself may be ready for the set-top box and the digital streaming stereo thingy, and good software foundations are out there (for appliances, think QNX Neutrino, embedded Linux, PalmOS 6, and so forth), and there are low power chips like Geodes and C3s. (I've even heard that people are experimenting with Transmeta's processors for appliances.) So the architecture is ready and the software is ready. But there aren't a lot of people out there who seem really interested in making good hardware (mainly motherboards) to fit this niche, and I think that's mostly what the author is frustrated with. (Mind you, VIA is going in the right direction with their new nano-ITX board, if only they'd drop their price a whole heap.)

Re:x86 is just another processor (2, Insightful)

sunryder (192810) | more than 10 years ago | (#8325910)

Wrong. The x86 series of processors has long been used in consumer products. Why? To paraphrase Intel Inside (A documentary written on the early days of Intel), the world is overflowing with engineers capable of programming and developing using the x86 platform. Not only that, but there is a proliferation of tools available for developing with x86.

What's the question? (3, Interesting)

Kris_J (10111) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323080)

If you're asking if I believe that we're likely to see an off-the-shelf PC motherboard in every new fridge, then the answer is no. If you're asking if there are entertainment options for small quiet x86-based motherboards, then I point you to Mini-ITX.com [mini-itx.com] (depsite the cost), particularly to "Lippert's Passively Cooled Thunderbird".

If you're asking if modern consumer OSes based on the x86 range are bullet-proof and idiot-proof enough to power a device as easy to use as an answering machine or VCR, then I'd have to say no, these are still hobbyist devices.

Re:What's the question? (1)

geekschmoe (244913) | more than 10 years ago | (#8330875)

I think the argument that the cost of mini-itx boards being too expensive is totally off base. The VIA mini-itx boards have a 1ghz CPU, sweet built in audio, network card, hardware mpeg2 decoder, and a graphics card with TVOUT and they cost around $120-$160 new.

Now, total up the cost of a full size mainboard ($50) + cpu ($50) + graphics card with tvout ($50 and you get about the same price, with a little more performance. In fact, the only plausible argument here, IMHO, would be that the performance is lacking (only comparitively speaking, by the way).

In some ways... (2, Insightful)

Bobdoer (727516) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323100)

It's great. For larger things that you want to run Windows on (refrigerators or other such devices), the size is no issue. For media things, people expect VCR sized devices, and a VCR could easily have a Micro ATX board inside.
As for smaller devices, I for one do not want Windows or *nix to run on my toaster; it does not need a general purpose x86 chip inside, as it just does one thing. I want these little ones to do what they are asked of promptly and easily.
Not to mention, a Widows/*nix enabled popcorn popper would probably have some crashing issues...

MiniITX (2, Interesting)

Hungus (585181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323110)

I don't know what you are trying to do but I have an epia m series 1Ghz windows box that i use for a media PC. Even running XP I have yet to find a codec it can't decode realtime. It is uber responsive when doing software decoding? No but it runs my PVR even while Watching video from disk. The only thing I had to work around was disk access and adding a second and third drive fixed that. 120GB storage drive, 6GB swap drive and 20GB OS/ Software drive and everything runs fine.

Re:MiniITX (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324736)

Even running XP I have yet to find a codec it can't decode realtime.

Any processor can process any codec... The question is, how big can the content be.

My 233MHz system can decode lots of MPEG2 videos, but it can't handle 1080i (HDTV) videos worth a damn. Size matters, a lot.

Re:MiniITX (1)

Hungus (585181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324887)

OK better phrased would be I have not yet found a file that I cannot decode using a software codec or the mobo intergrated systems in real time. HOw's that? and yes evilviper that includes HDTV signals from my Sat eq.

Re:MiniITX (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8336901)

The one reason you can decode HDTV is because of the hardware MPEG2 decoder on the video card, otherwise that system wouldn't have a prayer.

Want a few videos your computer won't be able to handle? Just go here: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/cont ent_provider/film/ContentShowcase.aspx

(The files are '.exe', but are just self-extracting zip files, you can use any unzip program)

Re:MiniITX (2, Informative)

AKnightCowboy (608632) | more than 10 years ago | (#8325136)

My 233MHz system can decode lots of MPEG2 videos, but it can't handle 1080i (HDTV) videos worth a damn. Size matters, a lot.

Not really since the Via EPIA boards have hardware mpeg-2 decoding built in. My MythTV box easily handles 720x480 mpeg2 streams with hardware decoding using around 10%-15% of the 1GHz CPU for mythfrontend.. compare that against 90% CPU utilization for software mpeg2 decoding. It could probably handle HDTV if I cared, but I don't.

I don't know what this fascination is with incredibly high resolution television broadcasts. The ONLY use I've seen for it ever has been providing a blown up picture of Janet Jackson's boob from the Super Bowl half-time. Otherwise the Super Bowl looked just fine on my 5 year old 32" non-HDTV television. The problem with television isn't that it's too grainy, it's that the content sucks. Throwing more pixels at American Idol or The Littlest Groom isn't going to make it a non-sucky show.

Anyway, back to the original guy's question, x86 mini-ITX boards are great for end users wanting to build their own boxes without designing circuit boards and knowing anything about microprocessor design, but custom boards and buying CPUs in millions of units will always be the better option. Whether it be PPC or Strongarm or some Hitachi CPU doesn't really matter when you're custom designing your appliances for bulk purchase.

Re:MiniITX (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8337003)

I don't know what this fascination is with incredibly high resolution television broadcasts.

I can't speak for everyone else, but I am mainly interested simply because it finally gets us away from analog, and to fully digital video... Same reason I like DVDs. That said, I don't expect to be able to recieve HDTV for a LONG time. No TV stations are within 50 miles of me (max range of HDTV) and my cable company is only offering HDTV broadcasts to people willing to pay a big premium (and sacrifice their privacy, and be nickel&dimed to death, and be micromanaged by the cable company) so neither will work.

Otherwise the Super Bowl looked just fine on my 5 year old 32" non-HDTV television.

Football is the worst example to use... It's a very low-definition broadcast. Take a look at some really fast and hectic action in some broadcast movie, and you'll see the problem. If nothing else, standard definition HDTV will make TV DVD quality.

Re:MiniITX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8338502)

Moreover, what HD will hopefully do is move the world to one standard rather than NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. Also, 16:9 should be the norm. Humans don't see the world in 4:3.

Re:MiniITX (1)

Stinking Pig (45860) | more than 10 years ago | (#8328445)

I think you mean _because_ you're running XP it can decode in realtime. There are Linux drivers which enable the hardware decoder, but they're closed-source and buggy. My Epia M Nehemiah is a slow and quiet workstation (though quite good at that) rather than a DVD watcher, because it can't play them without installing Windows. Official drivers: http://www.viaarena.com/?PageID=325 Unofficial drivers: http://www.ivor.it/cle266/

Re:MiniITX (1)

Hungus (585181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8328878)

Umm no I didn't mean _because_ I mean that XP is a bloated Hog ( no offense intended) IF you are planning on working in the embedded market you can write a driver for your board's chipsets.

even divX / Xvid? (1)

edsonmedina (134008) | more than 10 years ago | (#8334247)

at full resolution?

Last year I though about making my own media box (via-based) and so I googled a lot looking for performance issues.

The only place I found (where someone did talk about via processors decoding divx) was somewhere in the newsgroups (cant find the link). And they said it didnt handle it at all.

Please dont tell me it works fine... Not now that i have an Xbox.

Re:even divX / Xvid? (1)

Hungus (585181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8334696)

sorry, but it certainly seems to work just fine 3ivx also

SiS 550 (2, Interesting)

mnmn (145599) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323132)

The SiS550 is an x86 SoC like the geode, elan. Theyre getting faster and smaller and more ready for embedded markets. 256MB flashes are cheap, and can carry full distros of WinCE, QNX Linux, BSD or anything you want.

Theyre still a far cry from ARM cores though, and I'd only use x86 where win32 binary compatibility is absolutely required. Things can and do get complex on x86 SoCs, and ARM cores will give you that 'simple and efficient' feel nothing else will.

Re:SiS 550 (2, Interesting)

torpor (458) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324523)

I also use ARM cores and have a lot of x86 experience, and I have to say here that the ARM wins hands-down for 'fun' factor, ease-of-use, and sheer bang for the buck.

On the other hand, its much more fun to debug x86 code "out of the box" ... with the ARM, you have to do a bit more work setting up a remote debugging environment, or depend on your board vendor for all the tools, which can be a serious drag at times.

My only ARM wish is that I had a beefy ARM-based system to use as my *main* machine in developing binaries for ARM siblings ... but alas, its not like I can go to my local vanilla-PC shop and get an ARM-based mobo, stick it in my Shuttle case and call it a day.

So, the cross-compiler territory really is where the trenches must be dug ...

I fail to see... (4, Informative)

Stigmata669 (517894) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323140)

how MiniItx boxes are too underpowered and expensive. The 1ghz VIA C3 runs $170ish (not cheap i'll admit), but it boasts the onboard features consistent with most top of the line motherboards and a chip that draws something like 11 Watts max. (Firewire, USB2.0, digital sound out, 5.1 support, tv out etc)

As far as not being able to HDTV you're dead wrong, I've got an HDTV decoder in it which runs flawlessly (want a 40gb HD version of the superbowl? mail me a harddrive). Gaming is a no go for modern FPS, but even without using one of the 2 pci slots (riser card) the onboard video will run Half Life rather well, and most RTS (save WC3) and of course anything MAME can throw at it... Who wants to play an FPS on a TV but doesn't want a console anyway?

In short, if you think VIA has failed with their MiniItx form boards and the C3, justify that conclusion. All your complaints are either incorrect or baseless. Divx DVDs and HDTV all run beautifully on the VIA. As for gaming: the most powerful console on the market runs at less that 1 ghz and boasts a far from cutting edge graphics card so it's not lacking in power, just in development support. PC game companies aren't interested in supporting anything but bleeding edge tech, and in all likelihood people who want games on their TV will be looking to the real players in the market: Sony Nintendo and Microsoft.

Re:I fail to see... (1)

ikeleib (125180) | more than 10 years ago | (#8326248)

It fails in the $170ish part.

Re:I fail to see... (2, Insightful)

sysadmn (29788) | more than 10 years ago | (#8326294)

If the 1 GB Via board + CPU is ~$170 (retail), you cannot put it into a product that costs less than ~$170, can you? There are scores of consumer electronic devices in the under $200/range. The next big thing is figuring out which ones can be mostly implemented in software, on commodity (or at least high-volume) hardware. What about a $99 DVD player that also plays internet radio? Or a cable set top box that can print photos from your digital camera?

Old EPIA not 'all that', IMO (1)

MarcQuadra (129430) | more than 10 years ago | (#8336330)

I know the Nehemiah series chips are much better than the Ezra variant, but I had trouble with latency on my Ezra-based EPIA-800.

I intended to use it as a 'multi console emulator' emulating game boy, NES, Genesis, SNES, and some VERY old DOS games. I kept noticing 'lag' when using the joystick and Mario 3. I would hit the jump button and the delay was much more than the console had accustomed me to. DOS games were bad too, but I attribute that to BOCHS more than the CPU.

Are you running Windows on your EPIA? I don't think there are adequate free (beer or speech) drivers for the hardware video decoder built into the M-series EPIA mobos, so they're definitely out of the question for a lot of us.

Also, when I did hook my EPIA up to a 'real' monitor I noticed it was WAY blurrier than when I hook up my Mac or ATI-carded PC. It was unacceptable in my opinion. The sound was pretty shitty too, very 'buzzy' and bad response on the lows and highs compared to my desktop systems.

X86 As a shim (5, Funny)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323143)

"Is the X86 ready for consumer appliances?"

I'd say so, I have an old 486 chip supporting the short foot on my dryer. It has very low power requirements in this capacity and it does a fantastic job of keeping the dryer from wobbling across the basement floor.

The downside is I have to use plenty of Bounce sheets to keep from ESDing the chip.

But WHY? (4, Informative)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323145)

The only reason that x86 has endured on the desktop is that it was rapidly adopted by the masses in the early 80s, and being intelligent companies, intel and IBM built upon the platform while maintaining FULL BACKWARDS COMPATIBILITY

This doesn't make it the best for most uses. It just makes it the most practical for a general purpose computer. But not necessarily an embedded device.

In the 90s, new, better architectures were introduced, but x86 endured mostly because of the large installed user base. PowerPC, Alpha, and SPARC, if given enough funding during development, would have easily toasted any of intel's x86 offerings. DEC had 64-bit chips before intel had pentium.

Many new platforms designed specifically for embedded devices such as MIPS and ARM (only ones which come to mind) have developed over the last few years. Backward compatibilty is not an issue here.

Look at TiVo. They used a 66mhz PowerPC in their 1st generation boxes because they ran fast and efficently, and without active cooling, and it was open and cheap (PPC is a VERY open platform). There is no way that an x86 at this speed could have performed the complex tasks TiVo needed it to.

Re:But WHY? (2, Insightful)

optikSmoke (264261) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323264)

Thank the heavenly motha-fscking GOD someone said this! Clearly, there is ALMOST NO POINT in putting x86 in a consumer device if it isn't the cheapest solution, as it is certainly not the best. If you're putting linux on the thing, it isn't even a requisite, so I don't really see why you would consider it unless you can find a small and cheap x86 setup. Since the poster has indicated that they can't, I think they've pretty well self-answered that part of their own Ask Slashdot question. NEAT.

Re:But WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8323380)

Do you know of any Mini-ITX-like boards with ARM/MIPS/PPC chips on them?

Re:But WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8323651)

Basically the x86 bus architecture is well understood and well implemented, not to mention that any embedded OS you like supports the x86 out of the box.

For a tinkerer's project, it doesn't make much sense, but for a company trying to get their product out the door in a hurry, the x86 provides all the hardware support they need so that they can focus on building the custom applications instead of porting the operating system to the specialized hardware.

Re:But WHY? (2, Insightful)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324009)

It depends on how much the device is supposed to cost and how many you're going to make.

There's still a lot of embedded systems designed today with 8 bit processors that cost a few dollars in large quantities. For low-cost, high-volume applications, development costs are often less significant then the cost of parts.

Re:But WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8325264)

In longlife embedded systems, you are absolutely right.

But in high turnover devices like STBs, VideoPhones, and Thin Clients, the volume barely kicks in before the design is replaced by the next big thing.

Sticking with x86 at the beginning allows the easiest and quickest concept to production path than most other platforms.

Re:But WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8323369)

Tell me about it. I keep waiting for the AmigaOne Lite which seems like it would make a kick-ass light duty server or media box.

- Micro ITX form factor (170mmx170mm)
- Gigabit and 10/100 ethernet on board
- 133MHz UDMA RAID IDE controller
- USB 2.0 on board
- IEEE 1394 (FireWire) on board
- 2x AGP graphics on board with PAL/NTSC TV out
- AC97 sound on board
- 1 x PCI33MHz slot (horizontal, via supplied riser card)
- Cardbus slot for flash card support (diskless booting, applications, games slot etc)
- Usual legacy PS/2, serial, parallel ports
- Rumored 433MHz G3 up to a 1.3GHz G4

Since many of the G3's could be passively cooled, I think you could end up with a powerful and quiet machine.

Re:But WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8330484)

Among its features is also data corruption during DMA.

Re:But WHY? (1)

F.O.Dobbs (17317) | more than 10 years ago | (#8329061)

Also note that because the first generation Tivo was on Linux, the 2nd generation moved to MIPS with no problems.

F.O.Dobbs

x86 arch was designed to be "different" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8331325)

I remember reading about 20 years ago, the cpu architect who designed the x86 was essentially said that he designed the wierd x86 cpu memory access simply for the fact that intel had to get certain patents on this new cpu design that made it different that other cpu's..(this from a company that gave us the 8080 cpu design where everything (including I/O operations) went throught the accumulator register). Then, intel screwed up the 286 (both intel and MS worked on that design)...and so on, util here we have most of the cpu's here on earth with win and intel inside....and we also have lots of applications (for PC and web and games and multimedia) based on x86 and we wonder why there is such a market push to use x86 in appliences??

Re:But WHY? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 10 years ago | (#8345798)

Indeed, the PPC platform, IMO is better suited to the embedded market than x86.

IBM's 750 range (the G3) draws a mere 6 watts at 1Ghz at present - more grunt than most embedded devices will ever need really, and at a much lower power consumption than x86.

The G3 in my laptop, while having a fan, never needs to turn it on, no matter how hard I work it.

In Soviet Russia (-1, Offtopic)

ArmorFiend (151674) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323181)

In soviet russia, x86 Consumer Appliances are READY FOR YOU!

NOPE! - Doesn't boot fast enough. (4, Interesting)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323242)

It's the primary thing that keeps x86 out of the "appliance" market. No one wants to wait for their device - be it refrigerator, TV, etc. - to boot before being able to use it fully.

Before you argue that many machines don't need to boot, please keep in mind that MANY do, and can't stay on 24-7. Hell, even the ones that can should shutdown or hibernate in order to keep peoples' electric bills sane.

Anyway, x86 needs to defeat these hurdles to compete in the embedded arena:

a) boot a kernel that is bigger than 1M (like ARM can) - why? because if you want to boot a device FAST, you use an uncompressed kernel; and uncompressed kernels are BIG ... and ...

b) get over the POST time - POST'ing on most motherboards (yes, even VIA EPIAs), takes 10 seconds or more. I know firsthand because our app was initially built on one[an EPIA-M]. Asking a user to wait for 10 seconds for the Hardware to POST, PLUS another 10-20 for the OS to boot is highly unacceptable. Mark another win for ARM here...

Anyway, the answer to your question is ARM. It's Intel's existing answer. Have a look at an XScale CPU solution young grasshopper.

Most newer BIOS... (4, Interesting)

Ayanami Rei (621112) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324427)

can post in under 2 seconds if not in hardware-change-check mode.

Besides, if you were making an appliance, I'm sure you could write your own BIOS (take LinuxBIOS, for example). That'd make it boot instantly into any size kernel image you care.

Re:Most newer BIOS... (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 10 years ago | (#8335832)

You made my point.

"Most newer BIOS" can POST quickly. I agree. However, does anyone want an AthlonXP powering their fridge? The heat that the processor generates would melt everything in it! There is a very defined niche that embedded systems fill.

It's not always a good idea to stuff a Square into a Circular hole.

I have a VT6801 chipset MB (1)

Ayanami Rei (621112) | more than 10 years ago | (#8337075)

with a Celeron 700 in it.
The system boots into networked linux in seconds from a stock BIOS and the system consumes less than 45W idle with a normal, 7200RPM hard disk spun up.
Pretty good, huh?
It's essentially my firewall/router/WAP/webserver.

And you could easily do a lot better in the power department by using flash storage and lower the clock speed and chip voltage, or by going to a newer CPU (coppermine).

I'm, I get your point, but it's a bad example.

What needs to be emphasized is the difference between a 12W draw in well engineered case with x86, and the 2W draw from a typical ARM based WAP. It won't make or break a sale, but it's a consideration, especially since higher power handling necessitates bulkier hardware construction and maybe passive heatsinks (heavy, thus expensive in production)

Re:NOPE! - Doesn't boot fast enough. (1)

bluGill (862) | more than 10 years ago | (#8327286)

Part of the Windows XP program requires the windows startup screen to appear in 6 seconds. Or at least they proposed that one, didn't Microsoft force that through?

I agree POST can be a problem. My system takes over a minute to finish POST (yes I have timed it).

Re:NOPE! - Doesn't boot fast enough. (1)

Laur (673497) | more than 10 years ago | (#8328744)

I have a x86 appliance that boots fast, it's called an XBox. IIRC the stripped down Windows 2K kernel fits in 256K of onboard firmware and also contains the opening animation (so it LOOKS like it is instantly booting). Full boot (from pushing the button to seeing the dashboard) takes probably 10 seconds. If Microsoft can make a x86 appliance, ANYONE can.

(BTW, my XBox also runs Linux great, and is a terrific emualtion platform.)

Re:NOPE! - Doesn't boot fast enough. (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 10 years ago | (#8335781)

If what you're saying is true, Linux on the XBox must boot in under 6 seconds!

I highly doubt it. I'm not saying you are lying, just that you're obviously missing some facts somewhere.

Re:NOPE! - Doesn't boot fast enough. (1)

Laur (673497) | more than 10 years ago | (#8336391)

If what you're saying is true, Linux on the XBox must boot in under 6 seconds! I highly doubt it. I'm not saying you are lying, just that you're obviously missing some facts somewhere.

What are you talking about? I was clearly speaking of the boot-up times of the native XBox OS (a stripped down Win2K kernel). Hence "Full boot (from pushing the button to seeing the dashboard) takes probably 10 seconds." The dashboard is the UI of the XBox if you weren't aware. At the end of my comment I was merely mentioning that my XBox also runs Linux. This is not related to the native booting, which is why I prefaced it with "BTW" and put it in parentheses.

Clearing up misconceptions (5, Interesting)

PurpleFloyd (149812) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323403)

It seems a lot of people here are assuming that the x86 as an embedded platform somehow still requires an OS like Windows or Linux. It doesn't. Instead, it would probably use an embedded OS like QNX [qnx.com] or VxWorks [windriver.com] .

The issue here is whether the x86 platform's issues, like excessive heat and power consumption and the requirement for a separate memory controller, outweigh its advantages, like the large variety of hardware already available to interface to everything under the sun and the fact that it's a well-understood architecture.

Now that's out of the way, here's my two cents: the x86 architecture, or at least the implementations currently available, simply isn't cut out for most embedded applications. While x86's limitations have been addressed with lots of extensions (MMX, SSE, 3dNow, etc.), those end up adding complexity and drawing more power than a chip designed without those limitations. Also, the x86's pitiful lack of registers compared to architectures like the PowerPC (another choice for embedded applications that require a good deal of power) means that almost any complex operations mean lots of going in and out of cache, or, worse, main memory. While x86 is acceptable in an environment with a 300W+ power supply and user tolerance for a good deal of noise, it won't cut it in your VCR. x86 might see some use in applications which require rapid development and lots of power, but in most cases there is already a good solution available.

Clear some up, and make some, you mean ... (1)

torpor (458) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324474)

It seems a lot of people here are assuming that the x86 as an embedded platform somehow still requires an OS like Windows or Linux.

Just so that its perfectly clear, Linux is both a desktop Operating System, AND an embedded operating system. Linux scales better than a whole lot of systems, QNX and VxWorks included ...

Re:Clearing up misconceptions (2, Interesting)

evilviper (135110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324776)

It seems a lot of people here are assuming that the x86 as an embedded platform somehow still requires an OS like Windows or Linux. It doesn't.

I would have to say, the main reason companies are interested in using x86 is because it will run the common OSes, thereby allowing them to draw on that large pool of pre-existing resources. The price of x86 hardware really isn't that much less expensive than other hardware.

the x86 architecture, or at least the implementations currently available, simply isn't cut out for most embedded applications. While x86's limitations have been addressed with lots of extensions (MMX, SSE, 3dNow, etc.), those end up adding complexity and drawing more power than a chip designed without those limitations.

I believe x86 is up to the challenge (although we aren't talking about those $200 P.O.S. PCs the public buys).

Heat and power usage is certainly an issue, but there are simple solutions. If you don't need 3GHz of processing power, just use a slower processor, and it can be running very, very cool, and using up much less power.

Another alternative (for those that do need serious number-crunching power) is to simply use mobile Intel processors... My notebook uses about 30watts at peak, and normal is about 15w. Heat output is very low as well, and this is on a 1.2GHz Intel processor.

Also, the x86's pitiful lack of registers compared to architectures like the PowerPC

How is that even an issue? Yes, less registers reduces performance, but nobody here is complaining about the performance of x86 being a problem, so it's a complete non-issue. On the other hand, AMD64 processors seem to be the perfect solution for these two problems, as it has more cache, registers, and has lower thermal rating than just about anything else.

While x86 is acceptable in an environment with a 300W+ power supply and user tolerance for a good deal of noise, it won't cut it in your VCR.

I could get the requirements for a Mobile PIII-based system down to 20watts (more for short spikes, but I digress). At that, a very small, slow, and quiet fan would be more than enough to cool the processors at full power. With desktop processors, the requirements couldn't be that low, but near to it.

A VCR isn't a good example at all. A better one might be a PVR, or DVD-Recorder.

If your developing a set top box (2, Interesting)

T-Ranger (10520) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323641)

You sholdnt be looking at what commercial available, mass produced consumer grade, desigined for PCs MoBo's are out there.

Get on the phone and call up the manufactures. Get something custom desigined, or at least get pointed at the non-consumer grade web page. If your doing any kind of volume at all, it wont be that expensive. Its not quite as easy as building a computer from componets in your basement, but PC technology is standardized components. Hell, if they have an autorouting board designer they could likely so something from scratch in an afternoon.

Dialogic Telephone boards use x86 (3, Interesting)

sr180 (700526) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323715)

Dialogic Telephony E1/T1 cards have used 386 chips as embedded chips (mainly for encoding/decoding) for quite a while now. The architecture is obviously good enough for the job.

...consumer appliances (2, Interesting)

cypherz (155664) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323738)

It all depends on how much it has to do and how much it has to cost. I really don't know why the EPIA platform "failed" as you say, I don't think the EPIA platform is meant to be a straight-up appliance. if it was the m1000 boards wouldn't have VGA, they would have NTSC (or PAL) outputs only.
It seems the way to implement x86 appliances would be to use low power procs like the VIA and outboard processors to take the load off the little CPU. A VIA M1000 board with the built in MPEG decoder comes close. With the addition of a WiFI card you have the capabilities mentioned in the above Intel link.
While the EPIA is quiet and powerful enough (in the right configuration) they don't have a very good NTSC out (IMHO). An EPIA box with a Hauppauge PVR-350 card in it with MythTV or something like it can be a fine little appliance.
I have one of the Hauppauge cards an old 950 Mhz Athlon box here in my office right now to play music and watch (and record) TV. Very quiet too, once I added a low-noise power supply. (SuSE 9.0, old Athlon, WinTV PVR-250, Matrox G200 video (for the NTSC out) If I could afford another PVR-250 or 350, it would easily handle multiple video streams!

Is This A Troll? (2, Insightful)

swdunlop (103066) | more than 10 years ago | (#8323903)

The x86's have been used in embedded apps for quite some time now. I distinctly remember discovering an 80186 in a microwave I disassembled, and many industrial applications use them, due to their well known characteristics.

All these comments about POST and other silliness come from the PC architecture, not the CPU itself. Amazing how many people are willing to comment when they really have no clue.

This A Pathetic Troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8335264)

80186 doesn't exist you clown, and x86 represents 80386 and better.

You should have stuck your head inside and turned it on.

Re:This A Pathetic Troll (1)

swdunlop (103066) | more than 10 years ago | (#8336248)

You Don't Say.." [wikipedia.org]

Sit down, shut up, and let the engineers talk, junior.

Too many questions. (-1)

nic barajas (750051) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324301)

I hardly know what he's trying to get across in this one. Asks ten questions, half of which don't seem to relate back to the subject at hand. It makes for a confusing discussion, at best.

Hell No! (4, Informative)

sheapshearer (746106) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324341)

The x86 architecture, well, is just plain silly by today's standards...

A RISC CPU and a few DSPs could perform a lot of set-top applications, with tremendmous savings in both power usage and perhaps area (size).

High Performance doesn't not mean +100W consumption. If you don't need 4-way out-of-order execution (which is a really, really, really complicated thing to implement), complicated branch prediction, large multi-level caches, etc, then your power consumption will be ** A LOT ** less.

The fact is that many signal processing applications, don't require large amounts of memory, and they are highly parallelizable. Their algorithmns tend to be much more predictable.

Also, all processing & interrupt delays are known precisely in DSPs (this is a requirement in realtime stuff). This is also why caches, etc are not desirable, since their performance is not constant.

Simple DSPs can outperform desktop PCs for a great many applications, using 1/100th the power, cost, etc....

Mainstream (2, Insightful)

Tune (17738) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324418)

First of all, IMHO it's not about the x86 architecture per se, but rather the concept of a (mini) PC. PCs appear to be attractive in any area simply because most of the hardware already exists, and there's a huge and relatively mature codebase available. In this light, embedding PCs is like making it do what you want and then rip-out anything you're not using.

Now what happens when you do not start out with a standard PC, but one with special hardware? For example: an x86 processor WITHOUT PCI or a PCI mainboard with an ARM or PowerPC cpu. You loose a major part of the benefits: your favorite PC development environmet no longer works out of the box, you may need a new compiler, new libraries... (This is where portability of OSS is a major benefit).

In any case, programming a PC is a different game as is programming embedded. With embedded you will worry less about (backward) compatibility and more about simplicity, performance/watt and - last but not least - support/documentation/tools available for the choosen hardware.

--
Real computer scientists despise the idea of actual hardware. Hardware has limitations, software doesn't. It's a real shame that Turing machines are so poor at I/O.

There is only one question to ask: HOW CHEAP? (4, Interesting)

torpor (458) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324454)

x86 is only one of about 60 different processors that can be used in consumer electronic devices.

The only question that needs to be asked about whether or not x86 can/should/will be used in consumer electronics devices is the per-unit price.

If you can't get an x86-based chip for integration into your embedded system for, say, $10 - $15, then its not going to happen. The competition in this sector is too fierce. Other, nice, lower power, fun-to-use (RISC, even...), easy-to-integrate processors are out there, which will definitely give the x86 a run for the money.

The only thing x86 has going for it in this space is the development realm - yeah, its great to cross-compile for your target processor, but in the end, its also fun to just run the same binary you just built and run on your PC.

x86 has to get cheaper. Show me an x86-based chip that has tons of SOC-style integrated peripherals, and I'll show you a chip that is just too expensive to compete with the other cpu's we're already using to control stuff, just fine, in consumer electronics-land ...

Yes and it's Pentium 4-M in the PC104 form factors (1)

Ayanami Rei (621112) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324459)




Re:Yes and it's Pentium 4-M in the PC104 form fact (1)

iamcadaver (104579) | more than 10 years ago | (#8326424)

Mod parent up.

I'll put forth AMP's PC104 Transmeta Crusoe. Fanless 1ghz fun complete with dual display and embedded mpeg2 acceleration. 5v and 2amp max.

I'm working with/on one of these now, if you have any questions.

Model: Tiny886ULP [ampltd.com] Better buy in bulk, not cheap.

Have you thought about going with dual or more? (4, Interesting)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 10 years ago | (#8324661)

The hardware platform doesn't matter much but there has long been a fascination in the computer world with running everything from one CPU. This has left the cpu as the bottleneck and a very hot and expensive bottleneck too.

However there are some minor signs this may be changing. Most of this is rumors but I think the X-box2 and the new gameboy are both going have more then 1 cpu. Plenty of phones already have more then 1 cpu to spread the load of the increasing demands of the software on them. All the chipmakers seem to be working on putting more then one CPU on a single core.

So if phone companies, console makers and chip companies think it is the way of the future why not for consumer appliances?

Think about it, exactly how much cpu power is needed to decode a video stream when a cpu can be dedicated to that task and nothing else? You don't need to go with a SMP like setup. You can simply have one simple processor wich does all the interface stuff. One wich decodes the video. Another perhaps wich decodes the sound. All geared and dedicated to their specific task. Costly? Well to a certain point this is already how PC's work. GPU for visuals. Soundcard for ehm sound.

Of course such a board will be far more expensive to design then a simple board you pick up of the shelf. With consumer electronics like this still extremely unproven the cost may be too high. Until then simply accept the bigger size and other bad points of PC architecture. Have you ever seen the first generation tv's? Video records? Mobile Phones? Etc Etc? They all had one thing in common. THEY WERE HUGE. Hell the first pocket transistor radio's were so big that the sellers had special shirts with enlarged pockets. (got it from an interview with sony people years ago I am sure someone else can better tell this anecdote).

Laptop (2, Interesting)

enigmatichmachine (214829) | more than 10 years ago | (#8325158)

If my laptop can play back video, than you can use x86 as a consumer platform, go to whoever supplies the boards to the major laptop manufacturers, and buy how ever many you need, stick a moble chip in, mold a plastic case and cut the headers off of any port you don't want. for that matter, if your just making a demo, close the laptop, buy a PS2 stand thingie, and stick it upright and there you go, i mean, if the Playstation can sit next to the tv, so could my laptop. the trick it standing it on its side, makes it look sexier.

Power Consumption (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 10 years ago | (#8326901)

From what I can tell there has been a big trend to move to lower powered devices, while at the same time look for more processing. The x86 is a poor player in this field, since compared to other chips on the market it consumes a lot of power. The two big chips seem to the PowerPC and the ARM chip. Both are RISC chips. My perspective is mainly based from looking at PDAs and the direction that game consoles are going.

If you think to the contary, then please tell me.

I don't see why not... (1)

cr0sh (43134) | more than 10 years ago | (#8327738)

I have and help set up a group for hacking an old set top box made by Acer. Inside was a nearly bog standard PC motherboard. It had all the regular parts of a motherboard. There was one ISA slot (used for a modem or NIC). There was a header for a COM port (you had to add a particular Maxim SMT part to get it to work - most people used it for a mouse). It came with its own wireless keyboard, and used a AMD 586/133 for the CPU. IIRC, it had 8 meg of RAM. It also had a smart-card reader. All packaged in a slick, small TIVO-like case. It ran QNX originally, but we got it booting DOS, Win9x, and Linux in the end (oh, there was also a header inside for an IDE drive - one could mount either a small laptop drive inside, or a PCMCIA/flash drive). The original purpose of this box was to act like a Web-TV type system, also it could read data in the VBI to give it links/commands to go to a special server that could display web pages based on the show, or semi-transparent overlays, etc. There was also a remote, now that I think about it. Basically, the only thing that survives to this day of it is the software - it is used by many cable companies (I know Cox uses it with their digital settop boxes).

Slashdot article... (2, Interesting)

herrvinny (698679) | more than 10 years ago | (#8327923)

Wasn't there a slashdot article about someone using a tiny Intel CPU to build a whole computer on a chip only 5-6 by 1-2 inches big? Wouldn't that be useful? I visited the site when the slashdot article went up, but now I can't find it. Anyone have a link?

Re:Slashdot article... (2, Informative)

CyberVenom (697959) | more than 10 years ago | (#8329406)

I actually own one of those. ;-) It is a complete pentium-class computer in a 2x3x3/4 package. It uses an AMD Elan processor, and IBM Microdrive, and a few other components (memory chips, cmos battery, etc.)
I bought it a few years ago from Tiqit Computers [tiqit.com] (a company founded by some people from Stanford). It was their now discontinued Matchbox PC model. I believe Slashdot had an article about some guys at Stanford using one as a webserver back then.
A friend of mine actually installed Windows 98 on it... (It came with RedHat, but he wanted to impress people, and who is impressed by Linux running on small systems anymore?)

Like designing a gasoline-powered rocket... (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 10 years ago | (#8328100)

The reason why you'd want an x86 is to leverage all the existing code which runs on it--practically none of which is relevant to embedded devices.

It's not as if you were going to program your embedded application in Visual Basic, or as Lotus 1-2-3 macros, or something.

Designing a consumer appliance with an x86 processor in it makes about as much sense as designing a rocket ship that runs off 97-octane gasoline, just because gasoline is more familiar, more available, safer, and more competitive in pricing than nitric acid and hydrazine. All true, but that doesn't make gasoline an appropriate rocket fuel.

View from the inside (2, Insightful)

MountainLogic (92466) | more than 10 years ago | (#8331413)

As an engineer who has been on the inside of creating mass consumer electronics let me tell you the decision I made were very different from what you might expect. When you order anything in quantity one million everything is off the shelf. Or to put it another way the NRE (Non Recoverable Engineering) costs per unit for doing something from scratch is so little there is no reason not to do so. In fact, I've yet to see a major chip that was not worth doing a turn on to drop the unused parts and to reduce the cost (reduces area, reduced I/O pads, increased yield and reduced testing). If you talk to the project leads at the major chip houses they do not expect major electronic companies to use what's in their catalogs. They view those as resumes to show what they can do and why you should give them a call. Only under funded startups and niche plays use catalog products. The only reason to use off the shielf is time to market and in consumer electronics if it isn't as cheap as it can be its not ready for market.

Open up a TV or a VCR. do you see a standard bus in there. No! And why? Because everything in there is designed from scratch to play nice with each other. Standard products carry extra capabilities that a fixed large volume product does not need. You'll know that STBs and DVRs have hit the big time when you see a single board with custon chips, the code in ROM and no I/O besides required cable/AV in and AV out.

If it were me, I'd buy a small CPU like an ARM7 and do all my heavy lifting like transcoding in hardware.

Advansys (2, Informative)

aminorex (141494) | more than 10 years ago | (#8335316)

Advansys is selling Ezra-800MHz SOM (system on module) in ETX form factor (3.7 x 4.5 ") for twice EPIA prices, at this [advantech.com] link; while their EVA SOC (system on chip) only reports 80186 performance levels, and have embedded RTOS, probably TRON [tron.org] so it's not what you're looking for.

Re:Advansys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8341021)

After the beos and linux driver fiasco I would NEVER buy another advansys product.

can u say OMAP (2, Interesting)

sydres (656690) | more than 10 years ago | (#8336093)

TI's Omap processor; low cost, high performance(some bench it to be as fast as 400 mhz xscale)ARM core+dsp+controls for various subsystems such as usb, serial, sd/mmc, etc.
got a 126mhz model in a palm zire 21 runs for
12 hours continuusly on a single charge.
and it has a native linux port as well as various codecs that use the dsp for acceleration 2d/3d. also unlike the XSCALE this chip has builtin coprocessor and 192k L1/L2 cache as well as a 1.5mb cache all done on 90nm process

Why bother? (2, Informative)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 10 years ago | (#8337690)

Why bother with x86 for an embedded hardware system? its going to be much more expensive to build a unit than doing it theright way with an embedded processor and DSP's and ASICs for the heavy lifting. I could see it if you're in a race to prototype or hit a market first, because you can leverage a lot of code. But otherwise you're going to do alot of work trying to make x86 fit a niche it isn't made for, when you can do it quicker and cheaper with other solutions.

Its not the CPU, its the CPU+OS (3, Insightful)

AlecC (512609) | more than 10 years ago | (#8338593)

Do you really want to embed windows in a consumer device? Probably not - I certainly wouldn't. Since you are posting on/., you probably have some affection for Linux. But there are plenty of much lighter wight systems around, like QNX, vxWorks, which are also much more suitable for ebedded work. Windows is very, vety heavy. Yes, you can buy a 3GHZ x86 to run Windows - but a 1GHX Risc processor optimised for embedded work wil outperform it by two or three things and undercut its power consumption by 20 times.

Once you have ditched Windows, all the other OSes run on multiple platforms - Arm, PPC, MIPS, Coldfire, Hitachi H series... Linux is certainly available on Arm, PPC. Most of the others are available on more architectures.

Which means that if you chose one of these OSes and (usually) C++, you can move platforms with a recompile. (Not quite true, but near enough for overnment work).

I have experience of the Arm family, and they go like lightning when programmed right - much faster, MHz for MHz, than you would expect compared to Windows. And the power consumption is small to minuscule. And there are some very interesting new CPUs coming along obviously targeted as set-top boxes (sorry, NDA doesn't permit details and Google doesn't know yet). So what you need is for the set-top manufacuters to agree on a common OS like the mobile phome manufacturers have done (how about the same one, as a suggestion) and use the best of the new generation embedded processors.

One word... (1)

wolrahnaes (632574) | more than 10 years ago | (#8341597)

Xbox.

I'll leave it to you to decide if this example is good for x86 or not.

(IMO, Xbox is a great example of the x86 chip succeeding in the CE world.)

As already mentioned, the older Airport Base Station has a 486 in it.

Even with these successes, it really depends on the device. x86 is a general purpose architecture, designed to do everything good enough. There are other chips that are much better designed for specific applications (example being PPC, which while still being a general purpose chip, smokes x86 clock for clock in multimedia applications).

Smaller devices seem to be leaning towards ARM based processsors recently. (Newer versions of PocketPC, PalmOS 5+, Zaurus) I'm assuming these chips have much lower power consumption or something.
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