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Single-Chip x86 Chipsets Around the Corner?

Zonk posted more than 5 years ago | from the bet-you-can't-eat-just-one dept.

Handhelds 170

An anonymous reader writes "Kontron, a giant among industrial single-board computer vendors, yesterday revealed a credit-card sized board apparently based on a single-chip x86 chipset that clocks to 1.5GHz and supports a gig of RAM. It targets portable devices — not x86's usual forte. Kontron isn't saying whether the board uses a Via or an Intel chip(set) — both vendors reportedly have single-chip chipsets in the works, part of their respective missions to drive 'x86 everywhere.'"

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FIRST TROUT! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785344)

I am a fish, and I don't run on x86.

Re:FIRST TROUT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785528)

Do you need a bicycle?

drive it everywhere? (1)

Vaginal_flatulence (1153821) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785360)

you can take it and drive it up your ass.

I hope not. (1)

celardore (844933) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785910)

I just spend a lot of money on a new motherboard and processor (and every other component to build a new pc). I know it's obsolete the moment you buy it, but cut me some slack.

Re:I hope not. (3, Interesting)

Sillygates (967271) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786074)

It's already obsolete(in terms of size), and this is not news :(
pico itx is already on the maket, the mainboard is about the same size (1.5ghz [like that means anything], upto 1gb ram):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pico-ITX [wikipedia.org]

and the transmeta crusoe processor (which implemented x86 in software) has been out for almost a decade now. The sony picturebook has a credit card sized motherboard along the left side of it's case:
http://images.google.com/images?svnum=10&um=1&q=sony+picturebook&btnG=Search+Images [google.com]

Re:I hope not. (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786666)

This is 55mm x 84mm. Pico-ITX is 100 mm x 72mm. Thus, this form factor is a little over half the size of Pico-ITX.

Pico is also obsolete (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786878)

Surely you meant to bring up the mobile-ITX [linuxdevices.com] form factor, which is half the size ;)

Great idea (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785362)

If they can find a market for it. Its going to be hard to unseat the arm.

"generic" embedded devices come to mind. ( but you have the pc104 standard there already..

Re:Great idea (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785436)

If they can find a market for it. Its going to be hard to unseat the arm.

It doesn't have to "unseat" anyone. I think it would be great if it makes enough of a market for itself sufficient to support continued development. It's possible to make a profitable product even if it's not #1 in the market segment.

I thought AMD had a product like this though.

Re:Great idea (3, Interesting)

Calmiche (531074) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785452)

Yah, but current ARM processors max out at about 700-900 mhz.

If they can really pull off a good, stable, low powered chipset in the 1.5 ghz range.. I would be very interested.

I am still waiting for a revival of the handheld computers. UMPC isn't going anywhere, Palm is getting out of most hardware.

HP is FINALLY getting back into the handheld market, but it's WAY late for it's projections and dosen't seem to be doing any advertising at all for it's new line.

Re:Great idea (3, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785650)

Yah, but current ARM processors max out at about 700-900 mhz.

If they can really pull off a good, stable, low powered chipset in the 1.5 ghz range.. I would be very interested.
Right. Because more gigahertz means faster.
 

Re:Great idea (4, Insightful)

bombshelter13 (786671) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785890)

Yes. That's ~exactly and exclusively~ what more (giga)hertz means: it's faster.

Now, what it doesn't say anything about is whether it's higher performance.

Re:Great idea (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21786142)

It doesn't mean its faster either: I can design a 3THz CPU that takes 3T cicles per instruction.

Re:Great idea (0)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786732)

It also means more power drain, more heat, etc..

ARM runs cool and on little power, which is why it's so popular. x86 is such a cludgefest with backward compatibility etc. it needs significantly more power to do the same work.

Re:Great idea (2, Funny)

canuck57 (662392) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786958)

Right. Because more gigahertz means faster.

That is a fallacy big time.

One game is to just clock up the frequency and make you think you have more. Put a divider in the middle and I could give you a 20GHz CPU. It is about throughput. How much can I get don in n cycles. For this, benchmarks are where it is at. Pick a benchmark(s) that is similar to the anticipated loads and work from there.

Re:Great idea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21787214)

Wow didn't you catch the sarcasm?

Re:Great idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21787388)

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigahertz [wikipedia.org]

In computing, most central processing units (CPU) are labeled in terms of their clock speed expressed in megahertz or gigahertz

more gigahertz, more speed = faster

Re:Great idea (5, Interesting)

spirit of reason (989882) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785660)

I am still waiting for a revival of the handheld computers

You mean something like the Pandora [openpandora.org] ?

Also, more information here [bluwiki.org] .

While it's technically meant more for a gamer market like the GP2X, the arm + linux + wifi + usb host + decent resolution screen might make it a more general purpose machine.

Re:Great idea (1)

Sardaukar86 (850333) | more than 6 years ago | (#21787040)

> Yah, but current ARM processors max out at about 700-900 mhz.
>
> If they can really pull off a good, stable, low powered chipset in the 1.5 ghz range.. I would be
> very interested.

Yeah man, those ARM people must be on crack, vending a CPU in '07 that can barely match the 900Mhz Celeron in my mum's ~2002 PC!

oh wait..

Crap idea (3, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786070)

Single chip x86: Geode etc are a crap idea. The idea has been done to death and has never caught on. There's no real benefit in them. In the past there was some appeal in x86 because of good, cheap compilers etc. Now there's gcc for everything this advantage has long since disappeared.

ARM, and at a push MIPS, PowerPC and SH4 own this space. x86 needs to offer something huge to get back in the game.

Re:Crap idea (3, Insightful)

cnettel (836611) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786844)

GCC targets everything and still is more heavily optimized for x86. Despite that, it's FAR from the best x86 compiler around, performance-wise. The pool of people with a "can read, cannot write it good without great pain" grasp of x86 assembler is also damn huge.

Other x86-specific assumptions inherent in code (like atomic writes of different sizes, context switches limited to instruction boundaries) means that a platform porting of seemingly good multithreaded code can cause very subtle bugs. It's even possible to write Java code that is almost impossible to turn into a race condition on x86, but where you might do it on other platforms. You might argue that it's rare or that the code is "bad" and incorrect in the first place, but it's still there.

Re:Great idea (1)

crhylove (205956) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786642)

Ha. When I can run all my windoze virtual machines and such on a hand held, I won't see the point of ARM vs. x86. There is way too gigantic of a code base for x86, anywhere it goes, it will dominate, quickly and easily.

Re:Great idea (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786708)

Arm is still lower power. That is pretty important.

But i do agree there is a large x86 codebase out there. ( but then again, there also is a decent sized codebase for ARM and other embedded processors )

x86 cores? (2, Insightful)

heroine (1220) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785372)

It would be huge if x86 or x86_64 was available as a core like MIPS & ARM. Life would be much easier for the set top boxes.

Re:x86 cores? (1)

The_Mystic_For_Real (766020) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785472)

Not sure if this is a good thing, an architecture monoculture (as far as consumer devices go) will decrease innovation. We need different architectures to be a breeding ground for new ideas, and to make sure that everyone in the technology field is aware of differences so that they will be more adaptable if a totally new architecture came around. Also I have seen Theo de Raadt talk about poor security on x86, something about proper separation of processes.

Re:x86 cores? (3, Insightful)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785964)

Just like a monoculture of GSM has hurt the innovation of mobile phones in Europe.

God bless the USA where competition between GSM, CDMA, & what ever sprint uses has increased innovation such that the USA always has the best cellphones out of any civilized country.

Not that I don't think in

And Theo's quote can be found here: http://kerneltrap.org/OpenBSD/Virtualization_Security [kerneltrap.org]

"x86 virtualization is about basically placing another nearly full kernel, full of new bugs, on top of a nasty x86 architecture which barely has correct page protection. Then running your operating system on the other side of this brand new pile of shit. You are absolutely deluded, if not stupid, if you think that a worldwide collection of software engineers who can't write operating systems or applications without security holes, can then turn around and suddenly write virtualization layers without security holes."

The future is here (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785400)

I'm just aghast at the advances in PC tech in my lifetime. I've always been aware of Moore's Law and all that, but sometimes taking a step back is necessary for perspective.

Merry Christmas, and thank God for all you engineers that bless us with this stuff.

Special Christmas Request (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785404)

Drive it directly into the bunker of this WAR CRIMINAL [whitehouse.org] .

Meanwhile, Cheney is trying to burn all of the incriminating evidence [google.com] .

Again, thanks for your patRIOTism.

Cheers,
K. Trout

why is this a troll? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785682)

looks pretty accurate to me..

Who's in charge of code names? (5, Funny)

KevinKnSC (744603) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785406)

From the article:

Codenamed "John," the processor will integrate CPU, northbridge, and southbridge...

That was the best code name they could come up with? Seriously?

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (2, Insightful)

User 956 (568564) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785506)

"Codenamed "John," the processor will integrate CPU, northbridge, and southbridge..."

That was the best code name they could come up with? Seriously?


Given what they probably had to do in the area of patent licensing, calling it a "John" is pretty polite, if you ask me.

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785534)

Thomas Crapper and John Harington.

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785674)

You may sneer, but it's only one step removed from blackjack and hookers, which is quite popular around here if what I read is to be believed.

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (2, Interesting)

gendusoa (28147) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785770)

Via's code names are almost always biblical:

* Luke
* Esther
* Nehemiah

and I'm sure the others I can't remember off the top of my head are biblical names too.

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785918)

Eden

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (4, Funny)

brit74 (831798) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786984)

Via's code names are almost always biblical:

* Luke
* Esther
* Nehemiah


I'm still looking forward to the Satan and Whore of Babylon chipsets.

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (1)

Mex (191941) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786596)

I see you couldn't do much better than "KevinKnSC" either ;)

Re:Who's in charge of code names? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21786618)

Should I watch for x86 chipsets on johnornot.com [johnornot.com] soon now?

Power consumption please? (2, Insightful)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785426)

It targets portable devices -- not x86's usual forte

Yeah, that's not x86's usual forte because x86s are more power thirsty than say MIPS or ARM, which is why it would be interesting if the article could mention how much this new thing is supposed to drain.

Re:Power consumption please? (4, Informative)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785992)

This isn't true because of some "law" that says x86 must be power hungry, it's true because nobody's really sat down and done an x86 processor for the embedded market, or at least not donw well. Check out Silverthorne, it has power use comparable to MIPS/ARM.

How about a better summary first? (3, Informative)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786420)

Yeah, because there haven't been 386, 486, and other systems on a chip and Via doesn't have a 1-watt processor anywhere to be found. This is not the first 1-chip chipset for all of the x86 line. That's bullshit. An SoC is even more integrated than just having the chipset as one chip. Somebody never read the old Computer Shopper before it slimmed down. SoC solutions for x86-compatible systems have been around more than a decade. The summary is bad, because TFA does not say this is a first for the x86 line.

You're right that even low-powered x86 chips like the C7 and the Geode line are generally no match for ARM and XScale. MIPS I'm not as familiar with for power usage purposes. It'd be nice if that question was answered, but I'm afraid it'd be summarized incorrectly too.

2005 article on anx86 SoC [windowsfordevices.com]
another 2005 article about a different x86 SoC [linuxelectrons.com]
2004 product page for an already obsolete x86 SoC [st.com]
Linux Devices list of x86 SoC solutions, some dated to 2000 [linuxdevices.com]
2000 Register article about the year since Cyrix released an x86 SoC [theregister.co.uk]
Chipslist page showing availability of AMD processor with 80188 features plus DMA, watchdog timer, serial ports, and I/O pins in 1995 [chiplist.com]
article on the National Semiconductor Geode (the owners of that line before AMD bought it) thin client system-on-chip [encyclopedia.com]

And the best proof of all: an archive of a 1996 story on the AMD Elan,which featured a 386, ISA bus, serial UART, memory controller, power management, and PLL hardware ON ONE CHIP [findarticles.com]

A whole lot of shaking going on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785430)

"both vendors reportedly have single-chip chipsets in the works, part of their respective missions to drive 'x86 everywhere.'"

It's not in vibrators yet.

But is it worth switching from ARM? (1)

NickCatal (865805) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785468)

But with so many people already developing for ARM, why would you want to spend the time and money switching to x86... it isn't like people want XP/Vista on their mobile phone (if at all) and there are already ARM releases of a bunch of stuff...

Although I am not a developer, so I am anxious to hear what people in this thread say regarding any technical advantage having x86 may have over say ARM.

Re:But is it worth switching from ARM? (1)

ch0knuti (994541) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786116)

Although I am not a developer, so I am anxious to hear what people in this thread say regarding any technical advantage having x86 may have over say ARM.
Neithe ram I but wouldn't it be much easier to provide the same applications which people use on their desktop if the pocket pc is running the same OS? It would require at most a tweaking of the UI.

Re:But is it worth switching from ARM? (1)

nerdyH (702091) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786348)

Software, software, software! X86 enjoys by far the most readily available open source software, well-tested and debugged due to zillions of x86 users. Software is increasingly key in device development, as consumer expectations about device features and functionality rise. ARM will always have its place for truly mobile devices like phones. But for a web tablet you carry around the house, and plunk into a charging cradle now and then, wouldn't you rather have the same web browser exactly that's on your desktop?

Re:But is it worth switching from ARM? (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786758)

X86 enjoys by far the most readily available open source software

If it's opensource, recompile it FFS.

Things like OpenWrt have been doing this for years.. architecture doesn't matter to well written code. Even my own humble efforts run on all sorts of arcane platforms.

Re:But is it worth switching from ARM? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786926)

Even my own humble efforts run on all sorts of arcane platforms.
...provided that you are using languages for there is already a compiler port...

Re:But is it worth switching from ARM? (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786828)

wouldn't you rather have the same web browser exactly that's on your desktop?

I do. Safari. And Opera.

Meanwhile, open source (tm) firefox eats ram like CowboyNeal at a chinese buffet. Not my cup of tea.

Re:But is it worth switching from ARM? (1)

skelly33 (891182) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786364)

Working with the likes of XP/XPE on a device like this provides a path of migration into mobile computing for companies with well established product lines who want to enter the mobile computing market or want to leverage small footprint computing, but can't re-engineer the application to do it. If you're not a programmer, you have to imagine a scenario where a company has millions to tens of millions of development effort invested into a software application and couldn't possibly hope for a "do-over" to switch platforms. Yes, XP/XPE does very much make sense commercially for mobile computing.

'x86 everywhere.' (3, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785490)

What did we do to you to deserve this?

Re:'x86 everywhere.' (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786908)

You infidel dog! That's the punishment for so many people byuing Windows! See? Collective guilt, just get over it. *grin* ;-)

(...on the other hand, if it's x86, SBCL might run on it, even OpenMCL in the future - compact, yet nice and quite fast. No need for C? Sure would be great!)

It's VIA (5, Informative)

RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785492)

If the chip is codenamed John, as the article claims, it's a VIA chipset. VIA uses biblical names for their CPU codenames.

Previous VIA CPU codenames:

Samuel
Esther
Nehemiah
Ezra

Note also that VIA combined a C3 CPU and a northbridge into a single package - it was codenamed "Luke".

Re:It's VIA (0, Redundant)

Zwack (27039) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785808)

I guess you didn't read the fine article... They state that it looks like a single chipset system and then state that VIA have been working on such a chipset codenmaed John and Intel have been working on a different one codenamed something else.

Z.

What would it take? (4, Funny)

Zaphod-AVA (471116) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785878)

What would a chip have to include for VIA to codename it Jesus?

Re:What would it take? (5, Funny)

Kagenin (19124) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785912)

A built-in WINE environment.

Re:What would it take? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21786992)

Nah, Just water will do, Jesus can do the rest...

Everything (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21786050)

What would a chip have to include for VIA to codename it Jesus?

Literally.... *EVERYTHING*.

Including saving your (and my) miserable soul from going to hell.

Re:What would it take? (1)

Evil Attraction (150413) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786224)

What would a chip have to include for VIA to codename it God or Satan?

Re:What would it take? (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786776)

What would a chip have to include for VIA to codename it God or Satan?

A chip called God would have to be omnoprescent and omniscient.

So it would be freaking *huge* but have shitloads of memory.

Re:What would it take? (5, Funny)

makapuf (412290) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786256)

Flash memory (or some storage). Remember JESUS SAVES !

Re:What would it take? (1)

SunnyDaze (1120055) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786268)

I would just feel sorry for the next chipset to come out claiming to be bigger the Jesus!

Re:What would it take? (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786900)

A BIOS recovery mechanism which, if the BIOS is somehow gutted, allows one to fully recover the system by leaving it off overnight in a sealed closet.

Re:It's VIA (2, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786002)

If the chip is codenamed John, as the article claims, it's a VIA chipset.
Not to bruise your karma, but I suspect people are going to get the wrong idea from your post.

Here are the two quotes FTFA:
1. "It is based on an unnamed "highly integrated chipset" from an unnamed silicon vendor."

2. "Via has long planned to bring out a single-chip part in its CoreFusion line. Codenamed "John," the processor will integrate CPU, northbridge, and southbridge into a single x86-compatible SoC (system-on-chip)."

AFAIK, Via & Kontron have nothing to do with each other.
TFA is not stating that Kontron is using Via's chipset.
TFA later goes on to say that Via may eventually be a competitor to Kontron.

Re:It's VIA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21786946)

New! Announcing VIA's newest and most powerful chipset, the Sodom. A design optimized specifically for the most demanding porn aficionado. Simply nestle it any tight form-factor box and it literally blows away other units. Try one today!

Available wherever fine porn accelerated motherboards are sold. VIA, where the customer used to come first.

Sounds like a bad idea to me (3, Insightful)

Vthornheart (745224) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785590)

"'x86 everywhere.'"
Can I pass on that? The x86 architecture may be POPULAR, but it's inefficient, forced into backwards compliance with horribly outdated standards, and has been horseshoed for the past 20 years into a full architecture chip when the initial design was never meant to become like this.
If a realm of computing has x86 as the non-dominant chipset, I think that's a blessing and it should remain that way. You can't do anything about the PC market at this point, for example... but I think the motto should be "x86 only where it already exists" rather than "x86 everywhere."

Re:Sounds like a bad idea to me (3, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785940)

The x86 architecture may be POPULAR, but it's inefficient, forced into backwards compliance with horribly outdated standards, and has been horseshoed for the past 20 years into a full architecture chip

The "x86 architecture" doesn't exist. x86 merely describes an ISA exported by the microcode of whatever underlying architecture a given chip really uses. An ARM chip could look like an x86 chip. A PPC chip could look like an x86 chip. The Core2 or Athlon64 could just as well export a traditional Motorola ISA as the chosen x86 - and with modern chips, they could do so with a microcode patch at boot time, you wouldn't even need to buy a new chip!

Thus, any holy wars regarding its efficiencies or inefficiencies must remain firmly rooted in the ease of actually using it for coding. I do so, and find it for the most part adequate. It traditionally lacked enough GP registers, but even that doesn't hold true these days (at least for AMD's version - Not 100% sure about the Core line). And for that matter, very few coders even bother with ASM anymore... Even firmware development (which I also do) uses C almost exclusively nowadays.


Not to say I want to see it everywhere, but we can't really hold the flaws of ancient hardware with no current connection to the ISA against it.

Re:Sounds like a bad idea to me (2, Informative)

Windom Earle (1200137) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786464)

Well, this discussion appears to be about an 'x86 Chipset,' not an x86 processor. Which means more than just the processor. So there is an 'x86 architecture.' If there wasn't, this topic would be meaningless.

Re:Sounds like a bad idea to me (2, Informative)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786744)

Well, this discussion appears to be about an 'x86 Chipset,' not an x86 processor. Which means more than just the processor. So there is an 'x86 architecture.' If there wasn't, this topic would be meaningless.

My earlier post may have sounded more caustic than I intended it, but I meant what I wrote literally.

A "x86 chipset" just describes the supporting chips (usually memory, bus, and I/O) that let the CPU-which-happens-to-speak-x86 do its thing in a way familiar to programmers and users of non-embedded PC hardware. Although the PC world has a somewhat standardized set of these, by no means do all x86-speaking CPUs require similar enough supporting hardware as to justify the overly broad generalization.

Simple example - The earliest x86 chips manually controlled DRAM refresh. Then that moved out into the chip-set (a large collection of single-purpose chips each doing their own thing - including a memory controller as one of them). Then a handful of those merged into a single-chip solution that handled all the critical non-CPU functionality (but had basically nothing we would think of as actual features by itself). Then as more and more I/O tasks also merged into that one chip, it eventually split into the Northbridge (bus and memory) and Southbridge (I/O). And now, we have CPUs with integrated memory controllers once again (though they have dedicated hardware for it rather than needing to tie up actual processing cycles for the job). Which of those would you call "the" x86 chipset?


Perhaps you could more accurately say that this provides for a single-chip PC architecture, since most of what the chipset does has little to no relevance to what language the CPU speaks.

Re:Sounds like a bad idea to me (1)

Sardaukar86 (850333) | more than 6 years ago | (#21787088)

> Not to say I want to see it everywhere, but we can't really hold the flaws of ancient hardware
> with no current connection to the ISA against it.

Surely though if we are actually *using* the architecture in some capacity we must then be subject to its limitations, the shiny hardware we run this stuff on today notwithstanding?

Re:Sounds like a bad idea to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21787238)

The "x86 architecture" doesn't exist. x86 merely describes an ISA exported by the microcode of whatever underlying architecture a given chip really uses.
The ISA is not an independent entity to the underlying microprocessor. The microprocessor's architecture is designed to efficiently implement an ISA. The ISA is also designed to be fast on a given microprocessor design. The engineering suggest a higher degree of specialization between ISA and implementation in the microprocessor. The theory suggests they can emulate each other (Turing equivalent). But to emulate another ISA as a practical sense, you have to devote chip space to a dedicated translation unit.

The pedagogical example is the MIPS instruction set on a classic scalar five stage pipeline (but now superscalar and superpipelined on modern implementations). The instructions are designed to allow a higher degree of pipelining. The ARM ISA specifies an inline barrel shifter because the transistor cost for this piece of hardware is cheap. That ISA is extensively designed around this single piece.

If my memory serves me, Transmeta produced processors that emulated x86 through translation. And modern processors which implement the x86 ISA break each instruction into micro operations that are easier to pipeline, e.g. Netburst with 20 stages!

There are certainly other microprocessors that do hardware emulation but they use more than just microcode reprogramming. It would be wasteful to design for this level of generality.

Re:Sounds like a bad idea to me (1)

LoudMusic (199347) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786894)

and has been horseshoed for the past 20 years into a full architecture chip when the initial design was never meant to become like this
Welcome to business driving technology, rather than technology driving business.

Re:Sounds like a bad idea to me (2, Interesting)

truesaer (135079) | more than 6 years ago | (#21787228)

x86 is actually quite efficient and flexible. Variable length instruction sets have a lot of benefits, especially in embedded applications where memory is at a premium. You'll get a lot more data into your cache and memory with x86 code as opposed to a fixed length instruction set. Most of the disadvantages (complex decoders, etc) are borne by the chip designer. And for embedded there's no reason they need to support legacy stuff.


This common belief that x86 is the devil is simply absurd. It sounds good but it doesn't really match with reality. As long as the chip designers are willing to make them, they're a great choice for software and system developers.

next generation laptops (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785644)

extra lightweight, extra thin, extra long battery life, i can see the benefits of this extra bigtime, looking forward to a laptop with this in it...

PCMCIA sized, interesting (1)

ThreeGigs (239452) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785732)

Every time I read about a shrinkage of form factors, I wonder how many you could fit in the volume of a standard 42u rack, ala blade servers.

Now I'm wondering if this form factor isn't aimed at being able to add more processor power via a Cardbus slot, as the dimensions are within a millimeter of a PCMCIA card. Or perhaps aimed at mating directly to a SSD device. Fully equipped PC the size of a deck of cards, just add input and output.

Can you imagine (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785778)

Can you imagine shoving a Beowulf Cluster of these up your ass?

VIA user since 2005 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21785816)

VIA products rule. Been running silent low power PCs since the Nehemia came out. They were expensive to begin with, compared to the big power hungry CPUs, cost per GHz was about 5 times the amount. After supporting them for years the cost gap has reduced so they are only about twice as expensive as big chips. But the power ratio, 7Watts vs 300Watts means I can save that in electricity over the lifetime of the board! You kinda get used to the lower CPU speed and choose efficient applications, so I run a fluxbox desktop and carefully choose my applications. That means many mobile devices will soon be more powerful than my desktop! Just one word of advice, don't buy from mini-itx.com, they are thieves who take your money and don't ship the goods. There are plenty of other reliable suppliers.

x86 programming (4, Interesting)

neapolitan (1100101) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785828)

It's a shame that the x86 is such a complex instruction set; this means that the age of the handheld computer as an easy programming platform for hacking is over.

When I was programming for Apple //e, I had a good majority of the opcodes for the 6502 chip memorized, laying out assembly by hand. I later learned 68k assembly, and again, it is very "understandable" to a person just sitting down in front of the computer looking at an assembly printout. In the early 90's, pretty much x86 dominated and I stopped doing pretty much all assembly programming.

In 1996 I was delighted when the palm pilot came out, using a 68328 (68k instruction set). It was like a renaissance, again programming in assembly and hacking other things for fun. Now, once again, it appears this will be dead!

As a question to the slashdot community, is it possible to program "naked" x86 assembler? I have never really put in the time to learn it, but it just seems exceedingly complex and tedious to program for this chip without use of a higher level crutch (C compiler...) I am sad that once again everything I know is becoming outdated... :)

Re:x86 programming (1)

Zwack (27039) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785896)

Sure it is... I for one have written some 8086 assembler code by hand... But what's the point. Given the improvements in computer performance you don't usually have to write code that is so tight you can't squeeze any extra cycles out or remove any instructions for it to run at a reasonable speed. And if people went back to using code written as well as some of the older stuff these days they'd realise that they don't need to upgrade their computers every few weeks and the hardware market would collapse.

Z.

Re:x86 programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21786398)

what's the point? its l333T to have a 8088 webserver stand up to a slashdotting, that's the point. or similar accomplishments.

Oh, did you mean, "what's the practical use of asm?" ... umm... i don't understand that question. yeah that's it. gotta run now.

Art is its own reason.

Re:x86 programming (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785956)

NASM

Re:x86 programming (1)

dosius (230542) | more than 5 years ago | (#21785978)

nasm ftw?

I don't do 8086 asm much though, most of my code is C, though I write to 65C02 asm once in awhile.

-uso.

Re:x86 programming (1)

Windom Earle (1200137) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786540)

If you have the bare processor to work with, and can implement it however you want, i.e. you don't need to map it into some arcane IBM-PC clone thing, the x86 processor has some neat features for small-model coding. You can, for example, use the segmenting features as an advantage. I am talking about the 'classic' x86 model, i.e. the 8086 and the 80286. And Assembly Language, of course. Segmentation is pretty cool when you use it that way. However, most programmers are terrified of environments where they don't have system calls and libraries to rely on.

But if you use the processor the way IBM kludged it for the IBM-PC many of these features are lost, let alone if you write mere applications for an 'OS' that (usually badly) uses the 'x86 processor. Features in the '286 and '386 were ignored for decades by people running DOS and the 'doze. Early on there were some (a few) cool Unix boxes that used the '286 and protected mode 'correctly' as the Intel engineers apparently intended, not as the 'fast 8088' that most people ever used it as.

Re:x86 programming (1)

Windom Earle (1200137) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786584)

Most people never write ASM code for 'big' processors. The little 8-bitters (6502, Z-80, 6809/11) are little ponds by comparison to the 'lakes' that bigger processors (68000, 8086, etc.) represent. In the 'classic' period the home computers used the little 8-bit parts, so most people who started hacking ASM as kids played with these machines. Processors with pipelines, etc. are more complicated. You just don't hear kids hearkening back to the time when they hacked ASM on their PCs the way they did on Commies and Apples. By the time the PC was affordable enough for kid-hackers to get them to play around on, there were Turbo Pascal and similar beasts to code with.

Re:x86 programming (4, Funny)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786140)

but it just seems exceedingly complex and tedious to program for this chip without use of a higher level crutch (C compiler...) I am sad that once again everything I know is becoming outdated... :)

You sure are outdated. Today's "higher level crutch" is Python.

Re:x86 programming (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786840)

If you'd said Java or c# then you might have a case (although even that's got limitations that mean it doesn't work for a lot of cases). Python? It's a freaking scripting language.

You choose the language to suit the task. Design the app, pick the best language (and you'd be amazed how many projects C/C++ are the only choices.. eg. Java simply doesn't exist on some of the platforms I work on). Unfortunately it's not fashionable to do that any more and people start with the language then design the app around it.. which is why there's so much crap out there.

Re:x86 programming (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 6 years ago | (#21787126)

It's a freaking scripting language.

i.e., crutch.

Whoooosh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21787140)

That's the sound of the joke flying over your head.

Re:x86 programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21786998)

Forth Assisted Hand Assembly [c2.com] . It's not quite naked but it is pretty revealing. :-P

More info for x86 in embedded dev. at arstechnica (5, Informative)

IYagami (136831) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786014)

You can find articles about the use of x86 in embedded devices at arstechnica, from Jon Stokes:

Return of the Son of Pentium in 2008? Intel's new ultramobile processors [arstechnica.com]

Intel's low-cost "Diamondville" CPU to power OLPC/Eee PC mobile category [arstechnica.com]

And a very interesting article why processor makers want to extend their architecture to other realms: Beyond the BlackBerry crowd: life in a post-32nm world [arstechnica.com]

Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#21786054)

Yes, but does it run Linux?

But seriously. Most awesome mobile phone evar.

where to find cheap small LCD (1)

josepha48 (13953) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786156)

I've seen via's pico itx and their smaller 'in design board', and they are pretty cool. When the price comes down a little it will probably start to displace arm. My real question is where do you find small cheap or inexpensive displays to go with these little boards? Something on the order of a 4-5 inch diagonal screen.

A small board is great, but a 4-5 inch screen would make a killer do it yourself pda / mini-computer.

Re:where to find cheap small LCD (1)

Fishchip (1203964) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786270)

I dunno, how much do those in-car DVD players go for now, with the little screen? Couple hundred? I have no kids and no minivan, so I don't keep up on these things much.

Why no x86 microcontrollers? (1)

tkw954 (709413) | more than 5 years ago | (#21786296)

Is there a technical reason why there have never really been x86 microcontrollers? RISC chips are readily available at reasonable speeds for $1-$20. Even ignoring A/D functionality, why can't I buy a one-chip floating point x86 number-cruncher for my embedded applications that can match my laptop?

Re:Why no x86 microcontrollers? (1)

nerdyH (702091) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786526)

There are several, but they top out at 333MHz 486 or so. Vortex, DMP Electronics, and other make 'em

Re:Why no x86 microcontrollers? (2, Informative)

Windom Earle (1200137) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786616)

I think you're asking about the 80186 and the 80188, which have had a long history in embedded use. They're not particularly popular anymore. They'd match your laptop if you still use a Toshiba 1000SE, of course.

Similar parallel offerings from Intel were the 80196 line.

x86 should be like slavery in the 1820 (4, Insightful)

kiyoshilionz (977589) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786432)

x86 has its market, the personal computer, but its legacy architecture should not be allowed to spread anywhere it has not already tainted. Remember Why Do We Use x86 CPUs? [slashdot.org] I thought x86 is something we want to eventually move away from (Remember VAX?), not something we want to spread.

Didnt Cyrix try this a decade ago? (2, Interesting)

DJRikki (646184) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786612)

With the MediaGX (I think) range? Integrate everything you can think of into the die including sounds and graphics.

Mobile Phone. (1)

crhylove (205956) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786680)

So when can I get my small x86 based phone that when plugged into a USB charger/dock instantly hooks up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse? Laptops are weak compared to this model. Imagine if all over the world was a USB charging docking station where you could use your phone/computer as god intended, with full size mouse, keys, monitor, and while we're at it 5.1 speakers, too. It would ideally run Ubuntu and have a small easy to use touch screen interface for video chat, cell phone, ipod and video/audio recording functionality. Have an SD slot, and be cheap and virtually disposable. Any venture capitalists out there want to help me kill the iPhone, Windows Mobile, and all phones by Sony, Samsung, et al?

Hit me up.

There goes the neighborhood... (1)

giminy (94188) | more than 6 years ago | (#21786994)

So let's take a von Neumann architecture, which has inherent security problems due to it using the same address space for data and code, and use it to replace the usual DSP (which is superior, in at least the security sense).

Ah, nothing like ubiquitous insecurity...
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