The $40 x86 Arduino

Every week the Hackaday tip line receives an email about a new dev board. The current trend is towards ARM devices, and only once have we seen an x86-based device. Today that count went up to two. It’s called the 86Duino and stuffs an old Pentium II-class machine capable of running DOS, Windows, and Linux into the space of an Arduino,

The 86Duino Zero features, of course, an x86 Vortex86EX processor running at 300 MHz. This board also features 128 MB of RAM, 8MB of Flash and the usual compliment of Arduino pins in a Leonardo-compatible layout. Also on the SoC is a PCIE bus, Ethernet, a USB 2.0 host, and an SD card. There’s a lot of stuff on this board for such a small size.

Compared to the gigahertz-fast ARM boards around, the 86Duino isn’t really that fast, but that’s not the point. There’s obviously a market for extremely tiny x86 boards out there as evidenced by the Intel Galileo, and this board is $30 cheaper than the Intel offering.

There’s no video out on this board, so someone will have to figure out how to attach a graphics card to the PCIE connector before we build a miniaturized old school DOS gaming rig. Still it’s a very neat piece of hardware. If you need to have it now, here’s a vendor.

Thanks [sohaib] for sending this one in.

88 thoughts on “The $40 x86 Arduino

  1. George, much as the connector appears device-side, I have the impression that’s PCIE host, so not easily. Repurposing a legacy PCI slot would be a good way to do that.

    I’m looking forward to seeing someone hook up some cool toys. How about Fibre Channel? World smallest (and worst) SAN–NAS gateway anyone?

  2. Stick a 4 port usb host chip and Ethernet on it… and you’ll have liftoff.

    However, I’ll stick with the 4 core 1.8 GHz + GPU powered HDMI + 1 GB Ram at the same price.

    China’s ARM knockoff chips have pounded x86’s in the low end for years.
    Microsoft just provided extra Win8 brand lube.

      1. A lot of them do. Some of the android tv stick products have pci-express, gigabit ethernet etc but it’s not always available on the board… but some sticks have those things broken out to test pads so they have a lot of hack potential.

        1. but there is one huge problem that can seen throughout the entire android hardware market doing this. I have yet to see anyone use standalone gigabit, they offload it onto the usb ports making it useless and drag the entire thing down. Now i’m not saying 100% of them do this but the vast majority of them do, heck even look at the ouya, the tegra soc they used even has the ability to offload it onto a network card so that it wont get bogged down with heavy Ethernet traffic. So what did they do, they designed the Ethernet around the usb instead of doing it correctly. OK it probably saved them like .07 cents per unit but at a huge loss for the consumer wanting to run/use it as a media center device.

          1. >Now i’m not saying 100% of them do this but the vast majority of them do,

            Can you name the devices that do to back up your “majority” claim. WiFi is generally via USB because those cheap WiFi modules are available and it apparently makes the certification easier to use a module.. but ethernet is usually used if the SoC supports it. An external PHY isn’t that much more work or more expensive than wiring up a usb ethernet chipset so if the Ouya did that it’s probably for some other reason than cost saving.

          2. well I will put it this way, I have yet to find one that does not use the USB as a host for ethernet when looking for an android based entertainment center device. So yes if in my looking and it has been a lot i’ve not found one that doesn’t use the usb host for ethernet then i would say most do.

          3. The issue with the comment depth here sucks..

            You haven’t looked hard enough I would say. The wandboard runs Android and the gigabit ethernet comes straight out of the SoC into an atheros PHY.

          4. example devices being the raspberry pi, the odroid line, most of the RK3188 based devices like the minix neo X7 iirc, not sure about this one but the beaglebone too? It seems it was basically agreed that a USB PHY and hub combination is as cheap as a simple hub chip so everyone does it. Most of these chips have onboard sata too but you never see that in the wild for cost reasons. If someone does find a board with ethernet coming from the SoC do speak up :)

          5. @Max Siegieda

            >not sure about this one but the beaglebone too?

            Both of the beaglebones use the built in ethernet. They actually have two ports for external PHYs but the second one is not usable from the cape headers..

            >It seems it was basically agreed that a USB PHY

            A USB PHY is for USB and not for ethernet. The USB ethernet chips out there are usually an ethernet MAC and PHY in one.

            >these chips have onboard sata too but you never see that in the wild for cost reasons.

            The Wandboard starts at $80 and has SATA on the entry model IIRC.

            >If someone does find a board with ethernet coming from the SoC do speak up :)

            Wandboard, SABRE Lite..

          6. @cantido
            “he Wandboard starts at $80 and has SATA on the entry model IIRC.”
            No it doe not according to http://www.wandboard.org/index.php/details

            you have to pay $129 for the board with SATA. Unless you need the lower power of the Wandaboard you may be better off with an x88 board. You can one with a printer port for digital IO or use USB for IO. Here is an ITX that would do the job http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813135342 Price $80.
            I would really like to see an ARM board with an SODIMM slot, Giga E, 4 or more Sata slots, and a price tag like this. A PCIe slot would be nice as well. Just goes to show you what economy of scale can do.

          7. @cantido Freescale i.MX6 that Wandboard uses maxes out at 470 Mbit/s.

            “The theoretical maximum performance of 1 Gbps ENET is limi
            ted to 470 Mbps (total for Tx and Rx) due to internal bus
            throughput limitations.” http://www.freescale.com/webapp/sps/site/prod_summary.jsp?code=i.MX6Q&tab=Documentation_Tab&pspll=1&SelectedAsset=Documentation&ProdMetaId=PID/DC/i.MX6Q&fromPSP=true&assetLockedForNavigation=true&componentId=2&leftNavCode=1&pageSize=25&Documentation=Documentation/00610Ksd1nd%60%60Data%20Sheets&fpsp=1&linkline=Data%20Sheets

    1. I wouldn’t be so quick. There are still DOS apps out in the world for things like CNC controllers. For a real time app DOS still has some benefits like the fact that it is a RTOS. Well it is a DOS that gets out of your way.
      While the ARM stuff is very cool this could be a really useful solution for some people.

  3. I’ll stick with cheaper and more useful ARM SoCs

    I love assembler, but coding asm on an X86 was frustrating back in the old days.
    The insane addressing scheme, Oy Vey!

    1. Errr… Nope. With this you don’t need to cross-compile everything in the huge existing codebase out there that exists already. With the ARM stuff you do – and often it doesn’t go well.

      1. >cross-compile everything

        Debian has something like 20,000 packages already compiled for armhf and the beagle bone is fast enough to compile most things on the board itself. This thing is a 486 class machine IIRC.. not exactly cutting edge or all that fast.

      2. compiling in general often doesnt go well

        + arduino people dont know a first thing about compiling, so this is a non issue for them.

        x86 is a dead weight here, it has NO pros, only cons

        1. Not really. If you are looking for a replacement for a system running DOS then this can be a real life saver. For simple control functions DOS is still good enough for a lot of tasks.

  4. These would make a nice retro BBS box, if someone can get Win95/98(Maybe even 2k?) on them. My parents threw out there old P2 (333MHz/128MB RAM-Might have been 256MB?) only 6 years ago, and I kind of miss some of the old crappy games.

        1. T’ch, youth! I remember the joy my 3rd and 4th megabytes of RAM for my 386SX brought me. For something like 50 quid ($80ish) a megabyte! But it brought me Doom! DOOM!

      1. Indeed. I used to use that machine to run Napster, back when file sharing was legal. I had Win98SE, and used to love Oregon Trail, and Oregon Trail II. If someone gets a video card working, Windows on one of these may be my next project.

          1. Indeed. It came with Oregon Trail II, and I ended up finding the original after playing the second one.

        1. you can probibly have a single fpga handle your sound, video (output to lcd), and pcie interface. emulating dos era hardware should be pretty easy. would be nice if we could throw in 3dfx emulation for old 3d accelerated dos games. that would be awesome. its certainly a thing i want to see (though probibly outside of my skill set).

      1. To be fair, you’re probably much much better off emulating. Just use an ARM and whatever LCD you can drive quick enough. It’s all much simpler than the horror of actually building a real PC. And something like this is probably 500x faster than you’d need for DOS games, you’d spend 99% of your cycles running Moslo or somesuch.

        Quickest way is probably a Nintendo DS Lite with a Supercard DSTWO, a 360MHz MIPS CPU with 32MB RAM, squeezed into a Nintendo DS cartridge. And a little room for a Micro SD card. There’s already a PC emulator for that, and the guy’s a genius for doing it.

  5. > There’s obviously a market for extremely tiny x86 boards out there as evidenced by the Intel Galileo,
    Is there really a demand? I thought it was just intel feeling left out of the whole rasp pi movement.

    1. This.

      There being a market for tiny x86 boards is exactly what the existence of the Galileo does *not* prove. The Galileo is simply Intel getting scared and attempting to dump a product on a market using a large publicity budget used to buy the “featured articles” you see everywhere.

      Let’s not even go into the ridiculousness of their Quark product.

  6. Why did they not do the MEGA board size? the module on it supports more IO pins than the mega has. I wonder when we will get a reputable seller for these in the states.

  7. Well, I hate cross-compilation.

    But there are more sensible problems with ARM boards.

    How about opensource bootloader? Or open graphics acceleration driver? Is there any ARM board that matches these criteria?

    1. Yes, Check out Olimex A10/A20/A13 boards, opensource bootloader, can use the opensource LIMA driver and even has early work done on opensource Video Decoder. To top it off, opensource boardschematics thanks to Olimex too. The olimex LIME is really really interesting.

  8. To be honest, I think the module itself is more interesting than the Arduino adapter board. The listed vender sells it separately for $32 and it brings all its pins out to 1.27mm headers and has more functions than the Arduino adapter brings out. the module at a quick glance seems to have SATA, PS/2, CAN bus, audio in/out, USB, Ethernet, parallel and serial ports and the PCI-E host/device. if we could find a PCI-E GPU IC or a smallish GPU card (or spin a custom one on an FPGA) it could be made into a nice portable DOS game player.

  9. I could find some use for boards like this, only if they were able to accept old buses like ISA or Localbus. There is a ton of ancient hardware, still in use, that depends on awkward driver boards and suitable old iron is getting scarce.
    It’s scary how many science labs and production facilities still have some 386 running in the background with a double full-length ISA card driving some key process.

    1. If you look around you will find companies that sell motherboards that have modern processors and old style buses. They are very expensive because the quantities are small but you CAN upgrade that old beast.

      1. I know, but this is often not an option not only due to price but often quirky hardware. Some of these boards are very particular about the system they run on. Some boards I came across could only run on a system with a 50Mhz clock. If an 86duino could provide a hackable chipset and clock with a simple 86 cpu, it would be far more viable to build new machines for this hardware.

  10. >evidenced by the Intel Galileo

    Really? because the only thing Galileo proved was that Intel has to GIVE AWAY their x86 FOR FREE because NOBODY WANTS IT

    We dont need 20 years off back compatibility, quirks (3 addressing modes? really?) and hacks in embedded platforms.

  11. Ya I guess this is cool if there a particular x86 app that you reall must run on a tiny footprint, but will also run on underpowered hardware. However I wish x86 would finally die. Its an outdated architecture. It’s wasteful. If anyone disagrees, go research it. Or to simplify, think about the reasons why you can take an arm proc with the same clock speed as an x86 chip, but it performs better and doesn’t produce enough heat to require a fan. Think atom vs snapdragon or something like that. Windows even had to go arm, no one wants a fan in a tablet. Just stop for a moment and let it all soak in…

    1. but but … but what If I really need that sweet hardware BCD support? or Windows 3.11 compatibility?
      This 20 year old financial sector Fortran code wont embed itself.

      I mean who doesnt use “ASCII adjust after addition”??? Its essential in every embedded platform!

    2. ” why you can take an arm proc with the same clock speed as an x86 chip, but it performs better and doesn’t produce enough heat to require a fan. ”

      “Windows even had to go arm, no one wants a fan in a tablet. Just stop for a moment and let it all soak in…”

      Your broad sweeping generalizations are 100% WRONG.

      x86 tablets ALL have fans? REALLY? Maybe you should tell these people:

      http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2417564,00.asp

      Intel x86 processors, NONE of them have fans, up to 9 hours battery life.

      x86 is outdated? Really? So google is really building entire buildings full of outdated servers? maybe you should tell them!

      1. Its funny because you are wrong :)

        >However, the W700’s fan was noticeable in a quiet room.

        they ALL have noisy fans while ARM tablets are silent.

  12. I use the DX version of this chip at 800mhz with 512 ram. Runs Win XP SP3 for industrial computers. Takes forever to install and configure but once it’s working it works pretty good.

    1. One step higher is the Vortex86MX (aka PMX-1000. aka Xcore86), which is faster and also has on-chip video, sound, and IDE. This thing is practically a DOS gaming rig on a chip.

      Vortex86MX – 1 GHz, the CPU core itself hardly differs from the Vortex86DX. This version drops conformance to ISA and integrates a GPU and a HD Audio controller, it also integrates a UDMA/100 IDE controller. The consumer grade version is known as the PMX-1000. Current models of the Gecko Edubook use the Xcore86, a rebadge of the Vortex86MX.

  13. Meh. Half of me is glad for another x86 board, the other half is pretty over it without even using it. The P2 was unspectacular imho. My P233mmx ran circles around those boxes for years… It was nice to get the crappy celeron after that to oc (melt) to our hearts’ content. This was of course after the 486 overdrive lol. I remember thinking you could run a post stamp country on a dx4 lol. T’other thing that bothers me about this device is having to pony up for a PCIe vid card, but it is not uncommon it seems in the field. I guess it is so they (or HaD’s favorite evil she-capitalist) can make a vid shield and sell for more bucks. I have to admit I am surprised that the market can sustain the amount of dev boards that are currently present.

    @ some of the above comments: being a bottom-feeding repair grubworm that I am, I had many years of squeezing the last life outta P2s. It is entirely possible to run XP on a p2 with 32megs of ram. You will want to turn off the cute graphics options and will want to set it as a server to prioritize dumb system processes, but it will run without too much griping, although mobo bottlenecks can affect it greatly. Not a head turner, but it will do it. As usual a decent gfx card to do the heavy lifting will help immensely.

    Best to all and happy tinkering :)

    1. Aw dude, if I’d written my own OS I’d document it somewhere better than Youtube! Most of the people who’d be interested in something like that are able to read and write. Unlike most Youtube users, as evidenced by the moronic comments it’s full of.

  14. “Evidenced” is not a valid Verb form because “evidence” is not a Verb. The correct word to use is “evinced”. Would those of you who use “evidenced” kindly stop sodomizing the English language? Thank you.

    1. “To evince” means to show something, to reveal it, most often in the phrase to “evince an interest”. “To evidence” means “to prove an argument by providing evidence”.

      The words are different. If you’re gonna be a grammar Nazi, and it’s a fine profession, please don’t let the side down by ever being wrong. It just makes us all look stupid.

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