Very, Very Tiny X86 Systems

The most interesting market for Intel in recent years has been very, very small form factor PCs. ARM is eating them alive, of course, but there are still places where very small and very low power x86 boards make sense. The latest release from SolidRun is the smallest we’ve seen yet. The SolidPC Q4 is one of the smallest x86 implementation you can find. It’s based around the MicroSoM, a module even smaller than a Raspberry Pi, and built around a carrier board that has all the ports you could ever want from the tiniest PC ever.

The SolidPC Q4 is technically only a carrier board featuring a microSD slot, Displayport, HDMI 1.4B, two RJ45 ports with the option for PoE, three USB 3.0 Host ports, jacks for mic and stereo sound, and an M.2 2230 connector for a wireless module. The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash.

The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash. The size of these modules is 52.8mm by 40mm, or just a shade larger than the stick-of-gum-sized Raspberry Pi Zero.

The SolidPC isn’t intended to be a Raspberry Pi competitor. While those cheap ARM boards are finding a lot of great uses in industry, they’re no replacement for a small, x86 single board computer. The pricing for this module starts at $157 according to the product literature, with a topped out configuration running somewhere between $300 and $350, depending on options like a heatsink, enclosure, or power adapter. If you want a small single board computer with drivers for everything, there aren’t many other options: you certainly wouldn’t pick a no-name Allwinner board.

100 thoughts on “Very, Very Tiny X86 Systems

  1. Woah, thought I was seeing double for a minute, but the article just has duplicated sentences :P

    Woah, thought I was seeing double for a minute, but the article just has duplicated sentences :P

  2. http://i.imgur.com/iWKad22.jpg <– relevant image is relevant.

    I hate to be "that guy" (not really, it's more a mild dislike than outright hate) but… look at the second half of the second paragraph. Now look at all but the last sentence of the third paragraph. You guys /really/ should hire a competent copyeditor (not me, I suck).

    Also, it would be nice if the comment field had formatting buttons, or some mention of acceptable format coding [markdown, BBcode, actual real HTML, etc], so I didn't have to do *bold* /italic/ and _underline_ formatting the Ye Olde Usenet Waye. This *is* the 21st Century, you know…

          1. Ahh… the joys of snark >:-} Hmmm… experiment time… let’s see if <i>this</i> works, or maybe that instead.

            I may be no Web dev, but even I can read and type… and that’s really all that’s needed here…

          2. Aha! So… escaping it produces the raw characters, but not escaping it, produces the desired effect. Nifty…

            Now, of course, the trick is remembering that I can do that here. Always a challenge when the mind runs on the cranial equivalent of 30pin SIMMs… ;) Hey, hey, it could be worse — banks of individual DRAM chips were a thing, once, too — and before that, was SRAM, which –IMO– was significantly superior in all areas except for cost. Faster than period DRAM, cycle for cycle, and it didn’t have that little amnesia problem that DRAM has when somebody forgets to hit up the refresh line every so often… of course it was more expensive… and that’s how DRAM won that battle.

            For the record, I’m a bit of a Commodore nut, and, yes, I know, they used DRAM — and it makes me sore in the head to think about it. They were being cheap, and –quite sadly– cheap sells better than good, and it has for some time. I’m a strong believer in keeping accountants out of engineering ;)

            …wow, that went off topic fast. Sorry guys, I ramble.

          1. [Rodney McKay]
            I was wondering why I couldn’t read your italics and bolds. :P
            Lots of boxes with an X through them, but searching the word gives the correct word anyway.

  3. I was looking at a way to reduce footprint for a small ESXI cluster. This would be ideal with Pentium quad core and 8GB of ram. But way too expensive compared to my AMD mini ATX setup that uses two quad cores and 64G of total ram for power consumption of less than 60W load. and a build cost of 1 of these units. Call me when these units are ~100bux per. I am not very picky. Give me USB and gigabit lan on a single board computer for ~100 per with 8G of ram per and I will buy 5 of them and turn them into a ESXi cluster for the house.

    1. Indeed, if the size is not as much an issue as the power consumption, you can get a mini-ITX Braswell board for less than $100 with slots for a PCIe SSD and WiFi/BT combo card, and can handle up to 16GB of RAM. Throw all of that in a cheap case and PSU and you have the same power at a cheaper price point.

      Now, if size does matter, you’d probably bite the bullet and pay the premium. But at that point, unless you just really need x86 there are equally capable ARM boards out there for a fraction of the cost of this one.

    1. “The SolidPC isn’t intended to be a Raspberry Pi competitor. While those cheap ARM boards are finding a lot of great uses in industry, they’re no replacement for a small, x86 single board computer. ”

      It’s an interesting quote who seems lifted from their sale pitch tale.

      Allright, I wonder which customers they’ve targeted?
      Not the one who can use Linux or has little money. Fine, so it’s must somebody with a lot of money, and space is more important than expenses. Not necessary CEO in a large companies as he/she can hire people, so it’s more toward few persons or small organizations. By rejecting ARM/Linux, without adaptions, they’ve demostrated a low level of knowledge, since they seems to need/have software who aren’t portable to ARM. Dwarfes? As far I know, they likes gold…

    2. Not really. Where can I get an ARM board that has video out, a good ethernet connection, Good USB 2.0 support, video out, 4 sata ports, and a PCI slot?. I can find an x86 board that supports that for under $60 with power supply and ram. Even if you are running Linux x86 tends to offer you better software support and higher performance. Sure Pis are nice and small and even cheap but the wired network support and USB performance tend to be pretty bad. Forget about using them as NAS or even a router. Sure ARMS are good chips but a small cheap X86 that supports Windows, Linux, BSD and so on could be a really popular board. I have to wonder if any project that used an X86 over a pi could get on hack a day.

    1. Someone needs to ask MS why Windows 10 is not available for Arm. Some powerful arm chips out there. If I had a tin foil hat I would be asking if Intel have something to do with that……….

    1. I find the whole Lattepanda-project rather shoddy, and at least the reviews I’ve watched generally agree with that notion. Their documentation sucks, and last time I looked they provided no way of actually using those I/O-pins that are connected to the Intel CPU, even though they bring them out on a header, and running Linux on a Lattepanda is a waste because the bluetooth- and WiFi-peripherals aren’t supported and so on.

      The Udoo x86 ( https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/udoo/udoo-x86-the-most-powerful-maker-board-ever/description ) is in pretty much every possible way a more compelling product, with higher-quality documentation, a much more experienced team behind it, more connectivity-options and so on and so forth.

        1. No, it has already been Kickstarted already, you can’t back it anymore. You order it from their shop now, just like any other Udoo. I just linked to their Kickstarter-page because it has the most information on the boards.

    1. Hint, broken LCD screens can cost more than a new workstation these days, and windows 10 drivers are practically OS2 without any of the joy.

      Its hard to beat a sub $80 unit will built-in UPS, 8GB ram, and i7 quad core.

      Everything else is ARM these days, for the price one can also get 8 RaspberryPi 64bit quad cores.
      Intel is still butt hurt over Microsoft killing off the PC market to up their Apple holdings.

        1. Right, I’m kind of amazed I bought a 3rd gen i5 for about $400 3 years ago, and to guarantee I got something that feels like an upgrade, i.e. more than 20% faster, I’d have to fork out $800 in a big box store. As for the cheap end, with those lousy slow A4s and Celerons, I’m telling my folks that the $299 special, with only 4GB RAM, isn’t going to be any faster than their 5 year old mid range machines, which they’ve already got 8GB in probably. SSD isn’t really going to sell a new machine, they’re $80 for a usable size and you can stick them in anything and get same benefits. Mostly I think it’s because intel shot itself in the foot with maintaining high pricing on i5 and i7 due to AMD not being so competitive, which means they keep slipping weaksauce units under them to try and move anything at all. It’s like that late 80s, early 90s era when 386/486 were stratospheric pricing, but nobody cared apart from the CAD people because all the everyday stuff ran on DOS on a 1986 Turbo XT just fine.

  4. GIGABYTE GB-BXBT-1900 is fairly comparable.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16856164024

    $139 + RAM(DDR3L) + HDD(2.5″SATA)

    Pro’s to article’s unit: Includes case, power brick, and cpu fan.

    Lacking: M.2 slot, dual lan, possible linux support.

    Also worth noting that this would compare just slightly better than the Atom E8000, but the Pentium N3710 option would blow them both out of the water. (Also the cheapest option they have for the 3710 MicroSoM starts at $214.00)
    —————————-

    Also after staring over the page I think you have completely misunderstood the price breakdown, $159 IS FOR THE MODULE CARRIER ONLY! you still need to buy the “MicroSoM” module to plugin and use it… so +$117/139/214/255 sorry but kind of a failed comprehension thing there. https://www.solid-run.com/product/solidpc-q4-carrier/#microsom start configuring it and you will understand.

    Saying $159 is the “base price” is like saying you can buy a “basic car” for that is missing any engine option.

    1. Industry cares, as most machine/process controllers that are not only PLCs, are some small, embedded PCs running SCADA or similar software on Windows 98/2000/XP. Infokiosks, ATMs, even some electronic billboards use such systems. And most of the software is legacy, so there is no point in changing to x64 architecture. It’s like with the banks that still use COBOL because it was cheaper to maintain the code and hardware than doing an upgrade. Which turned out to be a really stupid idea as COBOL programmers are going the way of dinosaurs and Dodos…

      1. He probably meant “why use disgustingly overpriced x86 when we may use any cheap ARM for the same purpose”, not “hell, why use x86 when there is x64”.
        Also, note the fact that both these boards are x64.

        1. Because people have not learned their lesson yet
          There is no such thing as x32 or x64
          x86 is the architecture and 32bit/64bit is the software
          Microsoft themselves have screwed it up in their programs folder

        1. Most of those people still programming in COBOL are charging $1000/hr now because most of the people that learnt COBOL are dead. I had a friend ask if I could do some COBOL for his business and he offered lots of money. I just said you could never offer me enough to get me interested in COBOL again – try the grave yard there are lots of COBOL programmers there.

          1. PS: The COBOL runs on a virtual machine with DOS and communicates out via virtual serial port. That virtual machine is within another virtual machine that runs Linux and connect the virtual serial to TCP/IP and that virtual machine is within a version of windows server. Nightmare Much?

          2. @[Moryc]

            I would guess that over time successive sysadmis who are not COBOL programmers have just dealt with the issue as best they can. The original software (COBOL) obviously ran in DOS and most likely used Direct Port Interfacing via DMA, IRQ and Port Number. This method of interfacing is not possible on a modern OS and hence the virtualization of such and old operating system as DOS.

            This is more common that you may think.

            I have a name brand JTAG programmer here and it looks like someone who did the coding died and left a puzzle behind.

            The original code did much same thing and required Port Mapped IO. Their solution is mind boggling and here is how it goes.

            The programmer consists of a USB to Serial (JTAG) bridge followed by a large FPGA with lots of SD RAM and then a hardware JTAG interface for the target device.

            When you plug it in it is a USB to Serial (JTAG) bridge that is used to program the FPGA to be an X86 compatible system with the basic code to boot from serial. Then it disconnects and re-connects as it boots from plain serial and the synthesis platform is loaded. Then the connection cycles again and then it acts as a plain USB to Serial bridge and the HDL file to be synthesized is sent via the serial connection. It then syntheses the HDL file on the hardware virtualized x86 and programs the target device via a HDL encoded Mapped port to JTAG hardware interface.

            So when you plug it in you get the windows sounds for USB connect / disconnect several times and that led me to work out why.

            It seems that they lost the source code and comments. No problem! just fix it software virtualized hardware platform that runs the original compiled code.

  5. The Raspberry Pi isn’t intended to be a SolidPC competitor. While those expensive Intel boards are finding a lot of great uses in industry, they’re no replacement for a small, ARM single board computer. The pricing for this module starts at $4 according to the product literature, with a topped out configuration running somewhere between $30 and $35, depending on options like a heatsink, enclosure, or power adapter. If you want a small single board computer with drivers for everything, there aren’t many other options: you certainly wouldn’t pick a brand name looser board.

  6. A real hacker’s way would be to buy an AM186 on AliExpress for $2 and build own PC. HaD seems to be turning into a review place for mainstream items instead of a magazine for hacker community.

  7. Two gigabit ports for load sharing?
    Now you just need to dump the USB 3.0 ports, replace them with SATA, and… voila! NAS server motherboard.

    Of course, you still need case, drives, power supply, fan etc. so I’m doubting you see any financial benefit. But at least you can custom design, so might appeal to DIY crowd.

  8. Apparently, the interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture.

    Indeed, that fact is twice as interesting as you might think, and so the article makes that very statement twice, using the exact same words.

    Could the author please fix this? It’s triggering some of us …

  9. Hmm, nice board for several diverse options. I’ve be keen for a version with LVDS to drive an LCD panel direct up to 4K 17/19″ screen for an instrument monitor – anyone here tried that or managed to get past the first level re the majors; LG/Samsung etc to get proto panels Eg 32:9 in low res even, have all sorts of interesting lab uses for them not seen anywhere ever as far as I can see :shrug: ?

  10. it costs. a lot. but i can skip this bad point.
    it is x86 = “hot like hell”. i CANNOT skip this point.
    it is INTEL, the “dog” of NSA. I CANNOT use at home/jobplace/critical_mission a “backdored-by-design” hardware
    to me, this board is a fail, nobody should use.

  11. there is something terribly WRONG with the “boyz” on this site!!!!
    the few “serious” comments are whether or not it will run windoze 10!!!!!

    Seriously!?!?

    most of this thread is about HTML tags

    WTF is wrong with you guys????

    I still have stuff, in “the wild” running on 386 and 486 machines!!!!

    for fucks sake a thing like ths that could run DOS is a godsend

    who gives a fuck if it can do any kind of openGL????
    I keep saying it and I will keep on saying it

    LIFT YOUR GAME!!!

    we should be better than this

    1. Embedded crap that can run DOS isn’t exactly news unless you’ve been living under a rock the last 15 years. AMD had one based on the 5×86 in the early 00s. Via had Edens covering the few hundred mhz range, so now yes a bit more than just DOS is expected.

    2. I think because although the title (hook line) makes it look attractive, once you see what it is and it’s price, it becomes irrelevant to most of us.

      Buying this thing to run a DOS application would be a poor choice because you would be paying for may houses to pull a very small cart and the horses would eat too much, making running time small if you have to carry food. Then you have to deal with more waste and the horses could never get up speed because the cart is too small.

      Really, what application would require a quad core in such a small form factor. You would need to be processing a lot of input, much more input than you could fit through Ethernet. Perhaps image processing or something like that but seriously I can think of exactly ZERO applications that would warrant such CPU power and if I could think of one then I would choose something cheaper. Small form factors are good for portable devices and portable devices run on batteries and this thing would need a truck battery.

  12. The only advantage: Windows and Debian dev-tools

    I’ve always liked RISC over CISC even though RISC based manufacturers took the loser route with micro-architecture advance decades back. ARM seems to have efficiency:scaling in mind which makes up for things. They also have better hardware isolation.

  13. > While those cheap ARM boards are finding a lot of great uses in industry, they’re no replacement for a small, x86 single board computer. The pricing for this module starts at $157 according to the product literature, with a topped out configuration running somewhere between $300 and $350

    The differentiating applications for a small overpriced x86 single board computer are almost none compared to cheap ARM boards. Something that runs Windows isn’t an application. It has to do something. What can these x86 boards do significantly better than a $20 ARM board? Where’s the value? Sure there’s old legacy DOS/windows applications, but those were written at a time when there was little choice other than x86. The x86 “pc architecture” was never chosen for its features or excellent design, but for its relative low cost and mass production. Now there’s better alternatives, making the “pc architecture” for embedded designs a dinosaur. Windows CE is dead. Embedded x86 is dead. Move on.

    > If you want a small single board computer with drivers for everything, there aren’t many other options: you certainly wouldn’t pick a no-name Allwinner board.

    Define “divers for everything”. All Allwinner boards run Linux, and most of the kernel is open (with the exception of the Mali GPU, which is ARM IP, not Allwinner). But the same is true for x86. Open source graphics drivers are sketchy on PC architecture at best. Sure you can always download a vendor supplied BLOB (often only for windows), but that’s no different than Allwinner/Mali. And all x86 boards are hindered by the horrible UEFI and PC BIOS, making even some versions of windows impossible to use. Obtaining Windows drivers does not mean “drivers for everything”. Also an Orange Pi One is $13 shipped. You can get 10 of them and still be less than the starting price for this x86 board. And if you’re application is legacy DOS or Win3.1/Win95, DOSBox emulation works nicely. Raspberry Pi also has closed graphics drivers, but that’s not a deal breaker. There are many options. What is few are the compelling reasons to continue to use x86.

  14. I have a car radio based on an android quad core rk3188 som 4 gigs of ram and 16 gigs of e-mmc, 7 inch screen, BT4.0, wi-fi, discovered the wired lan section on the available pinouts …

    I slightly modded the case and made an diy embedded computer with extra storage on the sd cards …. for a mere 200$ USD free shipped … ???

    Included was the added 14$ more for the fastest SOM module, Fast and snappy … very surprised.

    I used imx25 modules, closed as hell proprietary Windows CE 6.0 design, build a carrier board, it costed me a lot more than the “Chinese” radio.

    And with the radio i can do what i want, google a few things, find and hack the pinouts and voila !! the carrier board had almost everything that i needed.

    I just sold my LattePanda, because it was a nightmare to discuss things … like the cpu GPIO pinouts i needed, the 7 inch lcd they used (part numbers hidden) or a few simple things like the bios options and configuration ….

    Had a RPI 3, same thing the closed mali gpu was a turn off for me.

    I paid more than 300$ usd for a Latte Panda complete kit, lcd, acrylic case, and the Panda board, i was deceived, and frustrated …

  15. There are “underdog” manufacturers with nifty embedded x86 SOCs, some with many years in the market, that (apart from not coming to this side of the planet) apparently never gained the right momentum, no idea why. Vortex86 DX3 (specs at http://www.vortex86.com/?p=264) immediately comes to mind, RDC EmKore DS too (specs at http://www.rdc.com.tw/?route=home/emk albeit more focused to commercial applications).

    Those two SOCs are good for embedded shenanigans, but have certainly weak specs for a full-blown actual desktop OS… just imagine if they’ve gained momentum 5 years ago. Like Espressif that was another IC maker in a sea of manufacturers, and their game was “uplifted” by their very consumers ’cause of a nice product with potential, I cannot stop thinking that those two missed the maker & IoT bandwagon miserably. Maybe we could have had a way better Quark-alike SoC years before Intel also said me-too, or user friendly modules with half the Q4 size running Windows/Linux/YouNameIt effortlesly.
    Sigh.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s