The x86 processor family is for the time being, the most ubiquitous type of processor in the PC world, and has been since the 1980s when the IBM PC came on the scene. Emulating these older devices is easy enough if you want to play an old LucasArts game or experience Windows 3.1 again, but the true experience is found on original hardware. And, thanks to industrial equipment compatibility needs, you can build a brand new 486 machine with new hardware that will run this retro software as though it was new itself.
[The Rasteri] masterminded this build which is reminiscent of the NES classic and other nostalgic console re-releases. It’s based on the PC/104 standard which was introduced in the early 90s, mostly for industrial controls applications. The platform is remarkably small, and the board chosen for this build hosts a 486 processor running at 300 MHz. It has on-board VGA-compatible graphics but no Sound Blaster card, so he designed and built his own ISA-compatible sound card that fits in the PC/104’s available expansion port.
After adding some more tiny peripherals to the build and installing it in a custom case, [The Rasteri] has a working DOS machine on new, bare-metal 486 hardware which can play DOOM as it was originally intended. It can also run early versions of Windows to play games from the Microsoft Entertainment Pack if you feel like being eaten by a snow monster while skiing. [The Rasteri] is no stranger to intense retro computing like this either, as he was the one who got DOOM to run on original NES hardware.
Continue reading “Retrocomputing With Modern Hardware, No Emulation Required”
From the old Gumstix boards to everyone’s favorite Raspberry Pi, common single-board computers (SBCs) have traditionally had at least one thing in common: an ARM processor. But that’s not to say hackers and makers haven’t been interested in an SBC with a proper x86 processor. Which is why the $99 Hackboard 2 is so exciting. With a modern x86 chip at the core it’s akin to a small footprint desktop motherboard, but with all the extra features that we’ve come to expect in a hacker-friendly SBC.
So what’s the big deal? In a word, compatibility. The fact that these diminutive computing devices shied away from the x86 architecture that most of us have been using on our desktops and laptops since the 1980s originally introduced software compatibility issues, but this was largely outweighed by the advantages of ARM. The latest NVIDIA Jetson is running on an ARM chip for the same reason the smartphone in your pocket is: they’re smaller, cheaper, and more energy efficient than x86.
However they’re rarely more powerful. Even the latest and greatest Raspberry Pi 4, often touted as a viable desktop replacement thanks to its quad core Cortex-A72, will get absolutely trounced by the pokiest of Intel’s Celeron CPUs. The performance gap is just too great. While the Pi can admirably handle most of the tasks the hacker community asks of it, there will always be a call for a board that puts raw processing power before anything else.
Sucking down nearly 40 watts at full tilt, the Hackboard 2 isn’t the SBC you’d want to use for a solar powered weather station. But if you’re putting together a set top box to play back video and run the occasional emulator, its Celeron N4020 processor and Intel UHD 600 GPU represent the most powerful combination available for a device of this size.
Continue reading “New Part Day: Hackboard 2, An X86 Single-Board Computer”
We all probably know that for ultimate control and maximum performance, you need assembly language. No matter how good your compiler is, you’ll almost always be able to do better by using your human smarts to map your problem onto a computer’s architecture. Programming in assembly for PCs though is a little tricky. A lot of information about PC assembly language dates back from when assembly was more common, but it also covers old modes that, while still available, aren’t the best answer for the latest processors. [Gpfault] has launched a series on 64-bit x86 assembly that tries to remedy that, especially if you are working under Windows.
So far there are three entries. The first covers setting up your toolchain and creating a simple program that does almost nothing. But it is a start.
Continue reading “Assembly Language For Real”
We love the simplicity of Arduino for focused tasks, we love how Raspberry Pi GPIO pins open a doorway to a wide world of peripherals, and we love the software ecosystem of Intel’s x86 instruction set. It’s great that some products manage to combine all of them together into a single compact package, and we welcome the recent addition of Seeed Studio’s Odyssey X86J4105.
[Ars Technica] recently looked one over and found it impressive from the perspective of a small networked computer, but they didn’t dig too deeply into the maker-friendly side of the product. We can look at the product documentation to see some interesting details. This board is larger than a Raspberry Pi, but its GPIO pins were laid out in exactly the same order as that on a Pi. Some HATs could plug right in, eliminating all the electrical integration leaving just the software issue of ARM vs x86. Tasks that are not suitable for CPU-controlled GPIO (such as generating reliable PWM) can be offloaded to an on-board Arduino-compatible microcontroller. It is built around the SAMD21 chip, similar to the Arduino MKR and Arduino Zero but the pinout does not appear to match any of the popular Arduino form factors.
The Odyssey is not the first x86 single board computer (SBC) to have GPIO pins and an onboard Arduino assistant. LattePanda for example has been executing that game plan (minus the Raspberry Pi pin layout) for the past few years. We’ve followed them since their Kickstarter origins and we’ve featured creative uses here and there. LattePanda’s current offerings are built around Intel CPUs ranging from Atom to Core m3. The Odyssey’s Celeron is roughly in the middle of that range, and the SAMD21 is more capable than the ATmega32U4 (Arduino Leonardo) on board a LattePanda. We always love seeing more options in a market for us to find the right tradeoff to match a given project, and we look forward to the epic journeys yet to come.
At its annual World Wide Developer Conference, Apple dropped many jaws when announcing that their Mac line will be switching away from Intel processors before the year is out. Intel’s x86 architecture is the third to grace Apple’s desktop computer products, succeeding PowerPC and the Motorola 68000 family before it.
In its place will be Apple’s own custom silicon, based on 64-bit ARM architecture. Apple are by no means the first to try and bring ARM chips to bear for general purpose computing, but can they succeed where others have failed?
Continue reading “Ditching X86, Apple Starts An ARM Race”
If you have worked for a large company — or even a small one — it might seem that you spend more time writing PowerPoint charts than programming. [Tom Widenhain’s] video asks the question: Can we compile C into PowerPoint? Watch the video below to find out the answer. Would it surprise you to know that [Tom] wanted to simulate the x86? It surprised us, too, and we had to note the video appeared on April 1. It does look workable, though, other than it is a bit unwieldy.
Instead of a Turing machine, this builds a set of clever logic gates. Unsurprisingly, [Tom] is the guy who put together a Turing machine in Excel. Surprisingly, he isn’t the first one to attempt a C to PPT compiler. The University of Chicago had a similar idea over a year ago, based on [Tom’s] earlier work and executed program using inefficient Turing machines.
Continue reading “Compiling C To PowerPoint”
Last year, fabless chip maker Zhaoxin announced they were readying a multicore x86-compatible CPU. According to media reports, the chips are showing up on Chinese marketplaces like Taobao shipping around March.
The company is a joint venture between the Shanghai Municipal Government and VIA Technologies, a familiar name in the PC business. It makes even more sense if you remember that VIA bought Centaur who had built simple x86 chips and used the simplicity to add more cache that more complex Intel and AMD chips. These fell out of the hobby market, but they’ve still been pushing forward providing simple designs that are inexpensive and consume low power.
Continue reading “China X86 Chips Hitting The Market”