November 3rd, 2014 ~ by admin

Real3D – From Tank Simulators to Graphics Cards

Real3D VM21113C1 Prototype (likely a Pro/1000)

Real3D VM21113C1 Prototype (likely a Pro/1000)

Much of consumer tech starts life in the labs of defense companies.  The reasons of course are simple, defense projects demand high tech, and are paid high prices by their respective governments.  Usually this tech is eventually spun off or licensed to consumer companies.  Occasionally, however, a defense company will commercialize a product on their own.  Thus was the case of Real3D.

Real3D has its roots in GE Aerospace.  GE needed to make simulators, with graphics good enough to be useful for training for a variety of systems.  Their first system was a docking simulator for the Apollo Project in the 1960’s.  By the 1980’s the technology had evolved into graphics systems for other  simulators, notably the M1 Tank.  This simulator used texture mapping graphics, which was in the world of sprites commonly used on PC’s was rather high tech. In 1992 GE sold the GE Aerospace division to Martin-Marietta who then merged with Lockheed.  Lockheed Martin wanted to commercialize the graphics work GE Aerospace has developed and thus formed Real3D Inc.  in 1995. Real3D’s first commercial success was the graphics work on the Sega Model 2 (Real3D/100) and 3 (Pro-1000) arcade systems.  Real3D also began working with SGI and Intel on a PC based graphic solution to take advantage of the new AGP bus.  This was known as the Starfighter, and later as the rather infamous Intel i740, its performance was not particularly good, but it was what Intel wanted for their entry into the value graphics market.  Real3D also had the Pro-1000 whose performance was much better but it never made it out of the development stage.

In 1999 Lockheed closed Real3D and sold its assets (mainly IP)  to Intel.  The i740 was withdrawn from the market in 1999 as well, but its technology, and that of Real3D continued to be used by Intel in their integrated graphics chipsets (notably the i810 and i815), surviving still to this day.  While no competitor to AMD/Nvidia Graphics it still is enough for most computing.

Posted in:
GPU

October 15th, 2014 ~ by admin

Has the FDIV bug met its match? Enter the Intel FSIN bug

Intel A80501-60 SX753 - Early 1993 containing the FDIV bug

Intel A80501-60 SX753 – Early 1993 containing the FDIV bug

In 1994 Intel had a bit of an issue.  The newly released Pentium processor, replacement for the now 5 year old i486 had a bit of a problem, it couldn’t properly compute floating point division in some cases.  The FDIV instructions on the Pentium used a lookup table (Programmable Logic Array) to speed calculation.  This PLA had 1066 entries, which were mostly correct except 5 out of the 1066 did not get written to the PLA due to a programming error, so any calculation that hit one of those 5 cells, would result in an erroneous result.  A fairly significant error but not at all uncommon, bugs in processors are fairly common.  They are found, documented as errata, and if serious enough, and practical, fixed in the next silicon revision.

What made the FDIV infamous was, in the terms of the 21st century, it went viral.  The media, who really had little understanding of such things, caught wind and reported it as if it was the end of computing.  Intel was forced to enact a lifetime replacement program for effected chips.  Now the FDIV bug is the stuff of computer history, a lesson in bad PR more then bad silicon.

Current Intel processors also suffer from bad math, though in this case its the FSIN (and FCOS) instructions.  these instructions calculate the sine of float point numbers.  The big problem here is Intel’s documentation says the instruction is nearly perfect over a VERY wide range of inputs.  It turns out, according to extensive research by Bruce Dawson, of Google, to be very inaccurate, and not just for a limited set of inputs.

Interestingly the root of the cause is another look-up table, in this case the hard coded value of pi, which Intel, for whatever reason, limited to just 66-bits. a value much too inaccurate for an 80-bit FPU.

May 28th, 2014 ~ by admin

Intel Joins Forces with Rockchip – ARM Meets x86

rockchip logoIt’s well known that Intel missed the jump on tablet and phone processors.  Intel sold off their PXA line of ARM processors to Marvell in 2006, in an attempt to ‘get back to the basics.’  It turned out that this sale perhaps was a bit premature, as the basics ended up being mobile, and mobile is where Intel struggled (by mobile we mean phones/tablets, not laptops, which Intel has no problems with).

In January of 2011 Intel purchased the communications division of Infineon, gaining a line of application and baseband processors, based on ARM architecture of course.  Intel developed this into the SoFIA applications processor, which was ironically fab’d by TSMC.   Eventually the designs would be ported to Intel 14nm process, or that was the plan.

Intel Atom - Now by Rockchip?

Intel Atom – Now by Rockchip?

So this weeks announcement that Intel has signed an agreement with the Chinese company Rockchip, to cooperate on mobile applications processors is a bit of a surprise, but the details show that it makes sense.  Rockchips current offerings are ARM based, much as Intel’s current SoFIA processor, as well as Apple Ax series, Qualcomm’s SnapDragon, TI’s OMAP, etc. However, the agreement with Rockchip is not about ARM, its about x86.  For the first time in many years Intel has granted another company an x86 license, specifically, Intel will help ROckchip build a quad-core Atom based x86 processor with integrated 3G modem.  Rockchip currently uses TSMC as their fab, however also with this agreement Rockchip gets access to Intel 22nm and 14nm fab capacity.

Who wins?

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May 14th, 2014 ~ by admin

Mystery Intel Engineering Sample

Here is a very unusual Engineering Sample from Intel.  These were manufactured in 1996 with a 1994 copyright date.  They are slightly smaller then a Socket 5 Pentium and are a  325 pin SPGA package.

Intel KJ8TSMR00-BA - Engineering Sample

Intel KJ8TSMR00-BA – Engineering Sample

Marked KJ8TSMR00-BA the best guess so far is a early P6 (Pentium Pro) core, without the L2 cache.  If you have any ideas, feel free to post in the comments.

October 8th, 2013 ~ by admin

When a Pentium 166 isn’t a Pentium 166

Pentium 166 Faked from Mobile 120

Pentium 166 SY016 Faked from Mobile 120 SY027

Here is an interesting example of what led Intel (and other manufacturers) to start locking down multipliers on their processors as well as adding anti-counterfeiting measures.  This processor appears to be a 166MHz Pentium Processor, which in 1997 sold for around $200.   A 120MHz Mobile Pentium sold for less than $100.  Thus processors of lower speeds were often remarked by unscrupulous dealers and sold as higher speed parts.   The forgeries had to be made quick, as processor prices dropped very quickly, the 166MHz Pentium debuted at nearly $1000.  Most Pentium fakes were made by painting over the original markings and painting/engraving news ones.  Some of the better fakes ground down the old markings first.  Nearly all are easy to spot by the trained eye, wrong fonts, date mismatches, etc.

This particular example, from somewhere in 1997, was faked from a Pentium 120MHz mobile to a 166MHz desktop Pentium.  As far as fakes go this was a fairly conservative one.  Often 166s were faked from 100s or even 75s.  The 120 was a 2x60MHz processor running at 3.1V, while the 166 is 2.5×66 (you see why locking the multiplier discouraged faking?) running at 3.3V.  This resulted in a 28% overclock at about a 6% voltage increase.  In this case the processor likely ran fairly well, if perhaps a bit warm.  Some of the more extreme fakes resulted in very unstable systems due to overheating and pushing a processor well beyond what it was designed for.

Before removing paint

Before removing paint

Today counterfeit chips are still a major problem, though it was shifted from the consumer market, where prices are generally low, to the military and industrial market, where prices are high, and there is still demand for older devices.

October 6th, 2013 ~ by admin

Decryption by an Intel 80386 – Military Style

Raytheon KGV-25

Raytheon KGV-25 – Click to Enlarge

Sometimes we get processors in on boards that are just too interesting, or too good looking to remove.  That is the case with this KGV-25 correlator board.  It is a processing systems used for decrypting communications that was in wide use by the US (and likely other) militaries in the 1990’s.  The KGV-25 could receive encrypted UHF data at rates of up to 400Mbps as part of the Multi-Mission Advanced Tactical Terminal (MATT). More information on the MATT can be found here on the FAS website.

As is typical of military equipment the system did not use the latest and greatest available at the time (this board is from 1994 so the Pentium era).  The board is run by a time proven and reliable Intel 80386 processor running at 25MHz. In addition to the MQ80386-25/B (MIL-STD-883B spec 386 processor) the board contains:
Intel MQ82380-20/B  – DMA Controller for interfacing with all the assorted SRAM on the board
Intel MQ82592/B – LAN Controller for interfacing with the rest of the system
VLSI VM05403 USART – Universal Asynch/Synch Receiver Transmitter
and on the back is a MQ80387-25/B Math-coprocessor for the 386 and 4MB of 35ns SRAM

Raytheon KGV-25 - Back

Essentially a complete 80386 system, of similar performance to a higher end system int he late 1980’s.  Just with a lot more gold, and built to take a lot more abuse then your average beige box of the 80’s

 

 

July 21st, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: Intel Pentium Mechanical Sample

Intel Pentium Mechanical Sample - 1994

Intel Pentium Mechanical Sample – 1994

Intel and other processor companies spend a vast amount of time testing a processor design before it is released.  They want to be sure that it meets the specifications set forth in the datasheets and is free of undocumented errata.  Intel gained fame, or notoriety for the FDIV bug int he original Pentiums that caused a certain set of floating point calculations to result in an incorrect answer.  This led to the recall and replacement of many millions of processors.

Operational testing however is only one part of the testing a processor undergoes.  The package itself must also be tested.  It is tested for proper fit and function in a socket and with a variety of cooling apparatuses.  Its thermal characteristics must also be tested.  The original Pentiums were a ceramic package but quickly moved to a package with a heatspreader as they ran very hot.  In additional sample are made for testing the electrical supply of the mainboard, so that mainboard manufacturers may test their VRM (Voltage Regulation Module) design to ensure it can meet the demands of the processor.

A Mechanical Sample, like the early Socket 5 Pentium above, were used to test heatsinks, sockets, and other tasks that did not require a functioning chip.  Usually these samples did include a die (as does this one) they just are pulled from the line before final testing and speed binning.  Mechanical Samples were also used by Intel in their ‘The Journey Inside: The Computer’  education kits which typically included a processor sample, a wafer and some cut processor dies as well as some basic electronics for students to conduct experiments with.  Sometimes Mechanical Samples are devoid of marking, or like this one clearly state what they were intended for.  Some processor companies also made Marketing Samples, which were non-functioning, but often marked with color logos/graphics to advertise the processor.  Both are ivery rare to find as they were made in very limited quantities and were not widely distributed.

March 23rd, 2013 ~ by admin

Intel Pentium Processor Turns 20 Years Old

Intel Pentium 60

Intel Pentium 60 – Produced May 1993

On March 22nd, 1993 the Intel Pentium Processor was released to the public (so yah yesterday but hey whose counting). This was Intel’s first processor with an actual name.  Turns out you cannot trademark a number, so the ‘486’ name was being used by everyone (AMD, Cyrix, TI, UMC, IBM etc).  Initially known by its core name, P5, the Pentium was also the first superscaler Intel x86 processor   It had dual Integer pipelines, and a single Floating point unit allowing it to issue and complete multiple instructions per clock.

The first Pentiums ran at 60 and 66MHz and were made on a CMOS 0.8micron process with 3.2 million transistors.  After only a few months it was discovered that they ran particularly warm and the package was updated with a Copper-Tungsten heatspreader (gold plated).

A modern desktop processor such as the Core i7 Quad Core Ivy Bridge contain 1.4 Billion transistors on a 22nm process.  The P5 still lives on in the embedded market, and in the Intel Larrabee project which is itself, an updated P54C core (supporting a few more modern features such as x86-64).

Posted in:
Just For Fun

March 10th, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: Intel RUPI-44 The 8051’s lesser known cousin

Intel C8744-8 Engineering Sample - Early 1983

Intel C8744-8 Engineering Sample – Early 1983

In 1980 Intel released the MCS-51 family of microcontrollers, a design that would go on to become one of the pillars of the 8-bit MCU market.  Initially the family consisted of the 8051, which included 4KBytes of on-chip ROM (or UV-EPROM in the case of the 8751) and 128 bytes of RAM as well as the 8031 which did not include the ROM, all program memory was off chip.

The 8051 was a wild success with Intel struggling to meet demand.  Intel did not have the fab capacity to produce both the 8051, and the very in demand 8088 (thanks to IBM).  In 1984 Intel opened a new fab in Albuquerque, New Mexico to build other chips, freeing up production space in the California fab for more 8051s.  Even so, an $8 8051 was routinely scalped for over $200 on the grey market and waiting periods of up to a year were common in order to receive orders, with many companies on allocation.  Intel licensed the design to both AMD (who built a fab in Austin to make it) as well as Signetics in an effort to keep up with demand.  The hardest to get part in the industry, was the 8051 from 1983-1984.

P8344 - A ROMLess 8044, so essentially an 8031 + SDLC controller.

P8344 – A ROMLess 8044, so essentially an 8031 + SDLC controller.

So in the midst of this insatiable demand for an MCU that they did not have the capacity to produce, Intel releases the RUPI-44 (Remote Universal Peripheral Interface). The RUPI-44, also known as the 8044, is an 8051 with an additional 64 bytes of RAM and a full serial communication co-processor on die.  Specifically it was an 8051 that handled the SDLC (Synchronous Data Link Control) protocol in hardware.  Intel had an SDLC controller, known as the 8273, but it was limited to 64kbps, the 8044 could handle data transfers of up to 2.4Mbps due to the 8051 core’s high speed and close coupling of the serial controller.

SDLC was developed in 1975 by IBM and was generally used as a way for mainframes to communicate with various peripherals and terminals.  It supports error correction and multi-point, point to point, and loop connections.  In 1979 SDLC was standardized as HDLC (High-Level Data Link Control) which the RUPI-44 also supports.  While popular in the 70’s and 80’s its use has faded out, though it achieved some long lived use in Europe running the Intel derived BITBUS protocol well into the 90’s.

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February 27th, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: Intel 386 Double Stamp

A80386DX-33-SX544DoubleMarkIn coin collecting often times an example is valued not because of its perfection, but because of its imperfections.  An off-center print, the obverse being printed upside down, or the double strike, where a coin doesn’t get cleared form the die and gets hit twice.

Such appears to be the case with this Intel A80386DX-33.  It clearly went through the engraver twice. A similar example (from the same exact lot) is fine, so clearly this one, made in early 1992, was a mistake that was not caught.  I have seen mis-aligned prints, off center etc, but this is the first example i have seen that was engraved twice.  It is interesting that even within the same lot, the spacing of the markings varied somewhat.  Notice that on the right side of the chips the sets of markings line up but they diverge towards the left.  It appears the stepper motors moving the tooling or the chips were a bit sloppy or out of calibration.

Have you seen any other double engraved comments? Let us know in the comments.

Posted in:
CPU of the Day