January 12th, 2013 ~ by admin

The Intel 80186 Gets Turbocharged – VAutomation Turbo186

Original Intel 6MHz 80186 Made in 1984

Original Intel 6MHz 80186 Made in 1984

2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Intel 80186 and 80188 microprocessors.  These were the first, and arguably only, x86 processors designed from the beginning as embedded processors.  It included many on-chip peripherals such as a DMA channels, timers and other features previously handled by external chips.  Initially released at 6MHz, clock for clock many instructions were faster then the 8086 it was based on, due to hardware improvements.

In 1987 Intel move the 186 to a CMOS process and added more enhancement including math co-processor support, power down modes and a DRAM refresh controller.  Speeds were increased up to 25MHz (from the 10MHz max of the NMOS version).  Through the years Intel continued to developed new versions of the 186 with added features, lower voltages, and different packages.  It was not until 2007 that Intel finally stopped production of the 186 series.  It continued to be made by others under license including AMD, who made versions running up to 50MHz.  Fujitsu and Siemens also produced the 186 series. Like the 8051 the 186 gained significant support, being embedded in millions of devices.  The instruction set was familiar, debugging and development systems were (and are) plentiful so the 186 core continues to be in wide use.

As IC complexity and transistor counts increased the need for a processor core that could not just be embedded into a system, but be embedded into a custom ASIC or SoC became apparent. IC’s were being designed to handle things like DVD playback, set-top boxes, flat panel control and more.  These applications still required some sort of processor to handle them but having to have a separate IC for it was not economical.

pixelworks PW166B - 67MHz Tubro186 based Flatpanel Controller made in 2004

pixelworks PW166B – 67MHz Tubro186 based Flatpanel Controller made in 2004

VAutomation (founded in 1994) designed Verilog and VHDL synthesizable cores (meaning they could be ‘dropped’ into an IC design or FPGA).  In November 1996 VAutomation licensed the 8086/8, 80186/8 and the CMOS versions from Intel.   This gave them them ability to design their own compatible models of these processors without fear of litigation.  More importantly it allowed them to sub-license these designs to others.  In 1997 VAutomation demo’d their first 186, the V186 core.  This was a Intel 80186 compatible core that could be synthesized into a customers design.  It was ‘technology independent  which means it was not restricted to a certain process or even technology.  It could be used in CMOS, ECL, 0.35u, 1 micron, whatever the client needed.  On a 0.35u CMOS process it was capable of speeds in excess of 60MHz, and did so with less then 28,000 gates. One of the first licensees was Pixelworks, which made controllers for monitors.  Typical licensing was a $25,000 fee up front and royalties on a per device basis usually split into a high volume (over 500,000 units) and low volume.  Typical price per chip was $0.25-$2.00, which was cheaper then the $15 price Intel was charging for a discrete 80C186.

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January 5th, 2013 ~ by admin

2012: Year in Review: Processors and FPUs

Welcome to 2013!  2012, was a busy year here at the CPU Shack Museum. We added 716 new processors/EPROMs/MCUs, which works out to an average of 2 new chips per day.  This includes 16 New in Box Processors. We also added 53 new Graphics Processors, which isn’t bad for something we only collect on the side.

Some processor highlights (in no particular order, click to enlarge):

HPIB21364-1300VP7

Here is a HP/Compaq 21364 1300MHz, this was the end of the road for the DEC Alpha architecture.  It was killed off in favor of the Itanium, for better or for worse.

IBMPOWER5+19GHz

The IBM POWER5+ MCM is a stunning chip to look at, clocked at 1.9GHz its a dual core with on package L3 cache

IntelMG80387-16-SM156

An Intel MG80387-16 SM156 US Military MIL-STD-883B spec math co processor for the 80386 processor.  Made in 1990

MME80A-CPU-9107

Going back in time further is this East German (MME) 80A CPU, a clone of  the Zilog Z80 made in 1991 (copied before unification, produced after, for this example).  Its always neat to see the white ceramic package, even well into the 1990’s.

NexGenNx586-P133-D-J

NexGen was a company that became victim of the wild processor wars of the 1990’s.  It was bought out by AMD which used its designs as the basis of the very popular and successful AMD K6.  Here is a very uncommon 133 (rated) without FPU.  Later they made a version with an integrated FPU.

ZoranZR36762PQC-Turbo186

And to get all the way to ‘Z’ we shall go to the Zoran ZR36762.  Its a DVD controller SoC, with Dolby Digital support.  Not something one sees and thinks of as a processor.  However at its core, even in 2004, it is not an ARM, its not a MIPs, its a high speed (67MHz) Turbo186, the same 186 architecture Intel released in 1982, still being used, albeit in CMOS.

In the next few days I’ll post some EPROM highlights, then some GPU highlights.  2013 is already off to a great start with new chips coming in each week.