February 11th, 2022 ~ by admin

How do you test a S3 GPU? With an HP 93000

GammaChrome XM18 – Engineering Sample

Recently I got in some very nice S3 GammaChrome GPUs.  The GammaChrome was S3 (owned by VIAs) follow on to the DeltaChrome and included support for such things at PCI-E.  The S18 (Code name Brooklyn) supported speeds of up to 500MHz and was made on a 130nm process by TSMC.  S3 also made a mobile version of the S18 called the XM18 (Code name Metro MPM) in 64MB and 32MB versions.  Clock speed on these was around 350MHz (memory on the samples I have is 350 so core should be similar).  The XM18 was packaged on a MPM (Multi Package Module) with 2 RAM chips and the GPU mounted on a small chip size BGA with around 800 balls.  This is very similar to how ATI packaged some of their mobile GPUs (like the Mobility Radeon 7500 and 9600).

HP 93000 (from HP Brochure)

So how do you test one of the XM18 Engineering Samples? Or any large scale chip for

86C813 ES Gamma Chrome XM18 ULP MPM64

that matter?  With Automated Test Equipment.  ATE systems are designed to rapidly test various chips to verify their design/performance before they go into full production (or to test samples of production ones).  The HP/Agilent 93000 (spunoff as Verigy in 2007 and acquired by Advantest Corporation in 2011) was introduced in 1999 to handle such testing, and at the time was rather revolutionary.  Previously most test systems used a simple test head that would mount the chip to be tested, with all the processing and customizations being contained in the main test machine.  This worked fine for a single design, but to test multiple chips got pretty expensive.  HP moved the testing to the test head directly, interfacing to the target chip via a large PCB.  This way changing chips only required updating the test program, and changing out the PCB.  Design changes required reworking a single PCB, rather then the entire test machine.

HP 93000 Test Head – Notice the 16 groups of pins (some covers and some mangled in this old sale photo)

The 93000 was the first ATE that achieved (on its low end (200Mbps) a cost of $1000/pin tested, and on the high end, test speeds of up to 1250Mbps (for the P1000 version, at a cost of $6-7000 per pin).  The XM18 has around 800 pins, half are probably power/ground so 400 some odd testable pins, in a mid range HP 93000 and you see these systems were not inexpensive. Well over a million dollars for a midrange system.

GammaChrome XM18 – Metro MPM Test Board

To use such a system the chip to be tested would be mounted on the test board, usually with a BGA socket.  This board breaks out all the various connections of the chip to 16 sets of contacts, which the probe head of the HP 93000 made contact with using spring loaded contacts.  The board is then clamped down and tests are run.

Connection List

These boards are very very large, each one is 17x23inches (43x58cm) and 5mm thick.  They weigh about 7lbs (3.1kg) as well.  They got used a lot and need to be rather robust and durable.  You can see the boards are marked with tables of all the connections, and where they are brought out to.  Useful information about what supporting equipment is need (sockets and stiffeners etc) is marked on the board as well.

Back of board. Notice all the capacitors, a crystal, and a series of 5VDC reed relays (the red devices)

These boards appear to be a ‘static’ type item, but they do require adjustment, notice the markings that say not to use this board, it needs recalibrated.  Looking closely at the board you can see capacitors have been removed/replaced, and many of the capacitors have felt tip marker markings on them.  Keeping the capacitance and inductances at their proper values 9and matched, considering the long trace lengths) would be a very important thing.

S3/VIA Matrix Test Board. The Matrix was the code name for the GammaChrome S14/S19

These test boards are from 2006, the 93000 systems are still being used today in upgraded form (now called the V93000) to test SoCs and other chips.  As chips have gotten more and more complex, faster, and with larger pin outs, test equipment continues to grow ins peed, and cost as well, but is an essential part to the process of designing, producing and supporting a successful GPU or CPU.

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Boards and Systems

October 31st, 2012 ~ by admin

Cyrix Joshua Processor – From Peppers to the Bible

Cyrix Joshua Sample

Perhaps one of the most confusing, and misreported processor stories is that of the Cyrix Joshua processor.  More correctly known as the VIA Cyrix III Joshua.  Cyrix began sampling this successor to the MII in 1999, a tumultuous time in Cyrix’s history, as they were in the midst of being sold to VIA by National Semiconductor.  The Joshua never made it into full production, being quickly killed off by the Centaur designed Samuel core. Centaur was the processor division of IDT which produced the Winchip series, bought by VIA only a month after their purchase of Cyrix.

Adding to the confusion was Cyrix bountiful use of code names for its upcoming products, with many seeming to overlap, change or be redundant.  Understanding the methodology of their naming will greatly increase ones understanding of the products.  Cyrix used a code name for the core of a processor, as well as a separate name for what application that core was going to be used in.  Just like Intel used the P6 core for the PII, Celeron, and Xeon, Cyrix intended its cores to be able to be used in several products.

In the late 1990’s Cyrix had two new cores under development.  The first was the Cayenne, an evolution of the 6x86MX/MII processor.  The Cayenne was essentially an MII, with a dual (rather then single) issue FPU, support for 3DNow! instructions, and perhaps most importantly, a 256K 8-way associative on-die L2 cache.  It retained the 7 stage pipeline of the MII, the 256 byte scratch pad L0 cache, an almost identical X-Y integer unit and the same 64K L1 cache.  Cyrix had had industry leading integer performance, but always lagged in the area of FPU performance.  The dual issue FPU was their attempt to help remedy this.  However, FPU intensive benchmarks, such as Quake 3, showed the Cayenne core to be about half as fast as a Celeron of equal rating (500MHz vs PR500 Cyrix).  Business apps, heavy in integer and light on floating point, showed the integer strength of the Cyrix, with a 400MHz Cyrix matching a 500MHz Celeron.

The Cayenne core was slated to be used in at least 3 different products.  The first was the MXi, this was the successor to the MediaGX and thus would be highly integrated, including a PCI Bus controller, SDRAM controller, MPEG/DVD acceleration, 2D/3D Graphics as well as audio capabilities. The Jedi was to be a socket 7 (Super 7 really) compatible processor based on the Cayenne core.  This was canceled in 1999 (nothing to do with potential lawsuits from Lucas Films as often was rumored).  The third use of the Cayenne core was the Gobi, this was to be a Socket 370 compatible processor and it is this version that was widely sampled, and benchmarked, by many hardware review sites, magazines, etc.  When VIA purchased Cyrix on June 30, 1999 the Gobi project was allowed to continue, MXi, and other projects were quickly shut down.  The Gobi codename did not fit with VIAs core naming scheme however, thus is was renamed.

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CPU of the Day

January 6th, 2011 ~ by admin

The day has come, ARM + Microsoft Windows

Over a year ago we wrote about the need for native support of ARM cored processors by Windows (and not just Windows mobile).  Yesterday at the CES Microsoft officially announced it will be supporting ARM processors as well as ARM SoC’s in Windows 8, and demo’d several such systems.  This is very important to the landscape of processors.  Obviously software support will be initially lacking but this brings much needed competition to the PC market.

Intel and AMD have been competing with each other, and each other alone (with a few exceptions) for almost 10 years now. Bringing full fledged Windows to a new architecture is not unprecedented.  Windows NT 4 ran on x86, MIPS, PowerPC as well as the Digital Alpha.

Nvidia, already very talented in the GPU market, has been working on ARM processors for a couple years now with its Tegra line, so its not surprising that they have also announced development of a ARM based processor/GPU targeted for the desktop known as Project Denver.

VIA is also adding some more competition with the release of their first dual core processor, the Nano X2, based on the Isaiah architecture.  While not known for brute force, the Nano is known for its low heat and power sipping capabilities.

2011 is off to a great start and we look forward to seeing many new processors released, as well as old processors added to the museum

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Processor News