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AMD To Stop Production Of 486, 586 & K6 Chips 224

Posted by Hemos
from the not-unexpected dept.
Mr X writes "Here is a clip from an email I got from Versalogic (my company's supplier of embedded PC/104 Motherboards): Dear VersaLogic Customer: This letter is being sent to alert you to an important change in the long-term availability of several VersaLogic products. Please read it carefully. AMD, the supplier of CPU chips that are used on many of our products, has notified us that they plan to re-tool the production line that currently produces 486, 586 and K6 CPU chips. AMD needs to use their Fab 25 facility to produce a different line of products and will stop production on these CPU chips on June 28, 2002 ...... As recently as October 2000 they announced new processors (the K6-2E+ and K6-IIIE+) and assured us of their continuing long-term support for the embedded market." I've gotten a couple of these e-mails - full text of the e-mail is pasted below. At first glance, it seemed unsurprising with the faster chips, but this will have an impact on the embedded market.

Dear VersaLogic Customer:

This letter is being sent to alert you to an important change in the long-term availability of several VersaLogic products. Please read it carefully.

AMD, the supplier of CPU chips that are used on many of our products, has notified us that they plan to re-tool the production line that currently produces 486, 586 and K6 CPU chips. AMD needs to use their Fab 25 facility to produce a different line of products and will stop production on these CPU chips on June 28, 2002. The CPU chips produced by this facility are used in our VSBC-2, VSBC-6, VSBC-7, Panther, VL-686-2, and VL-586-1 products.

This decision by AMD, with whom we have worked closely for many years, is a major blow to the embedded computer market. It is very surprising that their long-standing dedication to the embedded market has taken such an abrupt turn. As recently as October 2000 they announced new processors (the K6-2E+ and K6-IIIE+) and assured us of their continuing long-term support for the embedded market.

Please note that this decision by AMD does not mean that they will immediately halt production or that these CPU chips will be in short supply. Normal production of these chips is scheduled to continue through June 2002. Last-time-buy orders can be placed in June for delivery of the chips in late 2002 and early 2003.

VersaLogic management has been hearing rumors of this possible change (various versions of it) over the last few months and has been working closely with AMD to avoid this radical change in their direction. We prepared for the possibility that their decision would ultimately be to issue an end-of-life notice. Now that the decision has been made, our focus will be on assisting our customers with planning and migration issues over the next 12-24 months.

Although this change is not immediate, each customer must look at the long term impact that this announcement will have on their product usage. In some cases this will mean placing an end-of-life purchase order with VersaLogic to continue delivery of the current product even after the AMD chips have been discontinued. For others it may involve qualifying new products, or using Intel Tillamook versions of our current products, for the current application. Tillamook versions of most impacted products will be available before year end. For further information please see the roadmap and migration information on our web site at http://www.versalogic.com/support/rdmp/rdmp.asp or contact us directly at info@versalogic.com.

Again, this change is not immediate, but planning steps should be taken now to assure a smooth transition in the future. We stand ready to support you as needed to make this transition as easy and painless as possible. "

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AMD To Stop Production Of 486, 586 & K6 Chips

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  • by Tarlyn (136811) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:56AM (#2112627)
    I've gotten a couple of these e-mails - full test of the e-mail is pasted below.

    This is a test of the AMD emergency broadcast message. This is only a test. If this had been an actual email, you door would have been kicked in by federal agents, your AMD CPU's would have been confiscated, and you would have been arrested for violation of the DMCA. We now return you to your regularly scheduled email.
  • Bad News (Score:3, Funny)

    by briggsb (217215) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:47AM (#2113424)
    As long as they don't stop production on their flagship processor [bbspot.com]....
  • Damn! (Score:2, Funny)

    by clandaith (187570)
    You mean I will no longer be able to brag about putting Linux on a new 486 box in the future!?!

  • The email says AMD is stopping production, but I wonder if they are altogether scrapping the production lines, or if someone else (maybe in a 3rd-world country) could purchase the lines and resume production. Wasn't production of the Mini passed around similarly? I guess more details will be fleshed out later.
  • for the recyclers-- instead of tossing the 386 and 486es, stash them in inventory and sell back to the embedded market. The problem is that the labor to extract the chip and toss it in storage is probably more than the cost of the chips when in mass production. There's a lot of .59 to $4.00 cpus when you look at the z80 derivitives through the 486 equivalents.

    SIMM memory isn't getting cheaper either, if you haven't notices.

    -dB

    • I can't see any serious company buying used chips for use in an embedded systems target if they could in any way avoid it (even reengineering, as expensive as that is). One of the primary requirements of any embedded product is reliability -- and anyhow, the packaging (and energy requirements) for the original release-versions are generally very different from the smaller, more efficient embedded versions.
  • by sinator (7980) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @10:26AM (#2120656)
    A lot of people have said things like "x86 isn't used that much for embedded programming anyway," and that's clearly false.

    Generally, the trend in the embedded -- specifically automation and control -- markets, is to move from expensive and non-forward-compatible ASICs and SH processors and the MIPS series to x86 processors. Why, you ask? Because x86-based PLCs can be programmed using a standard compiler, instead of a special cross-compiler like the Green Hill Compiler (which costs a lot).

    Did I mention the cross-compilers for SH/MIPS/etc cost a *lot*?

    By using x86 one COTS compilers. Conceivably, if you're using COTS equipment for the buses (standard UART, etc.) you could compile applications and OS using VC++, gcc, Turbo C, etc. x86 for embedded/PLC might seem braindead, but the cost savings outweigh the programmer's headache. This is especially true if you're running in real mode and don't have to worry about segmented memory (no matter; most embedded x86 programmers just initialize the segment registers to the same value and the offset registers to MAXINT and in doing so, get a flat memory model)

    In addition, x86 is the primary target of VxWorks, UC/OS, and other off-the-shelf operating systems. The advantage to using 3rd party operating systems is, you don't have to spend time and money designing your own to find it incompatible along your product line -- especially if the low end of your product line is an SH processor and the high end is a pentium III. By using x86 for the embedded market, you can cash in on standardized, third party OSes and not have to worry about backwards/forwards compatibility.

    So now that I've finished ranting about how x86 is a big cost saver, let's talk about why 486-K6 is important (from AMD's point of view). Let's face it. You couldn't use the athlon to power ANY industrial or consumer appliance -- unless you're talking about an oven. My athlon 1400 hits 55C and that's WITH a FOP38 cooler and four case fans. Air flow issues I may have aside, this is clearly unacceptable for thermostat controls, or assembly line mechanisms, or automotive controls, or space shuttle computers, or smart refrigerators, et al. By having a low-power K6-II (my laptop uses a K6-II/400 and it runs pretty damn cool) one can get optimum performance at a low cost, using very little power. Combine the "low cost/low power draw/reasonable performance" benefit with the "standardized OS/save costs on cross-compilers" benefit and you can see why x86 is compelling for embedded control applications.

    Personally, if this is true (I've seen no announcement from AMD proper, only from this forwarded memo), I think it's going to be a big hit for AMD and other companies alike. It's going to be a big hit for AMD because they're going to lose money on a big, if unsexy market (embedded is FAR more important than PCs now, and in the future will be more so). It's going to be a big hit for embedded programmers because Intel will have a monopoly on the x86 embedded market. As more and more managers decide to move from SH/MIPS/Zilog/whatever to x86 so that they can cross-compile from COTS compilers, they're going to be pushing more money into Intel's hands. Intel can then reasonably do some serious price gouging, claiming "it takes extra effort to keep these 386E, etc plants open" even though the plants are a 'sunk cost' in terms of capital.

    Well, the men in white coats are ranting... and they have blue faces?

    (three tones)

    • Did I mention the cross-compilers for SH/MIPS/etc cost a *lot*?

      Hiya. I work for MontaVista Software. We publish a linux-based cross-development kit which targets (among other things) several varieties each of mips, SH, ARM, PPC and x86. We use the GNU tools -- gcc, gdb and kin -- on all of these, and in most cases few bugfixes and changes are needed.

      In any event, the tools we work with and publish are free. Getting a full copy of our cross-development kit (which comes with lots of nifty target apps, and good phone support, and whatnot) is liable to cost a fair bit, but (being that it's mostly GPLed) you get the rights to make your own modifications, redistribute and so forth.

      Interestingly enough, not one of the targets we've got here that I've tested on has been based on AMD chips. We had Athlon support internally some time back (some of the "embedded" systems we work with are actually fairly beefy) but it's been dropped for whatever reason. Draw your own conclusions....

      In any event, quality cross-compilers for odd platforms aren't really all that hard to come by.
    • by mad_clown (207335) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @02:04PM (#2140326)
      Err, well it seems to me, by reading alot of these posts, that everyone thinks that AMD is "ditching the embedded market" altogether and is "going to let Intel have the embedded systems market, so they can focus on the main consumer market".

      I don't think that's the case at all... The K6IIE+ and the K6IIIE+ are going to be AMD's new embedded solutions (denoted by the "E"), and it says so in the article. As embedded devices become more and more complex, I think there'll be a greater demand for more powerful processors to run them. I think AMD is just thinking ahead, and the fact that they're gonna keep on making older processors until June 2002 says that they're not just jumping ship. I don't think AMD has ANY intention of giving away ANY market to Intel... they are competitors, after all. Not to mention that in the long run, it's probably easier and cheaper for them to fab K6-2/3 processors than the old stuff.

  • I've developed a note-taking application for my company. Although it's fairly portable, right now we only target DOS. Why DOS? Because there are a number of industrial-strength handheld computers which run DOS on top of an embedded x86 processor. They're exactly what you want in the middle of a corn field in November.

    The current handhelds we're buying are made by Juniper Systems. They're AMD 486s with 16MB RAM which can dual-boot DOS and WinCE. They're $2500 a pop. They're waterproof. They're damn near drop-proof. They've got heaters on the LCD screen so they can be used outside in freezing temperatures.

    By using x86 procs and OSes, one can use existing apps with them and use standard development tools to create new apps (and develop and test on a desktop system!). These types of computers are not revised too often. I'm sure my company won't be affected too much by this, but it is something for me to worry about, and for our supplier to work out. The embedded market may be contracting because of the networking slowdown, but there's still demand for old AMD 486s, nonetheless.

    Jon
  • OH THE HORROR!! They still even make 486 chips? I guess for smaller devices, but these days people use things like... i forget, the ones with the Z... I am not an engineer!
  • One - if you're going to need more of these chips, order now. That reminds me, need to order a couple Pentium II 450s, now that they've hit the sweet spot on the price curve.

    Two - AMD is girding for war with Intel, as Intel announced it's going to fight for the low-cost chip prices. This is why competition is good. And this is why MSFT being a monopoly means the only effective competition is ... wait for it ... Open Source. Because, as we all learned with IE, you can't beat free (with marketing dollars thrown in).

    • Ummm... pricewatch says the PII 450 is going for $89. That's a lot higher than the Athlon 1ghz or the pIII 667! Methinks the sweet spot is the Duron 750 at $31.
  • I would think if this were the end of the world for the embedded market that Texas Instruments, Motorola, Sony would not be options. The first thought that came to me was what about hypertransport? Is that not planned/aimed at most of the markets they are concerned about...not just the embedded space, but the server/workstation arena? Also, would it not be easy to re-tool a duron/athlon chip by itself, under clocked (shudder...more powerrrr!!!) an most likely cachless? I mean a full blown processor is not needed, but more than the average IC is? Maybe my perspective is skewed, but I am sure the "moving forward" phrase would enter the picture sooner or later. Moose. What is loose at the moment, alex?
  • I understand that there is still a market for lower - speed (low-cost;low-powered) processors in the embedded market, but the embedded market upgrades, too.

    This is nothing more than concession that they will stop making products that are obsolete NOW...in 10 months. Why is this an issue?
      • the embedded market upgrades, too

      Only when absolutely necessary. The R&D cost of re-engineering a product dwarfs the cost of saving a few pennies by moving to more modern, high volume hardware.

      So this decision will cost some companies in R&D. That sucks!

      No... no, wait, I'm an R&D engineer... yah, AMD! ;)

    • What do you mean, "obsolete"?

      No, seriously.

      If chip is small, flexible and inexpensive, what does it matter when it was designed? If it's the least expensive way to meet the need of the application in question, why should someone use something "newer" just because it's there?

      The embedded systems market isn't like general computing. There's no need to get the fastest thing out there because you might upgrade your software -- because the software and the hardware are developed to go with each other. Hence, you always want the cheapest hardware which will work for you (continued availability being one aspect of working, in this case).

      These chips aren't obsolete in the embedded market. For a particular application, they may be the best thing out there.
  • by d-ude (106541) <sch740.yahoo@com> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @10:09AM (#2131693)
    Lucent's Wavepoint II wireless access point uses AMD 486's (586's in the newest models i think) for it's processor. Along with the Apple Airport and the similar Lucent Residential Gateway. I'm not certain but I believe the Linksys cable modem routers use them too. This announcement is alot bigger than many might think right off the bat....
  • Slightly (OT), but does anyone know if it is still possible to buy a K6-II+ or K6-III anywhere for an ordinary end-user ? (Just one sought, not several thousand).

    This looked to be the one upgrade for an old 66 Mhz series 7 motherboard that would have made sense, avoiding the slow main memory with a 400 Mhz on-die L2 cache. But the chips seemed to disappear almost as soon as AMD announced them.

    Does anybody know of anywhere where they can still be found ?

    (I believe the embedded chips have the same pinouts as the original and the mobile versions, but I could be wrong).

    • Yes it is. Crux Broker in Helsinki, Finland are selling K6-2+:s for some 550 FIM (0.90 ). I'm guessing they are not the only one in the world doing it. Concidering you can get these babys to run at 600Mhz (2,0 (or 2,1) core voltage, check if your MB supports this before buying) on a 100Mhz FSB system (2X multiplier translates to 6x) they may be just the right upgrade to all these K6-2:s in the hands of the poor students of the world..
  • I guess now the embedded market will have to dig its 486s out of the garbage like the rest of us...
  • Unless you're designing small computers that are supposed to run some variant of windoze.

    Real OS's are more flexible when it comes to changing chip architectures. Frankly, a StrongARM is a hell of a lot more powerful than a 486.

    This shouldn't really affect any real small systems' design options. It will certainly inconvenience a few firms, but not for long. They should have expected this to happen. Only fools rely on single sources for parts.
    • If you custom-built a board, and the chip you built it around is suddenly unavailable, yes, you have a problem. It's mighty hard to just drop in a different part in this (very common) case.
  • Getting serious (Score:2, Informative)

    by thejake316 (308289)
    486 and 586-class general-purpose processors are probably fine things to develop and test embedded applications with (to a point) but I doubt they're a great long-term choice, I'm guessing this will only impact people who deserve it.
  • The Register [theregister.co.uk] has this article [theregister.co.uk] confirming IBM isn't building on AMD processors for US and Europe since May, which was apparently a Build-To-Order option. Some still available in Canadian warehouses, but IBM Asia still doing the AMD thing.

    Other news:
    Rambus being spanked by a few shareholder lawsuits, in what is now a two fronted war.

    One [yahoo.com] group's representation

    Another [yahoo.com] group, lead plaintiff The Teachers' Retirement System of Louisiana

    Yet another [yahoo.com] in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

    Yet another [yahoo.com] in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

    Their latest Quarterly Report [yahoo.com] from EDGAR Online, speaks optimistically of impending legal successes.

  • typical of /. ...

    What this says is AMD's old product lines are not making enough money compared to reutilizing their us$1,000,000,000++ fabrication facility for newer devices. They apparently have decided that a non-slashdot concept called Return on Investment is maximized if they phase out the old lines.

    There are few companies in the world that can caugh up the $1,200,000,000 to $1,400,000,000 to build a new fab manufacturing building and AMD obviously wants to do this as infrequently as possible.

    Too bad! The AMD K6 line was practically what braught AMD back from the edge of extinction and allowed them to produce the very competitive follow-ons.

    -- Multics

  • > but this will have an impact on the embedded market.

    And every industry in the world, unless someone still gets paid to build PC's. Really though, Intel was first in embedded systems so they won that game long before AMD dropped K6. Transmeta of course... what was Transmeta anyway?
  • by jvmatthe (116058) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @10:28AM (#2141935) Homepage
    As recently as October 2000 they announced new processors (the K6-2E+ and K6-IIIE+)
    There's the problem right there. The names were getting too long and ridiculous. Honestly, what next? The K6-2E+1 and the K6-IIIE++-frog-knows?
  • When you rely on closed-source, proprietary vendors for critical applications.

    If only the various users had banded together with the vast Free Chip community, this sort of thing would never happen.

    Just imagine patent free, fast embedded processors available Free to all members of the community!

    Who is going to join me in the new GNU/MAFFTP (Microprocessors Are Free For The People) project?
    • If only the various users had banded together with the vast Free Chip community, this sort of thing would never happen.

      Just imagine patent free, fast embedded processors available Free to all members of the community!


      The post I am responding to is a troll, but it brings up a few things.

      Believe it or not "Free Chips" do exist: the OpenCores [opencores.org] project. They have some serious designs, including an ARM-ish [opencores.org] core. The downside to this: you need FPGAs to implement these in relatively small quantities, and they don't come cheap.

      Ian
  • When my old Cyrix machine burnt out long ago, I was very much in need of a good, cheap, not very fast chip to replace my now dead machine. However, I came to realize that finding old machines like that is nearly as expensive as getting something like a used Celeron or other machine these days.

    Which, in a way sucks. No reason in going for overkill. But then I also realized, it can't be much cheaper for chip makers to keep making these slower chips. They have to use the same techniques that they used awhile back, which does cost them money. So, once all R&D costs are out of the way, in a way, it does become reasonable to just stop making the slower chips.

    However, what would really be nice is if the big chip makers stopped trying to go for "bigger and faster" and instead develop a line of chips that focuses only on "better and cheaper." I have tons of uses for 300MHz machines, but if a 300MHz machine costs the same as a 600+, what's the point? It'd be nice if someone actually designed consumer chips with the intent of being cheap instead of bigger.

    Oddly, this reminds me of American Cars vs European Cars for some reason.
    • Yeah, I agree. Recently a p2 400 of mine died. I wanted to replace it with a 600 or so mhz processor to be my dedicated divx player for my home entertainment center. Looking at the prices, it was pretty ludicrous to buy a 600. I wound up with a 1.3 ghz athlon new board and chip for ~200 dollars. In some cases, a 600 duron was *more*. What would the point be, in my situation, to buy the lesser chip?
  • by jht (5006) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:51AM (#2142693) Homepage Journal
    In the desktop PC market, AMD had basically replaced the K6 with Duron, and they'd done the same with the recent mobile Athlon and Duron products for laptops. I suspect they just weren't seeing a lot of demand for the older classes of processor anymore (or at least not enough to justify a fab anymore), and decided to let Intel service the low-end embedded market instead. A year-plus for a transition period isn't too bad, though companies making medical products that use embedded AMD would want more (I believe changes like that have to be certified, and that takes time/money).

    Given that AMD has only a fraction of Intel's resources, that's probably a smart move on their part. Spend your money where the opportunity for a return is best. Interestingly, the embedded market can make money (at least a little higher-up) - that's pretty much what's kept PowerPC cranking along all these years. It's popular in cars, printers, and networking equipment, to a much greater degree than Apple buys them. I think Intel still makes i960s, too - for that purpose.
    • Yeah, I'll bet that the Atari Jaguar with it's dual Motorola 68k based processors really helped keep the PowerPC crank along.

    • I would also think that if there were significant revenues comming in from these old processors, they would license the manufacture of them out to someone else to produce. Chip makers in general got hit hard by this latest economic downturn, so I would think there is production capacity available somewhere if the demand were there.

      It looks like AMD is letting Intel support all the nitches, while they go after the mainstream market for a change.
    • From: PC Magazine ...the Mobile Athlon (based on AMD's Palomino core) was redesigned to have a greater number of optimized transistors than did chips based on it desktop counterpart (the Thunderbird core). This resulted in increased performance without compromising power consumption. New to the mobile Athlon 4 is the addition of a data prefetch, which predicts data needed by the processor before it is requested. AMD also added 52 new SSE-compatible instructions (dubbed 3DNow! Professional). The Athlon 4 contains the Thunderbird's 384K of on-chip, full speed cache (256K L2 and 128K L1).
      • While that's a positive boon (i.e. being able to use an Athlon in many of the contexts that you'd be able to use a K6-II/III processor)- it's still a heat monster and I doubt they've made it hostile environment yet (Embedded K6's could handle operation from -40 to +80 degrees Centigrade...).
  • License to Hitachi? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by small_dick (127697) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @11:55AM (#2143806)
    I recall the Zilog Z80 and Motorola 68000 had long lives after being licensed over to Hitachi.

    Maybe Hitachi could start making K6s.
    • Maybe Hitachi could start making K6s

      I'm not sure if AMD's x86 licence permits that - I think they mentioned a limit of at most 20% shipments from external fabs in the last contract.

  • by BiggestPOS (139071) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:44AM (#2143892) Homepage
    Ford to stop production of the Edsel!

  • by Wakko Warner (324) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:49AM (#2143954) Homepage Journal
    NOW how will I realize my dream of constructing a Beowulf cluster out of 486 SX/25s? If I get a few hundred more it'll be JUST AS FAST as my Athlon 500!

    - A.P.
  • I know that there are those tiny little matchbox sized servers, but it just didn't sink in untill this post. It looks like I will have to do some scrounging and make up that matchbox sized linux gateway for DSL that i have wanted to do for soo long.

    It is also good to see AMD having the decentcy to notify their customers early, and that they will continue to develop chips for the embedded market. /me would love to see some kind of MP application of the K6-IIIE (if only) to be used in something like the Sun PCi cards.
    • This kind of thing is used in a lot more than just matchbox-sized servers. I've seen folks putting Linux-based systems inside vending machines (probably with the intention of having them notify the supplier when low), and that certainly doesn't require the kind of power and cost associated with more "modern" processors.

      Embedded software and hardware ends up a lot more places than most folks expect.
    • Well. I know that 486's are still being used for firewalls and such, and the 586 market is still being used as a desktop for those who just do word processing and such. Linux has really allowed people to reuse their old equipment, but face it. Many can go to Flea markets and Marketpro shows to pick up old equipment for pennies on the dollar, and others can sit on eBay and score 20 486's for under $100.

      It's just in what you like. I'm glad to see them cut off manufacturing just so they can start back producing even faster chips to catch back up with Intel. Maybe we can even see AMD pushing out those 760MP chipsets too!!
  • Long story made short...
    We had some electrical wiring problems with the outlets going into this one office with 10 K6 workstations just yesterday, and all boxen in that office took a dirtnap (i.e. the motherboard fried on all of them, and the CPU fried on 2).

    I called up our local PC vendor who had sold us the PCs just 7 months ago. The vendor said that AMD stopped making the CPUs and to get (original make) replacement boards and CPUs will take at least 4-6 weeks!

    That meant I had to buy either

    some more expensive motherboards, or

    the only motherboards the vendor had

    (Is he bluffing? Vendor poker, anyone?)

    Makes me wonder if motherboard manufacturers have followed suit in this one.

  • ...because after all, they still use very old processors on STS. Oh well, guess they'll buy from Intel [probably always have]...
  • Do you seriously think a company would can it's line of processors if it was actually selling good? You never say no to money. If it would have been profitable, it would have stayed that way. Besides, some people will stock a lot of it with such an announcement (so that will push the fab to maximum till it shuts down the production, good thing for them) and after that there will still be plenty available on the market for a while.

    It could also be a ploy to check consumer's reaction and see if it's profitable in the mid term to keep that fab with these productions or not. Anyhow I wouldn't be too worried about the X86, Maybe a bit more for the new K6 line with low power, since there's not a load of them on the market... then again people might stock them in huge quantities.
    • Do you seriously think a company would can it's line of processors if it was actually selling good? You never say no to money.

      But what if they could make more cash off of the other chips? ok do this, look at the amount made off of the old chips. Then look at the amount they make off of the new chips. then subtract the cost of making a new production line from the proit from the old chips. If they are still in the black from the old chips AFTER making a new production line then it is a smart move to keep the old line. If not then it is cheeper tto dump the old chip and replace it with the newer one.

  • by toastyman (23954) <toasty@dragondata.com> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @11:00AM (#2157264) Homepage
    I think people here who are saying "Big deal, it's how the industry works.. Old CPU's stop getting made" are missing the point.

    The "embedded" world is a bunch of companies producing devices that are usually small, lower powered, small production runs, and generally get made for alot longer than most electronics you're used to.

    The last company I worked for (Midway Games) made arcade(coin-operated) video games. For a brief time, I worked with the group called "Wavenet". Wavenet was an idea to link arcade games up in arcades all through the world, to allow real-time tournaments. The first game that was tried was Mortal Kombat 3. MK3 used a really weird processor called a 34010 from Texas Instruments. (Weird in that it had *BIT* addressable memory, funky graphics opcodes built in that we never used, etc) However, the game designers pretty much pushed the CPU to its max before we had a chance to make it a networked game. There wasn't enough RAM, CPU, or ROM (for networking code) left to do it, as well as this board didn't have an ethernet output on it to connect it up to the router.

    Midway ended up designing a tiiiiny little board (running a small embedded OS that just translated game commands into TCP/IP and vice versa) that plugged into an expansion connector on the MK3 board. It had an Ethernet controller, some ram, more ROMs for the networking code and a 386SX CPU made by AMD on it. Why not use a Pentium, or Pentium Pro? (which was the newest CPU out at the time)

    Cost. Right now, you can get 386SX CPU's for a couple of dollars.

    Power. Compare the latest generation of 386 CPUs to even a slow PII. HUUUGE difference here.

    Board space. The embedded 386's are a little bigger than an american nickle. Pentium class CPU's... well... are big.

    Longevity. When we bought these, we got committments from our suppliers that the CPU would be around for at least X months/years. This is REALLLLY important to us. If we're going to spend a ton of cash designing a board based around a CPU, we don't want it to disappear next month when something better comes along.

    Had the embedded world not existed, and we had to use a faster/newer CPU, the board cost would have doubled, it would have been a bigger board(again more $$), We likely would have needed to put a bigger power supply(or played tricks with regulators), and then had to redsign the board every time the trendy chip got unpopular. All for horsepower we didn't even need!

    Take a look here [intel.com]. Intel is still supporting and selling 80186 CPU's, for embedded controller uses.

    Many many companies depend on slower CPU's for things. I don't know if it's still true, but at one point nearly every computer-controlled traffic light system sold used an 80186 CPU. Intel(?) came up with a "hardened" version of it that tolerated extreme cold and extreme heat. Companies that produce products like that are even happy paying double price for an old CPU that can do that, than installing air conditioners and heaters in every traffic light box.

    The embedded CPU industry is a place where normal PC economics do not apply. It's not unheard of to pay extra for a part just because you know it'll be around for 10 years, instead of a cheaper(sometimes better) part that will go away as soon as it's not trendy.

    While I don't know the specifics of this deal, it sounds like AMD is breaking their previously announced EOL(End Of Life) dates. This is quite likely going to piss a lot of people off who built their product around one of these CPUs.
    • What we are starting to see in the embedded market though is more use of embedding the processing core in an FPGA. If you only need 386/486 performance you can easily slot in an 8, 16 or even 32bit RISC core onto your FPGA, it might only take up a quarter of a decent sized one, add the your other logic to the rest of the FPGA. The only difference might be that you will be using a larger FPGA than you would have before (more gates, more interface pins for the cpu's memory and i/o busses). You don't then have to worry about your processor being obsoleted, only your FPGA (which you would have had to worry about anyway).

      Mark..........
    • Thanks for a most informative post. I always wondered what happened to to 80186. Not a historically important chip, but of sentimental interest. I used to work for Convergent Technologies, which made the NGen [lycanthrope.org], one of the few 186-based workstations. Though, as I recall, most NGens shipped with 8086s, due to Intel production delays.

      CT also made a weird beast called MegaFrame [utdallas.edu]. Started out as an 80186-based LAN server (Ethernet? What's Ethernet? Network was an RS-422 daisy chain.) that could be expanded in a modular fashion to some ungodly number of CPUs. Then somebody decided the same box could host a 68010-based "application procesor", and it was CT's chance to break into the Unix marketplace. System admin was much fun: you had to know both Unix and CTOS, the proprietary OS that ran on the 80186 boards. And you thought configuring Win 2K was complicated!

    • I remember the 34010. A fun little chip. I particularly liked the host interface registers!

      TI also provided a library for those who did want to use the graphics capability. It came in source code form. This library had errors in it (it wouldn't work right if compiled with the optimizer on).

      They also had a font library and a CCITT Group IV Fax library.

      I remember the bit addressing. It took a while to get used to opcodes being on mod 8 addresses. The other thing that the 340x0 (I used the 34020, too) had was that you could specify two specific word sizes (anywhere from 1 to 32 bits), so you could move, say, 17 bits in a single pop. Weird...

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