Are Designers Still Using the Vortex86? Two Places an Old CPU Showed Up at CES 2018

February 08, 2018 by Mark Hughes

Among the robots and self-driving cars at CES 2018, a bit of old technology made a surprising appearance: the Vortex86 Series CPU.

Among the robots and self-driving cars at CES 2018, a bit of old technology made a surprising appearance: the Vortex86 Series CPU.

The world is full of machines and devices that were designed around 1980s and 1990s technology, the days of DOS and floppy-drives. To accommodate those who do not retool their production lines every time a technological advancement is made, the Taiwanese company ICOP might have a solution to some very old problems with their new-production Vortex86 Series CPU.

Vortex86 System on Chip

The Vortex86 Series (SX, EX, DX, MX+, DX2, DX3) was initially designed to replace the 40MHz x86-based DMP M6117D SoC that ended production in 2007. 

These replacement processors are designed around x86 architecture with ultralow power consumption. Their manufacturer states that these chips can function in -40° C to +85°C environments, making them suitable for harsh industrial environments.


Image of Vortex86SX. Image used courtesy of ICOP.


Various versions are capable of supporting DOS, Windows, Linux, and select 32-bit Real-Time Operating Systems. The versions have all the accoutrements you've come to expect, including BIOS, PCI-E Bus, DDR2 controller, ROM controller, ISA, I²C, SPI, IPC, DMA, RS-232,  Parallel, Ethernet, UART, USB 2.0 host, JTAG, GPU and IDE/SATA controllers—all on a single chip.

If designing a system from the chip-level is a bit too labor intensive for you, ICOP also provides System on Modules in various configurations that do the tedious routing and layout of the data lines, simplifying the implementation into your final product.


ICOP Single Board Computer. Image courtesy of ICOP.


They also provide compact cases for their products and ruggedized enclosures.

PanelPCs integrate all of the features in the above devices with a screen. Designed for industrial applications, controllers, or consumer interfaces, these devices have touchscreens, displays that range in size from 5.7" to 15", and can run various versions of Linux, Dos, Windows CE, Windows Embedded Standard 2009, or Windows Embedded Standard 7.


For more information, visit the ICOP website, or their North American distributor WDLSystems.


Arduinos are popular, but they are not the only chip around. The 86duino Educake is also based on the Vortex86EX SoC.


Image of the 86Duino. Image used courtesy 86Duino.


That means you can have a mini computer that runs DOS, Linux, or Windows and still access the GPIO pins with the Arduino Compatible IDE. And since it is a 32-bit platform, you can do things with it that simply are not possible with the 8-bit Arduino. For example, you could control servos with greater precision and no jitter, perform high-precision math to find the distance between two latitude/longitude coordinates using Vincenty's formula, or write larger programs utilizing the increased memory range and space.


While many companies, such as security companies, must stay on the bleeding edge of technology developments, others are much more interested in having reliable technology that is relatively inexpensive. For those companies, the Vortex86 SoC based computers and control systems are a viable option. The design is based on reliable, proven x86 architecture and will run programs that were written two days ago or two decades ago.