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Although Intel is Chipzilla, the company can’t help but extend its reach just a bit into the exciting and growing world of DIY makers and hobbyists. Intel announced its Galileo development board, a microcontroller that’s compatible with Arduino software and uses the new Quark X1000 SoC processor (400MHz, 32-bit, Pentium-class, single- core and thread) that Intel announced at the IDF 2013 keynote.

The board makes use of Intel’s architecture to make it easy to develop for Windows, Mac, and Linux, but it’s also completely open hardware. If this sounds similar to the low-cost Raspberry Pi board, that’s because they’re definitely of the same ilk.

Intel Galileo development board with Quark SoC

Galileo is just 10cm x 7cm (although ports protrude a bit beyond that), and there are four screw holes for secure mounting. Ports include 10/100 Ethernet, USB client/host ports, RS-232 UART and 3.5mm jack, mini PCIe slot (with USB 2.0 host support); other features include 8MB Legacy SPI Flash for firmware storage, 512KB embedded SRAM, 256MB DRAM, 11KB EEPROM programmed via the EEPROM library, and support for an additional 32GB of storage using a microSD card.

Intel didn’t announce pricing for Galileo, but the company is running a program for universities where it will give away 50,000 of the boards to over 1,000 universities over the course of the next year and a half. We imagine that throngs of innovative young minds will find a thing or two to do with Galileo and all the creative endeavors it enables.

But can it run DOS?


i did a comprehensive analysis of the Quark X1000 based on the Galileo schematics, comparing it to a diverse range of embedded processors and modern ARM and MIPS SoCs.

the assessment is... not good. there's no video outputs - of any kind - there are nearly 400 pins, but an extreme limited set of functionality, which is incredibly unusual for embedded processors these days, and it's down to the fact that there is ZERO multiplexing. even Intel's PXA ARM processor design (which they sold to Marvell) has multiplexed I/O.

so with no video outputs, there's no way the Quark X1000 can be used for any useful desktop or mobile purposes. you _could_ try putting in a PCIe video card, but to try to match a 0.4 watt processor with a 20 watt 3D Graphics Card would be an absolute commercial flop.

then there's the I/O. there's no CAN bus, no I2S (for AC97 Audio), no PWM, no ADC, no DAC - nothing that would make this a useful embedded controller. sure, intel's put on some GPIO "expander" ICs... but the latency on those is an absolute killer. as a "solution", a 16mhz 16-bit PIC has a better I/O response time than this 400mhz SoC does! which means that, actually, to be cost-effective (and effective) you should consider deploying an embedded controller such as a PIC or an ARM Cortex M3 as a GPIO expander... but for most purposes (because embedded controllers have built-in Flash, SDRAM and Power Management - no external PMIC needed, unlike the Quark X1000) you'd actually be better off just deploying the embedded controller and leaving out the Quark X1000.

if you *really* needed 500mhz of processing power and needed to use 512mb of RAM you'd be better off getting Atmel's latest SoC which is a 500mhz ARM Cortex A5. it's a better chip, and has power-management built-in so only needs a few external capacitors rather than an entire $3 PMIC plus ferrites.

in short, the areas where intel is attempting to pitch an x86 SoC are so mature now that intel's lack of experience is very very obvious. it's almost painful to witness them being nearly 15 years behind the times. what i _really_ can't understand is why they didn't study any competitor SoCs or even their own design (the PXA) before releasing the Quark X1000.

the sad thing is that if they'd only put SATA on it, they would have at least one really good market in which to sell the Quark X1000: as a low-cost high-end WIFI-capable NAS storage box and router. that MiniPCIe slot could have been used for a high-end 300mb/sec WIFI card or even a WIMAX card.

... but without SATA (or any other useful interface) i'm really struggling to think of a single commercially-viable use for this SoC, and that's from having analysed what must be getting on for over 150 processors over the past 30 years.

all that having been said, i'm disappointed that i even have to write this, because i expect better things from intel. let's hope that they listen and do better, eh? we don't want the market to be dominated by ARM's offerings.