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x86 SoC vendor gains worldwide distribution

Jan 30, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Fabless chipmaker ZF Micro Solutions has signed up Chip 1 Exchange USA to distribute its Linux-compatible ZFx86 system-on-chip (SoC). The venerable, 486-based ZFx86 runs on less than 1 Watt, and is touted as the lowest power x86 embedded controller available.

When it was introduced in 2000, the ZFx86 was one of the first x86-based SoCs to hit the market. In 2005, ZF Micro announced it had resumed production on the chip after a hiatus, signing up IBM for fabrication duties. Since then it has competed with other X86 chipsets targeted at low-power embedded applications, such as the AMD Geode LX, Via CoreFusion, and DM&P Vortex86SX.

ZFx86 architecture
(Click to enlarge)

Tailored for the embedded control market, the highly integrated ZFx86 has an embedded BIOS, and is based on a 32-bit 486 processor clocked at 100MHz. It is equipped with PCI and ISA bus controllers, general purpose I/O lines, and USB, serial, and parallel ports. The SoC also provides interfaces for a PC-compatible keyboard/mouse, IrDA, floppy drives, and hard drives. The chipset offers a patented crash recovery mechanism that boots autonomously on power-up, says the company, and can operate even if all the system software has been destroyed or corrupted.

The ZFx86 is marketed as “the ideal end-of-life replacement for 386 or 486 products other manufacturers have recently discontinued.” In this role, says the company, the product can “eliminate the need to re-write or re-validate code that is debugged and functional.” It supports Windows and several real-time operating systems (RTOSes), as well as Linux.

Stated Peter Krauss, president of Chip 1, “The ZFx86 technology is amazing, offering solution designers a fully integrated 1-Watt PC-on-a-chip, without sacrificing x86 compatibility, flexibility, [or] reliability. OEMs needing a cost-effective alternative to multi-chip embedded PC solutions will be impressed with the speed with which they can bring a new design to production.”

Previous to the agreement with Chip 1, ZF Micro engaged with a number of regional distributors. In 2006, the company announced distribution agreements with Tri-M Systems (North America), Sabre Advanced Microelectronics (UK and Ireland), Nijkerk Electronics B.V. (The Netherlands and Belgium), and Hy-Line Computer Components (continental Europe).

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