cellphone-sized X86 PC motherboard potential OpenMoko platform?

Matthew S. Hamrick mhamrick at cryptonomicon.net
Sun Jun 10 21:48:41 CEST 2007

Before we run off and predict that the sky is falling, let's consider  
a couple of things:

1. This is a prototype. This is not a product. This is a system that  
demonstrates how small you can make a device with the new C7-S  
processors. Also... take a look at how many discrete components are  
on the board. Now open up any of your mobile electronics and compare.  
It's doesn't completely destroy your BOM cost to have these  
components, but it does add a bit of manufacturing cost. Adding $12  
to the cost of the phone is pretty much a deal-killer for "mobile  
phones," but not for "smart phones" and "mobile terminals."

2. No. the only reason for an x86 cell phone is not to run windows.  
ARM is very popular for WinCE devices. Less popular is MIPS. And  
somewhere at the bottom of the popularity scale is x86. But... it is  
there. There's also an operating system called Linux that's been  
known to run on x86 devices. And... if you were wanting to build a  
mobile phone with the Skype libraries installed, right now, your only  
option is x86.

3. CDMA. I agree, it is odd that CDMA would be their first choice.  
Perhaps they were working closely with a customer that had a specific  
requirement for CDMA, or maybe they engineer they tasked with the job  
of building this thing was more familiar with CDMA. But the major  
manufacturers like Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, etc. all make both GSM and  
CDMA versions of their phones. I sorta got used to companies  
releasing GSM phones first, as there's a larger market. But CDMA is  
definitely an important player in China, South Korea and the US.

So my guess is... somewhere out there in China is a group that wants  
to make a CDMA2000 phone for sale in the domestic market. They're  
trying to build a smart-phone or a "mobile terminal" like the  
blackberry or Treo. Market penetration of Linux phones in China is  
much better than it is here in the states or Europe. So maybe they're  
interested in using an x86-only library on a mobile device. My guess  
is Skype. Furthermore, my guess is they approached Via with the idea  
of using one of their processors. Via referred them to Epia who began  
designing a demo board. The deal fell through and now Via needs to  
find an application for these processors, so publicizing this  
prototype is a way of getting people to think about x86 embedded.

IMHO, the only reason you would want to have an x86 based processor  
like the C7-S (which is still an order of magnitude worse in power  
consumption than ARM processors) is to run x86 specific code. So  
yeah... that could be XP/embedded, but it could also be some x86  
specific Linux library.

Just my $0.02.

-Matt H.

On Jun 10, 2007, at 12:16 PM, Robin Paulson wrote:

>> When you look at the board you see that there is not much space left.
>> It seems there's no GSM, no WiFi, no other chip already.
> i've heard talk elsewhere of a built in cdma module. that's an odd
> choice considering the number of operators switching to gsm, but i
> would assume via will change/add to this down the track
>> And as I always say: The only reason for using x86 in small and  
>> embedded
>> devices is running Windows.
>> I really don't want to have Windows on my phone. No CE/Mobile,  
>> exceptionally
>> no XP/Vista. Do you? :)
> hell no, i ditched win long since. but some people will
> and there are a number of closed pieces of software only available for
> x86. flash is one of them, shockwave another. maybe skype, i'm not
> sure what that runs on
> add in things like a half decent fpu (compared to arm anyway) and the
> platform starts to approach desktop functionality for all sorts of
> applications. as the oqo has partly shown, there's no reason a mobile
> (pc/phone) can't be a desktop as well with the addition of a proper
> qwerty kb and monitor when the user gets to the office
> this is an awesome development, i'm in 2 minds myself whether to buy a
> pico itx or wait for this next year
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