Does Vortex86sx based devices are worth something?

At FOSDEM 2009 I grabbed one Vortex86SX based device — Koala Nano PC which is available at Koan software. Device came with Ångström distribution and was running 2.6.26 kernel. I wanted to get something more fresh on it and after some fighting I booted 2.6.29-rc5 kernel today.

Device use Vortex86SX SoC which is based on 486SX core. Yes — this is x86 machine without FPU. Overall speed of that is… nearly not existing.

First benchmark which came to my mind was “hdparm -T /dev/sda”. Results were dramatic: 9-13 MB/s for cached reads (with 133MHz memory and 300MHz cpu). I decided to compare against other devices:

Device Arch CPU CPU speed memory type cached reads
Koala Nano PC x86 vortex86sx 300MHz DDR2 9-13MB/s
old PC x86 pentium2 266MHz EDO DRAM 33MB/s
ATNGW100 av32 AT32AP700x 130MHz SDRAM 35MB/s
ASUS WL-500gP mips bcm3302 266MHz 46MB/s
Freecom FSG-3 arm ipx42x 266MHz 43MB/s
iBook G3 ppc g3 300MHz SDRAM 65MB/s
AT91SAM9263-EK arm at91sam9263 180MHz SDRAM 62-63MB/s
Compulab arm pxa270 312MHz SDRAM 74MB/s
NSLU2 arm ixp420 266MHz SDRAM 74MB/s
Koala nano33 x86 vortex86dx 1GHz DDR2 74MB/s
Nokia N810 arm omap2420 400MHz SDRAM 82MB/s
AT91SAM9G20-EK arm at91sam9G20 400MHz SDRAM 96MB/s
Linkstation pro duo arm ixp4xx 266MHz 147MB/s
BeagleBoard arm omap3530 500MHz mDDR 152MB/s
Alix.1c x86 geodelx 500MHz DDR 209MB/s
kirkwood reference board1 arm kirkwood 1200MHz DDR2 209MB/s
BUG arm i.mx31 533MHz DDR 294MB/s
my desktop x86 core2quad 2400MHz DDR2 3300-3500MB/s
Cliff’s desktop x86 Core-i7 920 Quad 2.67GHz DDR3 6400-7200MB/s

But remember that this test is not so good for benchmarking — I am preparing better set of tests to really compare speed of devices. So far it contains openssl speed and MP3 encoding/decoding.

But device has also few nice things. Everything is integrated so 12x12cm box is enough to keep everything inside. It has ATA controller, FastEthernet, graphics based on XGI core (with accelerated framebuffer able to do 1680×1050 resolution) and working USB. There is a place to put 2.5″ HDD inside (normally it boots from CompactFlash card), second Ethernet or WiFi are available options…

But what is use for such slow device? There are lot of ARM based ones which offer similar (or better) functionality and are faster… But wait — there is one use: event displays as this machine has nicely working framebuffer (I got even 1680×1050 resolution).

UPDATE: added results from iBook G3 300MHz and some other machines.

  1. kirkwood reference board uses same cpu as SheevaPlug device. 

23 thoughts on “Does Vortex86sx based devices are worth something?”

  1. I’ve tried one of them, and the only interesting feature is the low price. Speed is quite disappointing, but it’s cheap and have a lot of connector (and 24 gpio port easy to reach).

    I wonder if it is really a 300Mhz cpu…

    And i wonder if vortex86dx processor have better performance.

  2. What configuration did you use to run kernel version 2.6.29-rc5? I’m trying to use Debian Lenny un a Vortex86SX box but I cant boot the X server. Maybe with that kernel I can.

  3. Some more results:

    ASUS WL-500gP | Broadcom BCM3302 V0.6 | 266 MHz | 46 MB/s Freecom FSG-3 | XScale-IXP42x Family rev 1 (v5l) | 266 MHz | 43 MB/s

  4. Jason Kridner: thx for information. Results which I put in table I got from one of BeagleBoard users (I am waiting for C2 version). But according to post which you link to that 741MB/s is in L2 cache only.

    I plan to check some benchmark utilities and do better tests.

  5. Although final result may be interesting, I think that you should specify the storage type and model in this table, because “hdparm -T /dev/sda” is a test of IDE/SATA performances and not only a CPU/Motherboard one.

  6. mck: Let me quote hdparm manual:

    -T Perform timings of cache reads for benchmark and comparison purposes. For meaningful results, this operation should be repeated 2-3 times on an otherwise inactive system (no other active processes) with at least a couple of megabytes of free memory. This displays the speed of reading directly from the Linux buffer cache without disk access. This measurement is essentially an indication of the throughput of the processor, cache, and memory of the system under test.

    This is without disk access…

  7. @ Cliff I’m astonished by your results. Could you please post your machine details (cpu, motherboard, ram, hd brand and model) ? thanks

  8. useful comparision. would be interesting to see where an atom based eeepc/eeebox would fit in here. wonder if Asus will expand on their low end and come up with an arm based “plug” with an own optware package feed. the i.mx31 sure is nice, but a headless nas/router box probably needs no video in/out.

  9. Hi, Please could you post your xorg.conf, I can’t get the 1680×1050 resolution.


  10. Vortex86sx/dx are great for these reasons:

    • cheap, full pc with all the ports for just 70 to 90 usd []
    • runs x86 code, e.g. official binary releases or flash

    That said, sx is too slow for e.g. youtube or ipython startup, and ide driver is slightly broken so dma must be disabled, thus the meager io results.

    Dx feels 10 times faster (although only 3x in clock speed).

    1. Sure, they have some value — I used vortex86sx for some time to keep papers from flying on my desk.

      Vortex86DX is much faster mainly due to no need for FPU exception handling. Maybe you know how good/bad does MX graphics works? With SX/DX it was usually XGI chip used and I do not remember which gfx chipset MX got.

  11. It is more useful than a paperweight, we have a few hundred of these deployed. Very few come back cooked, compactflash on the other hand is less reliable. DX supports microSD which is great improvement.

    I only use compactpc’s in headless applications. I didn’t get native vga driver that to work, because XGI drivers are too old for modern server and I didn’t have that much time.

    3300DX uses the same chip as SX. MX integrates gfx on chip, no idea what it is.

  12. Hi, my name is André. I need you help to fix a problem we have, I´m trying the ebox-2300 with processor vortex86sx 366mhz. to remote boot. I installed the system ubuntu 9.04 with LTSP-Server and when boot the system for PXE display de mensagem beloow:

       This kernel requires the following feature not present on the CPU: FPU
         Unable to boot - please use a kernel appropriate for you CPU. 

    And when i boot other machine with processor intel on the network it´s start no problem.


    1. Vortex86sx has i486sx core so it lacks floating point unit. You need to compile own kernel with FPU emulation enabled.

      And remember that Ubuntu is compiled for i686 systems — you will have to use Debian with this machines.

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