In Search of the x86 SoC SBC (2)

nc-ocean-chart-vortex-haiku-3Figure 1: Vortex86Dx running Haiku R1A3 with my ocean chart viewer.

In figure 1 can be seen the Haiku desktop, displaying an ocean chart, making it useful already for me.

The Vortex is not extremely speedy in this application, but useful.  Using at most only one or two apps simultaneously makes it more to my liking as far as performance goes.

The Vortex86DX seems not to run with any Haiku image past (approximately) Haiku revision hrev-47380.  It works pretty well with the R1A3 image, and that’s what’s shown in figure 1.  I found that the Vortex did not run with hrev-47479 and later, so someplace in there was a software change that caused the trouble, but I’ve yet to look at it or post a bug report.

The Vortex is a little dated, technologically, but can still be purchased new.  I think the boards are from the 2010 time frame.  I am impressed with the low power draw, for an x86 device.  The wall wart is 1A @ 5VDC, which is 5 watts when running flat out. However; the wart remains only a little warm after an hour, telling me that the draw is probably only half of the total power capacity, or maybe just a little more.  Perhaps three or three and a half watts, I’d say, could hit the mark.  That’s marvellous for battery power situations.  The SoC I’m talking about is the Vortex86DX, but the various boards it’s used on have different names, which are appended, with examples being “DX6318” or “DX6324” or “DX6326” or DX6350 or DX6357, and so on.  Some boards have different peripheral counts and layouts than others.  Oddly, a bigger extension number does not necessarily mean the associated device has additional peripherals.

The hrev-47380 image does very well with the USB-to-wired-ethernet adapter I like to use for connectivity, because there are apparently no drivers in Haiku for the on-board ethernet of the Vortex.

My procedure to setup the Vortex with Haiku OS:

  • Use another x86 machine running Haiku hrev-47380, and run the installer app to install Haiku to an 8 GB micro SD card (uSD). 
  • Put the uSD into a SD converter sleeve, and insert the latter into the SD-to-IDE converter that I attached to the Vortex86DX IDE connector.
  • Boot!
  • Immediately hit the space bar to go into safe mode.
  • In safe mode, select safe-mode video at 1024x768x16.
  • Continue booting!
  • When the desktop appears, use the Screen application to set the video mode to 1280x1024x16.
  • Subsequent boots will not need the space-bar  safe mode trick.

I usually like to echo a nice, definitive hostname into the network setting:

echo “Vortex86Dx-Haiku” > /system/settings/network/hostname

For those with fancies for Qupzilla, I’ve found that it works with the Vortex86DX / Haiku hrev-47380 combination.  I don’t like the way Qupzilla 1.7 keeps a connection open to its home page, and I haven’t found a way to turn that off in its configuration.  So, for using the internet, I’ll be recompiling Netsurf.

The speed of the board seems on par with the default 800 MHz setting.  There is an application available on the source site for easily adjusting the clock to 1 GHz, but since I’m mostly interested in battery life, I’ll not need it.

I used the uSD to get a “read speed” rating, using the “dd” benchmark:

  • dd if=/tmp/test of=/dev/null iflag=direct bs=8M
  • (where /tmp/test is a 500 MB file)

This gave me 21.6 MB/sec, which I can compare to the SSD I’m using with the XU4, which clocks in at 150 MB/sec.  The read performance I sense on the Vortex86DX seems on par with that test number.  The writes were much slower, but my apps will mostly read.  This has nothing to do with the SoC board, of course, and is a limitation of the SD technology.  Perhaps I’ll do like I did with the XU4, and put an SSD drive in the box.

All this solid state drive tech is very similar, internally.  uSD, SD, compact flash, USB thumbdrives, and SSD drives pretty much all use NAND flash internally now.  At one time, compact flash used something else, but (AFAIK) that’s no longer the case.  There are three levels of NAND flash, with some better than others.  Price plays a part in that selection.  But – primarily – the big difference between say – a cheap thumbdrive or uSD card, and a better SSD – is the number of access channels built into the device to access the NAND.  Real good SSD drives can have as many as twelve channels, good ones have eight, mediocre have four, and the really cheap thumbdrives and uSD cards typically have one.

The wear-leveling firmware is another variable, and is better in some devices than others.

I’ve been looking at the history of this Vortex device, and it’s quite interesting.  It all started with Rise Technology, a west coast firm whose investors included big names like VIA and Acer (or maybe that was after  SiS bought Rise).  In any case, the IP eventually landed in the house of DMP, and they are really the ones who built the processor to what it is today. It went from 133 MHz in the Rise days to 1 GHz now (all compliments of DMP, AFAIK).  Rise was a very short lived company, due to competition from Intel and AMD.

I’m glad they’ve saved the tech, because it’s real hard to find a two watt SoC that runs i586 code.

The on-board ethernet adapters are a little odd-ball.  There is an ethernet driver for those NICs on the source site, but it’s for an older kernel. My short-term solution is to use a USB-to-wired-ethernet adapter, which works well on Linux, FreeBSD, and Haiku.  According to my shallow digging attempts, it seems the GPIO operates with a driver that was put into the Linux mainline kernel in the 2.6 timeframe. I don’t know how difficult it would be to port that code to FreeBSD or Haiku.

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Haiku OS is trademarked by Haiku, Inc. The website for them is at   This author and site have no affiliation with them.

The Vortex86Dx is a product of DMP at, and is not affiliated with this site in any way.

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