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Single-Chip x86 Chipsets Around the Corner? 170

Posted by Zonk
from the bet-you-can't-eat-just-one dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Kontron, a giant among industrial single-board computer vendors, yesterday revealed a credit-card sized board apparently based on a single-chip x86 chipset that clocks to 1.5GHz and supports a gig of RAM. It targets portable devices — not x86's usual forte. Kontron isn't saying whether the board uses a Via or an Intel chip(set) — both vendors reportedly have single-chip chipsets in the works, part of their respective missions to drive 'x86 everywhere.'"
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Single-Chip x86 Chipsets Around the Corner?

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  • Great idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:21PM (#21785362) Homepage Journal
    If they can find a market for it. Its going to be hard to unseat the arm.

    "generic" embedded devices come to mind. ( but you have the pc104 standard there already..
    • Re:Great idea (Score:4, Informative)

      by truesaer (135079) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:25PM (#21785394) Homepage
      AMD makes a whole line of embedded x86 processors. http://www.amd.com/us-en/ConnectivitySolutions/ProductInformation/0,,50_2330_9863,00.html [amd.com]
    • If they can find a market for it. Its going to be hard to unseat the arm.

      It doesn't have to "unseat" anyone. I think it would be great if it makes enough of a market for itself sufficient to support continued development. It's possible to make a profitable product even if it's not #1 in the market segment.

      I thought AMD had a product like this though.
    • Re:Great idea (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Calmiche (531074) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:28PM (#21785452)
      Yah, but current ARM processors max out at about 700-900 mhz.

      If they can really pull off a good, stable, low powered chipset in the 1.5 ghz range.. I would be very interested.

      I am still waiting for a revival of the handheld computers. UMPC isn't going anywhere, Palm is getting out of most hardware.

      HP is FINALLY getting back into the handheld market, but it's WAY late for it's projections and dosen't seem to be doing any advertising at all for it's new line.
      • Re:Great idea (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Colin Smith (2679) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:48PM (#21785650)

        Yah, but current ARM processors max out at about 700-900 mhz.

        If they can really pull off a good, stable, low powered chipset in the 1.5 ghz range.. I would be very interested.
        Right. Because more gigahertz means faster.
         
        • Re:Great idea (Score:4, Insightful)

          by bombshelter13 (786671) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:08PM (#21785890)
          Yes. That's ~exactly and exclusively~ what more (giga)hertz means: it's faster.

          Now, what it doesn't say anything about is whether it's higher performance.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by canuck57 (662392)

          Right. Because more gigahertz means faster.

          That is a fallacy big time.

          One game is to just clock up the frequency and make you think you have more. Put a divider in the middle and I could give you a 20GHz CPU. It is about throughput. How much can I get don in n cycles. For this, benchmarks are where it is at. Pick a benchmark(s) that is similar to the anticipated loads and work from there.

          • Right over your head, Sport.
          • Right. Because more gigahertz means faster.

            That is a fallacy big time.

            Actually, it's a falsehood, not a fallacy [tri-bit.com]. A fallacy is a flaw in reasoning, and doesn't actually mean that the conclusion is incorrect. My personal favorite example of a logical fallacy is to suggest that, in order to reduce 16/64, you simply cancel the sixes. Of course, that's total nonsense, but the result (1/4) happens to be correct.

            Incidentally, you do realize that the person you were replying to was being sarcastic, and pointing

        • Re:Great idea (Score:4, Interesting)

          by afidel (530433) on Saturday December 22, 2007 @12:32AM (#21788036)
          When you're comparing a superscaler, out of order, multipiplined x86 chip vs an ARM? Yeah I think the 2x faster chip will win, in fact even at the same mhz the x86 part would most likely be faster. Now the question is, is it capable of more MIPS/WATT, which is what matters almost as much as absolute performance in the embedded space. There the answer is possibly but unlikely.
          • by LarsG (31008)
            And how do we know this single chip thing is superscalar ooo etc? Previous x86 SOCs have been rather weak in that area. You are absolutely right in that performance/watt is very important. And that's an area where "native" embedded procs like ARM have eaten x86's lunch.

            This SOC might be a breakthrough for x86 embedded, hard to tell since there's virtually no information on the specs. But based on previous history, pretty much the only reason for choosing x86 for embedded has been compatibility with existing
          • by MobyDisk (75490)

            When you're comparing a superscaler, out of order, multipiplined x86 chip vs an ARM?
            Except that a small low-power single-chip version of the x86 probably won't have those features.
      • Re:Great idea (Score:5, Interesting)

        by spirit of reason (989882) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:48PM (#21785660)

        I am still waiting for a revival of the handheld computers

        You mean something like the Pandora [openpandora.org]?

        Also, more information here [bluwiki.org].

        While it's technically meant more for a gamer market like the GP2X, the arm + linux + wifi + usb host + decent resolution screen might make it a more general purpose machine.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hitmark (640295)
        read up on cortex A8 and A9...
    • Crap idea (Score:4, Insightful)

      by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:30PM (#21786070)
      Single chip x86: Geode etc are a crap idea. The idea has been done to death and has never caught on. There's no real benefit in them. In the past there was some appeal in x86 because of good, cheap compilers etc. Now there's gcc for everything this advantage has long since disappeared.

      ARM, and at a push MIPS, PowerPC and SH4 own this space. x86 needs to offer something huge to get back in the game.

      • Re:Crap idea (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cnettel (836611) on Friday December 21, 2007 @08:59PM (#21786844)
        GCC targets everything and still is more heavily optimized for x86. Despite that, it's FAR from the best x86 compiler around, performance-wise. The pool of people with a "can read, cannot write it good without great pain" grasp of x86 assembler is also damn huge.

        Other x86-specific assumptions inherent in code (like atomic writes of different sizes, context switches limited to instruction boundaries) means that a platform porting of seemingly good multithreaded code can cause very subtle bugs. It's even possible to write Java code that is almost impossible to turn into a race condition on x86, but where you might do it on other platforms. You might argue that it's rare or that the code is "bad" and incorrect in the first place, but it's still there.

    • by jacquesm (154384)
      funny how this is considered 'news', there are lots of little boards around the Geode chip, which is essentially a pc on a single chip.
  • x86 cores? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by heroine (1220) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:22PM (#21785372) Homepage
    It would be huge if x86 or x86_64 was available as a core like MIPS & ARM. Life would be much easier for the set top boxes.

    • Not sure if this is a good thing, an architecture monoculture (as far as consumer devices go) will decrease innovation. We need different architectures to be a breeding ground for new ideas, and to make sure that everyone in the technology field is aware of differences so that they will be more adaptable if a totally new architecture came around. Also I have seen Theo de Raadt talk about poor security on x86, something about proper separation of processes.
      • Re:x86 cores? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:18PM (#21785964)
        Just like a monoculture of GSM has hurt the innovation of mobile phones in Europe.

        God bless the USA where competition between GSM, CDMA, & what ever sprint uses has increased innovation such that the USA always has the best cellphones out of any civilized country.

        Not that I don't think in

        And Theo's quote can be found here: http://kerneltrap.org/OpenBSD/Virtualization_Security [kerneltrap.org]

        "x86 virtualization is about basically placing another nearly full kernel, full of new bugs, on top of a nasty x86 architecture which barely has correct page protection. Then running your operating system on the other side of this brand new pile of shit. You are absolutely deluded, if not stupid, if you think that a worldwide collection of software engineers who can't write operating systems or applications without security holes, can then turn around and suddenly write virtualization layers without security holes."

        • by Vegeta99 (219501)
          Why the hell wouldn't Europe have the same GSM phones I do?
        • by mcrbids (148650)

          "x86 virtualization is about basically placing another nearly full kernel, full of new bugs, on top of a nasty x86 architecture which barely has correct page protection. Then running your operating system on the other side of this brand new pile of shit. You are absolutely deluded, if not stupid, if you think that a worldwide collection of software engineers who can't write operating systems or applications without security holes, can then turn around and suddenly write virtualization layers without security holes."

          Long response:

          I present to you, the rule of profanity: The use of profanity in any kind of prepared statement is proof positive of the weakness of the underlying argument.

          It may or may not be true. But it's perceived as true by many, if not most, so it might as well be true. And in this case, poor Theo shot himself in the foot.

          Profanity is used to add weight to a statement, but it's a very crude, rough kind of weight. As in "Oh shit, I've just been shot!" can be said by anybody, because being shot is, well

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm just aghast at the advances in PC tech in my lifetime. I've always been aware of Moore's Law and all that, but sometimes taking a step back is necessary for perspective.

    Merry Christmas, and thank God for all you engineers that bless us with this stuff.
  • by KevinKnSC (744603) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:25PM (#21785406)
    From the article:

    Codenamed "John," the processor will integrate CPU, northbridge, and southbridge...

    That was the best code name they could come up with? Seriously?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by User 956 (568564)
      "Codenamed "John," the processor will integrate CPU, northbridge, and southbridge..."

      That was the best code name they could come up with? Seriously?


      Given what they probably had to do in the area of patent licensing, calling it a "John" is pretty polite, if you ask me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gendusoa (28147)
      Via's code names are almost always biblical:

      * Luke
      * Esther
      * Nehemiah

      and I'm sure the others I can't remember off the top of my head are biblical names too.
    • by Mex (191941)
      I see you couldn't do much better than "KevinKnSC" either ;)
    • by williamyf (227051)
      Via uses codenames from the bible, so probably refer to some famous John
  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:26PM (#21785426)

    It targets portable devices -- not x86's usual forte

    Yeah, that's not x86's usual forte because x86s are more power thirsty than say MIPS or ARM, which is why it would be interesting if the article could mention how much this new thing is supposed to drain.

  • But with so many people already developing for ARM, why would you want to spend the time and money switching to x86... it isn't like people want XP/Vista on their mobile phone (if at all) and there are already ARM releases of a bunch of stuff...

    Although I am not a developer, so I am anxious to hear what people in this thread say regarding any technical advantage having x86 may have over say ARM.
    • by skelly33 (891182)
      Working with the likes of XP/XPE on a device like this provides a path of migration into mobile computing for companies with well established product lines who want to enter the mobile computing market or want to leverage small footprint computing, but can't re-engineer the application to do it. If you're not a programmer, you have to imagine a scenario where a company has millions to tens of millions of development effort invested into a software application and couldn't possibly hope for a "do-over" to sw
    • by MrCopilot (871878)
      Well, as an embedded Linux developer, I can tell you it takes me quite a bit longer to tweak an ARM kernel then a x86 desktops. Mostly due to drivers which vary greatly from ARM to ARM.

      I'm pretty comfortable in the ARM space now though and would not likely consider a new x86 project over an ARM unless Performance demanded it. Thus far it hasn't.

    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      ut with so many people already developing for ARM, why would you want to spend the time and money switching to x86
      ARM licensing costs a bundle.
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:31PM (#21785490) Homepage Journal
    What did we do to you to deserve this?
  • It's VIA (Score:5, Informative)

    by RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:31PM (#21785492)
    If the chip is codenamed John, as the article claims, it's a VIA chipset. VIA uses biblical names for their CPU codenames.

    Previous VIA CPU codenames:

    Samuel
    Esther
    Nehemiah
    Ezra

    Note also that VIA combined a C3 CPU and a northbridge into a single package - it was codenamed "Luke".
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by Zwack (27039)
      I guess you didn't read the fine article... They state that it looks like a single chipset system and then state that VIA have been working on such a chipset codenmaed John and Intel have been working on a different one codenamed something else.

      Z.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      If the chip is codenamed John, as the article claims, it's a VIA chipset.

      Not to bruise your karma, but I suspect people are going to get the wrong idea from your post.

      Here are the two quotes FTFA:
      1. "It is based on an unnamed "highly integrated chipset" from an unnamed silicon vendor."

      2. "Via has long planned to bring out a single-chip part in its CoreFusion line. Codenamed "John," the processor will integrate CPU, northbridge, and southbridge into a single x86-compatible SoC (system-on-chip)."

      AFAIK, Via & Kontron have nothing to do with each other.
      TFA is not stating that K

  • by Vthornheart (745224) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:41PM (#21785590)
    "'x86 everywhere.'"
    Can I pass on that? The x86 architecture may be POPULAR, but it's inefficient, forced into backwards compliance with horribly outdated standards, and has been horseshoed for the past 20 years into a full architecture chip when the initial design was never meant to become like this.
    If a realm of computing has x86 as the non-dominant chipset, I think that's a blessing and it should remain that way. You can't do anything about the PC market at this point, for example... but I think the motto should be "x86 only where it already exists" rather than "x86 everywhere."
    • by pla (258480) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:15PM (#21785940) Journal
      The x86 architecture may be POPULAR, but it's inefficient, forced into backwards compliance with horribly outdated standards, and has been horseshoed for the past 20 years into a full architecture chip

      The "x86 architecture" doesn't exist. x86 merely describes an ISA exported by the microcode of whatever underlying architecture a given chip really uses. An ARM chip could look like an x86 chip. A PPC chip could look like an x86 chip. The Core2 or Athlon64 could just as well export a traditional Motorola ISA as the chosen x86 - and with modern chips, they could do so with a microcode patch at boot time, you wouldn't even need to buy a new chip!

      Thus, any holy wars regarding its efficiencies or inefficiencies must remain firmly rooted in the ease of actually using it for coding. I do so, and find it for the most part adequate. It traditionally lacked enough GP registers, but even that doesn't hold true these days (at least for AMD's version - Not 100% sure about the Core line). And for that matter, very few coders even bother with ASM anymore... Even firmware development (which I also do) uses C almost exclusively nowadays.


      Not to say I want to see it everywhere, but we can't really hold the flaws of ancient hardware with no current connection to the ISA against it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Windom Earle (1200137)
        Well, this discussion appears to be about an 'x86 Chipset,' not an x86 processor. Which means more than just the processor. So there is an 'x86 architecture.' If there wasn't, this topic would be meaningless.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by pla (258480)
          Well, this discussion appears to be about an 'x86 Chipset,' not an x86 processor. Which means more than just the processor. So there is an 'x86 architecture.' If there wasn't, this topic would be meaningless.

          My earlier post may have sounded more caustic than I intended it, but I meant what I wrote literally.

          A "x86 chipset" just describes the supporting chips (usually memory, bus, and I/O) that let the CPU-which-happens-to-speak-x86 do its thing in a way familiar to programmers and users of non-embedded
    • by LoudMusic (199347) *

      and has been horseshoed for the past 20 years into a full architecture chip when the initial design was never meant to become like this
      Welcome to business driving technology, rather than technology driving business.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by truesaer (135079)
      x86 is actually quite efficient and flexible. Variable length instruction sets have a lot of benefits, especially in embedded applications where memory is at a premium. You'll get a lot more data into your cache and memory with x86 code as opposed to a fixed length instruction set. Most of the disadvantages (complex decoders, etc) are borne by the chip designer. And for embedded there's no reason they need to support legacy stuff.

      This common belief that x86 is the devil is simply absurd. It sounds good

    • It is not true that the x86 architecture is somehow severely limiting of CPU design. All x86 is is a instruction set. The actual chip can be designed and laid out in any way you like, the instruction set does not greatly inhibit this. The instruction set increasingly has very little to do with the actual design and layout of the chip, and its performance. x86 can be and has been extended to eliminate defincies in the instruction set as well. Increasingly, and I have heard CPU engineers say this, instruction
    • How many people actually bother with x86 instructions?

      I guess techies seem to like to complain about it, but it's generally not really a problem.

      ARM has been doing pretty well where extremely low power consumption is neceesary, but that seems to be its only advantage. For getting a lot computation done affordably, it doesn't look like x86 even has any competition anymore. There's stuff like the Cell, it's expensive and where it sounds like it's even worse to program than x86, then there's Niagara, sounds
  • extra lightweight, extra thin, extra long battery life, i can see the benefits of this extra bigtime, looking forward to a laptop with this in it...
  • Every time I read about a shrinkage of form factors, I wonder how many you could fit in the volume of a standard 42u rack, ala blade servers.

    Now I'm wondering if this form factor isn't aimed at being able to add more processor power via a Cardbus slot, as the dimensions are within a millimeter of a PCMCIA card. Or perhaps aimed at mating directly to a SSD device. Fully equipped PC the size of a deck of cards, just add input and output.
  • x86 programming (Score:5, Interesting)

    by neapolitan (1100101) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:03PM (#21785828)
    It's a shame that the x86 is such a complex instruction set; this means that the age of the handheld computer as an easy programming platform for hacking is over.

    When I was programming for Apple //e, I had a good majority of the opcodes for the 6502 chip memorized, laying out assembly by hand. I later learned 68k assembly, and again, it is very "understandable" to a person just sitting down in front of the computer looking at an assembly printout. In the early 90's, pretty much x86 dominated and I stopped doing pretty much all assembly programming.

    In 1996 I was delighted when the palm pilot came out, using a 68328 (68k instruction set). It was like a renaissance, again programming in assembly and hacking other things for fun. Now, once again, it appears this will be dead!

    As a question to the slashdot community, is it possible to program "naked" x86 assembler? I have never really put in the time to learn it, but it just seems exceedingly complex and tedious to program for this chip without use of a higher level crutch (C compiler...) I am sad that once again everything I know is becoming outdated... :)
    • by Zwack (27039)
      Sure it is... I for one have written some 8086 assembler code by hand... But what's the point. Given the improvements in computer performance you don't usually have to write code that is so tight you can't squeeze any extra cycles out or remove any instructions for it to run at a reasonable speed. And if people went back to using code written as well as some of the older stuff these days they'd realise that they don't need to upgrade their computers every few weeks and the hardware market would collapse.

      Z
    • by Shikaku (1129753)
      NASM
    • by dosius (230542)
      nasm ftw?

      I don't do 8086 asm much though, most of my code is C, though I write to 65C02 asm once in awhile.

      -uso.
    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:35PM (#21786140)

      but it just seems exceedingly complex and tedious to program for this chip without use of a higher level crutch (C compiler...) I am sad that once again everything I know is becoming outdated... :)

      You sure are outdated. Today's "higher level crutch" is Python.

      • by Tony Hoyle (11698)
        If you'd said Java or c# then you might have a case (although even that's got limitations that mean it doesn't work for a lot of cases). Python? It's a freaking scripting language.

        You choose the language to suit the task. Design the app, pick the best language (and you'd be amazed how many projects C/C++ are the only choices.. eg. Java simply doesn't exist on some of the platforms I work on). Unfortunately it's not fashionable to do that any more and people start with the language then design the app ar
      • by mstahl (701501)
        Ruby FTW!
    • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
      Ive coded 30,000+ lines of x86 assembler and hate it with a passion. 68k is a dream in comparison, the arguments are in a sane order (opcode soruce, destination) and you feel like you're swimming in registers. Just compare the elegance of DBRA with the abomination of LOOP or REP MOVSx (a simple DEC reg/Jcc is far more efficient). Still, the quirks of the x86 architecture make for some fun hacks. This was in the P1 days though, I stopped large scale asm coding around the PII MMX era and now like the others w
    • by Almahtar (991773)
      Can't speak for other platforms, but I taught myself X86 assembly in Jr. high, so it can't be that bad.
    • You don't HAVE to use all the opcodes, you know. Unless you're writing an operating system, you can probably get away with just MOV, LEA, PUSH, POP, CALL, RET, CMP, the branching opcodes (JZ JNZ JNE, etc.) and the math opcodes. In fact, from what I understand, it's usually better to not even bother with the other opcodes.
  • by IYagami (136831) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:22PM (#21786014)
    You can find articles about the use of x86 in embedded devices at arstechnica, from Jon Stokes:

    Return of the Son of Pentium in 2008? Intel's new ultramobile processors [arstechnica.com]

    Intel's low-cost "Diamondville" CPU to power OLPC/Eee PC mobile category [arstechnica.com]

    And a very interesting article why processor makers want to extend their architecture to other realms: Beyond the BlackBerry crowd: life in a post-32nm world [arstechnica.com]
  • I've seen via's pico itx and their smaller 'in design board', and they are pretty cool. When the price comes down a little it will probably start to displace arm. My real question is where do you find small cheap or inexpensive displays to go with these little boards? Something on the order of a 4-5 inch diagonal screen.

    A small board is great, but a 4-5 inch screen would make a killer do it yourself pda / mini-computer.

  • Is there a technical reason why there have never really been x86 microcontrollers? RISC chips are readily available at reasonable speeds for $1-$20. Even ignoring A/D functionality, why can't I buy a one-chip floating point x86 number-cruncher for my embedded applications that can match my laptop?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Windom Earle (1200137)
      I think you're asking about the 80186 and the 80188, which have had a long history in embedded use. They're not particularly popular anymore. They'd match your laptop if you still use a Toshiba 1000SE, of course.

      Similar parallel offerings from Intel were the 80196 line.
  • by kiyoshilionz (977589) on Friday December 21, 2007 @08:03PM (#21786432)
    x86 has its market, the personal computer, but its legacy architecture should not be allowed to spread anywhere it has not already tainted. Remember Why Do We Use x86 CPUs? [slashdot.org] I thought x86 is something we want to eventually move away from (Remember VAX?), not something we want to spread.
    • by evilviper (135110) on Friday December 21, 2007 @11:47PM (#21787808) Journal

      I thought x86 is something we want to eventually move away from

      You were wrong. x86 isn't particularly impressive, but it's just a CPU, not a war crime.

      It's pretty much inevitable that x86 will move into new areas, as embedded systems need more and more processing power for multimedia, x86 vendors spend more and more of money reducing power consumption, and the economies of software development more and more favor reusing x86 software, rather than spending time on optimizations for the other architectures you use.

      Since Intel can't seem to make money on any architecture other than x86, they've eliminated their StrongArm/XScale line, and are replacing it with ultra-low-powered (sub-1watt) x86-based CPUs. VIA has long be trying to make inroads in the high-power, higher-performance embedded market with their own CPUs as well.
  • With the MediaGX (I think) range? Integrate everything you can think of into the die including sounds and graphics.
  • So let's take a von Neumann architecture, which has inherent security problems due to it using the same address space for data and code, and use it to replace the usual DSP (which is superior, in at least the security sense).

    Ah, nothing like ubiquitous insecurity...
    • So let's take a von Neumann architecture, which has inherent security problems due to it using the same address space for data and code

      Oh crap! If only there were a way to partition the address space into data and code parts, and have the processor enforce that! Oh wait, there is [opengroup.org].
  • The "x86 everywhere" dream is coming to an abrupt halt anytime soon.

    There'll be a new open RISC architecture along soon enough. It's a matter of time before the early-generation ARM patents expire, thus removing one of the barriers preventing wider adoption (it's a nice enough architecture, ARM just got greedy with their licencing). Every instruction being 32 bits long won't matter now memory is so cheap.
  • This could be of great interest for very low cost PCs or small form factor boxes. Or even auto-PC.

    Today you can buy a motherboard with integrated audio, video, network, sata, usb, etc... the next step is to have everything on 1 System-on-Chip (SoC) rather than multiple chips.

    The motherboard would only have two chips: 1 x86 SoC, 1 flash for your bios. Thats it, then its just a bunch of slot for your DRAM some connectors and your done.

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