Get a Pentium In Your Pocket With TinyLlama

Eivind Bøhler‘S TInyLlama board
(Image credit: Eivind Bøhler)

Ever wanted a pocket-sized computer that can play DOS games and do pretty much everything else a 486 or Pentium PC could do? Then look no further. TInyLlama, AKA Eivind Bøhler from Norway, has put together a board -- featuring an 86Duino SoM and a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 for MIDI -- that can do just that, and thoroughly documented it on GitHub. Beware, though, you’ll have to build it yourself.

At the core of the clever custom board is a Vortex86EX CPU - a 32bit X86-compatible IA-32 CPU made in Taiwan by DM&P Electronics - running at between 50 and 500MHz, a speed no 486 or original Pentium could even dream of. There's 128MB of DDR3 RAM, again much greater than the 16MB that was common at the time, and 8MB of programmable flash ROM. A Vortex86VGA module runs off a PCIe 1x lane, offering a maximum resolution of 1024x786, at a period-appropriate aspect ratio of 4:3. Storage comes via Micro SD, and power from a micro USB cable.

Sound comes via a Crystal CS4237B all-in-one audio chip, which is Sound Blaster Pro compatible, but you can supplement this with a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 attached via a 40-pin connector that supplies Roland MT-32 emulation and general MIDI. There's a switch for toggling between its two modes, and you can connect an OLED display using a four-pin I2C plug.

Software support comes in the form of a custom Coreboot/SeaBIOS ROM, and it runs FreeDOS or the OG MS-DOS itself. There's no mention of Windows 95, though the Vortex86EX chip should be able to handle Windows CE 6, Windows Embedded Compact, and Linux up to kernel 4.14.

There’s a lot of soldering to be done if you fancy building your own TInyLlama, especially as the SOM-128-EX system-on-module that forms the core of the device has completely the wrong pin layout and needs to be customized. You then need to replace the pre-installed bootloader and program the sound chip firmware. If you’re up for the task, the design is open-source, and there's a full walkthrough plus BOM on the TInyLlama GitHub page.

Ian Evenden
Freelance News Writer

Ian Evenden is a UK-based news writer for Tom’s Hardware US. He’ll write about anything, but stories about Raspberry Pi and DIY robots seem to find their way to him.

  • bit_user
    Linux up to kernel 4.14
    LOL, because 4.15 is probably when they removed support for some of this obsolete hardware!
  • TerryLaze
    Ever wanted a pocket-sized computer that can play DOS games and do pretty much everything else a 486 or Pentium PC could do?
    We had that since forever, any android phone can run dosbox and you can even connect a keyboard and mouse and even a floppy drive if you want to, heck dosbox is even on the PSP and 3ds.
    You forgot to add the word natively (well kinda) ,that's the tricky part that's hard to do in pocket size.
  • RedBear87
    Vortex 86 is really hard to die, it keeps popping up whenever you don't expect it.