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Some facts about processors

  I guess that I'm a sucker for technobait (baiting an opponent with technical gobbledeegook???) but the information from ES&S (dated Nov. 19/99 -- talk to Greg for a copy) also presents authoritative misinformation about the processors used in our respective products.  Among other things it says:
Additionally, I have found on the internet information about the 8086 processor that is used in my competitors unit.  Please give this information to your IT department and they will definitely tell you it is extremely limited in it's capabilities and is out dated technology.  This is exactly why no major changes in their unit have taken place since it came on the market ten years ago.  Toronto evaluated election products for over two years.  The Digital technology and the flexibility of the ES&S processor were major reasons why we were selected to install approximately 2000 units for the November 2000 election.

  My understanding is that the main technical reason that Toronto went with ES&S is that their system better handles counting check and X marks.  As I discussed in the Analog vs. Digital Technology posting, detecting checks and X's is very much a matter of ballot style and has nothing to do with processor technology.  I suspect that Toronto went with ES&S for political reasons more than anything but that's another issue.

  Now to clear up a few things about processors.  Our current Accu-Vote OS uses 3 processors and none of them are the 8086 as suggested.  The processor on our main board (the motherboard?) is a NEC V25 which is a microcontroller designed to run an extended version the 80186 instruction set.  A microcontroller is a chip that contains a microprocessor (in this case an 80186 equivalent processor) plus a variety of peripheral components that implement functions such as timers and the RS232 serial ports.  This processor is used for the general processing such as ballot handling, tally logic, communications, and user interface.

  There are 2 more microcontrollers built into the scanner, one for each side, operating as digital signal processors.  These are 68HC16Z1-132 devices, a model of the very popular Motorolla 68HC16 microcontroller.  These processor sample the optical sensors at high speed and interpret the signal to determine where there are marks on the ballot.  This information is passed to the main processor to be tallied.

  In an attachment to the letter:

Any future upgrades to the ES-2000 will probably require yet more hardware upgrades.  The biggest one is yet to come.  They will probably need to upgrade the processor (8086) to enable them to upgrade any more software.  This will require replacing the entire motherboard of the system.  With the limited ram (memory) on board, it's inevitable that they require more in the near future.  But that still won't afford them to perform major software upgrades.  They probably have some room to make minor changes, but if any new development is to occur, the motherboard would need to be replaced.

  Huh???  The Accu-Vote was designed with substantial expansion room built-in and only now are we getting close to using all of that capacity.  Originally the Accu-Vote came with 64K of RAM, 64K of ROM (less than half of it was used originally), and used 32K memory cards.  It was designed to take up to 256K of RAM, 256K of ROM, and 128K memory cards.  The upcoming version 2 of the precinct count system will be the first release to make use of this capacity.  These numbers don't sound like much compared to your PC but the Accu-Vote is an embedded system more akin to your microwave, VCR, and the computers in your car and has little use for huge memory capacity.  I know of no plans and no reason to need a motherboard change for the Accu-Vote.

One last note is to try to look up 8086 V27 processor on the Internet.  There is not even any mention of the chip any more.  On the other hand, if you look up the Intel 386EX, you will find page after page of information regarding all the companies supporting this powerful embedded processor.

  Is V27 an intentional typo or not?  If you look up NEC V25 on http://www.yahoo.ca (my favorite), you'll get links to 284 Web pages.  Try Intel 386EX and you'll get 524.  Try 68HC16 and you'll get 701.  With some 985 links for our processors, do we win?

  The NEC V25 processor is a very stable, reliable, and capable device with years of proven performance and broad support.  It's certainly not the fastest or the sexiest microcontroller available but it has continued to meet our requirements.  The 386EX and the 68HC16 are processors that undergo regular modifications with support for older models being dropped.  The Intel 386EX is currently the C-step model and support for the A and B-step models has been discontinued.  Our motherboard is stable because the components that we use are stable but ES&S will need to modify their motherboard every time the 386EX undergoes a new revision.

  Admittedly, the M100 is a newer system with more capability but its still a rather raw and unproven system.  I'm sure that ES&S will continue to develop it just as we continue to develop ours.  What they are going to do with their extra capacity remains to be seen.  With version 2 we are moving to a real-time multitasking operating system (uC/OS as opposed to their QNX) and full Internet connectivity.  We will be far more flexible in our election configurations while sticking to proven designs.  And of course the Accu-Vote is just one part of our total election system.  We have a preferred ballot style and we provide advanced election management software in the form of GEMS.  ES&S has some flash but it'll be a while before their substance can hope to match ours.