Tadpole Pulsar: Hardware 




General Dynamics Tadpole Pulsar thin client

Initially I wondered about buying one of these. In some of the literature it is described as a 'zero client'. Zero clients usually have an architecture that is based on a dedicated chipset that implement a protocol such as PCoIP and, as such, cannot be repurposed. However I did notice that the Pulsar used Intel's Atom processor and so hoped that it would turn out to be more flexible on that front.

The press release announcing the Tadpole Pulsar is dated June 2010.


Intel Atom 330
1GB (max ?)
   Max resolution
     One Monitor
     Two Monitors

2560 x 1600 32-bit colour
1920 x 1200 32-bit colour

4 x USB2.0
Coax 5.5mm/2.5mm
19V 3.42A
H x W x D (mm)45 x 215 x 155

It's not obvious to me what operating system the system firmware is built on.

Unlike all other thin clients this one is fitted with a fan. However I must admit that I can't hear it above the various other computer fans that are whirring away here unless I get within about 6" of it - but I haven't tried listening for it in the middle of the night with everything else switched off.

I haven't taken the heatsink off so I don't know what chip is supporting the Atom CPU. However the lspci command returns nVidia MCP79.

Power Supply

The unit runs from an external 19V supply with 5.5mm/2.5mm coax plug. Mine came without any power supply but I was able to use a 19V/3.4A supply from a laptop.


The Pulsar has an Atom 330 CPU clocked at 1.6GHz. This is a dual-core processor with Hyperthreading so the kernel sees 4 CPUs. From the /proc/cpuinfo file we have:

cpu family:6
model name:Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU 330 @ 1.60GHz

Expansion Inside the General Dynamics Tadpole Pulsar

Flash: The Pulsar has a 512MB Flash DOM that plugs into a SATA interface on the motherboard. Having removed that, a second socket labelled SATA2 was revealed. The flash plugs into a data + power socket. The SATA2 socket is just the data connection - there is no adjacent socket that provides a standard power connection. However on the other edge of the board is a small four-pin socket labelled SATA POWER.

RAM: The RAM is a DDR3-1066 SODIMM. Whilst a 1GB part is fitted, the BIOS reported that only 512MB of RAM is fitted - something that confused me for a while. George Kourtis pointed me at a setting in the BIOS under Chipset/Southbridge Configuration/iGPU Frame Buffer Size. This can be set to: 32MB/64MB/128MB/256MB/512MB and in my case was set to 512MB. That's where the memory was going! Setting it to 64MB resulted in the my having a reported 960MB of System Memory.
The fitted RAM is a pqi part - MFCBR302PA0104 DDR3-1066S The only other DDR3 RAM I have are some 2GB parts and neither of them worked.

Wireless: There is a wireless card plugged into a mini pci-e socket. It's an AzureWave AW-NE772. (It uses an Atheros chipset).

Card Reader: There is an ISO-7816-3 smart card reader with double sided connector

Bluetooth: There are a couple of small sockets (covered with cellophane) that are labelled BLUE TOOTH CONN. I have no idea what sort of interface they present.

As always, clicking on the photograph (right) will bring up a larger version.

Tadpole Pulsar Sata and Bluetooth connections

Further work

I am currently baffled by the fact that the 2GB SODIMMs I have aren't recognised at all. I have tried a number of different modules with different memory organisations - 1Rx8, 2Rx16 for example - and this makes no difference.

Linux's start-up log shows that the integrated Northbridge/Southbridge (which includes the memory controller) is an nVidia MCP79 which I think is also known as the first generation nVidia ION. Google could not find me any proper technical information on this chip. However it did manage to find me a single document that gives us an idea of what the chipset is capable of. This was a Dell training document for service technicians working on the Alienware M17x. I found this document tucked away on a US Service company's website, and one page of it has a description of the chipset's "features and benefits".

Under the "memory" section it lists:

  1. Supports DDR2; 533 MT/sec. (266 MHz), 667 MT/sec. (333 MHz), and 800 MT/sec. (400 MHz)
  2. Supports DDR3; 1333 MT/sec (667 MHz) and 1066 MT/s (533MHz)
  3. Up to two SODIMMs per channel for a maximum of four SODIMM support
  4. 36-bit addressing with up to 16 GB using four 4 GB dual rank SODIMMs
  5. Supports synchronous and pseudosynchronous operation with FSB
  6. Supports unbuffered non-ECC DIMMs
  7. Supports X16 and X8 memory devices
  8. Supports serial presence detect (SPD) scheme for DIMM detection and configuration

This seems to say that the chipset supports up to 4GB SODIMMs. It supports x16 and x8 devices, and 'dual rank'. (Is that the '2' of 2Rx16 devices?).

Anyway, at the moment, the only SODIMMS (of my small stock) that work are 1GB ones, and these only appear as 512MB.

lspci output

00:00.0 Host bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP79 Host Bridge (rev b1)
00:00.1 RAM memory: nVidia Corporation MCP79 Memory Controller (rev b1)
00:03.0 ISA bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP79 LPC Bridge (rev b2)
00:03.1 RAM memory: nVidia Corporation MCP79 Memory Controller (rev b1)
00:03.2 SMBus: nVidia Corporation MCP79 SMBus (rev b1)
00:03.3 RAM memory: nVidia Corporation MCP79 Memory Controller (rev b1)
00:03.5 Co-processor: nVidia Corporation MCP79 Co-processor (rev b1)
00:04.0 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP79 OHCI USB 1.1 Controller (rev b1)
00:04.1 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP79 EHCI USB 2.0 Controller (rev b1)
00:06.0 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP79 OHCI USB 1.1 Controller (rev b1)
00:06.1 USB Controller: nVidia Corporation MCP79 EHCI USB 2.0 Controller (rev b1)
00:08.0 Audio device: nVidia Corporation MCP79 High Definition Audio (rev b1)
00:09.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP79 PCI Bridge (rev b1)
00:0b.0 SATA controller: nVidia Corporation MCP79 AHCI Controller (rev b1)
00:10.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP79 PCI Express Bridge (rev b1)
00:15.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP79 PCI Express Bridge (rev b1)
00:16.0 PCI bridge: nVidia Corporation MCP79 PCI Express Bridge (rev b1)
02:00.0 VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation ION VGA (rev b1)
03:00.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation NetLink BCM57780 Gigabit Ethernet PCIe (rev 01)
04:00.0 Network controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR928X Wireless Network Adapter (PCI-Express) (rev 01)


Any comments? email me.    Last update July 2014