45NM processor for embedded designs
15 November 2008
The launch of the 45nm Intel Core 2 Duo processor opens the possibility of developing smaller, more powerful embedded applications
These applications now require the right embedded form factors to enable fast and cost-effective implementation. Based on a proven standard, COM Express Computer-on-Modules offer fast time-tomarket
and investment security.
Multi-core processors have brought performance advantages to embedded computing applications. They have enabled the development of cost-effective and compact platforms for implementing SMP (Symmetric Multi-Processing) as well as two-in-one hybrid platforms running different operating systems. Now, the arrival of dualcore processors based on the new 45nm production technology heralds the next stage of evolution for embedded computing applications.
With processors such as the 45nm Intel Core 2 Duo SP9300 processor offering faster core speeds, up to 50 per cent more L2 cache, and up to 25 per cent faster FSB with lower power consumption than previous
65nm Intel Core 2 Duo processors, OEMs are calling for the embedded computing form factors that will
enable them to offer multi-core performance in smaller, energy efficient designs. These will not only include
compact and space saving versions of existing platforms, but a whole range of devices that were not possible until now due to restrictions on size and energy consumption. These include embedded mobile
devices for test and measurement and medical applications that require excellent graphics performance combined with long battery life.
With their lower energy consumption, the 45nm dual-core processors will also help these applications meet the EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility) requirements found in their respective market sectors.
Furthermore, improved energy efficiency makes it possible to develop fully enclosed designs without fans, which reduces costs.
To minimise costs and simplify implementation, OEMs will be looking for standardised embedded computing platforms. However, using standardised boards presents a problem. Standard boards have standard footprints and external interface connectors that are always at the same location. This means they
are not flexible enough for small devices that have external interfaces at varying positions. Additionally, many boards require 90 degree placement of expansion cards, which is a major obstacle to reducing the size of a
The market for small devices is therefore better served by Computer-on-Modules since the location of the external interface connectors is flexibly determined by the application-specific carrier board. Height
worries are also eliminated because Computer-on-Modules are mounted parallel to the carrier boards, enabling extremely slim designs. The only remaining question, therefore, is which Computer-on-Module to
The COM Express Computer-on-Module form factor is a good choice for these new applications because it is a vendorindependent specification hosted by the PICMG (PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group). COM Express was initiated by Intel and Kontron under the name ETXexpress in 2004. The PICMG turned it into the COM Express standard in 2006 and now the whole Computer-on-Module community is using it. The market started to turn towards COM Express when it became an official standard. It currently has a CAGR of over 20 per cent. The advantage of designing-in COM Express modules is that they are the first Computeron-
Modules to follow a truly independent industry specification. As such, designers benefit from having a variety of vendors to turn to without the fear of interoperability issues.
From a technical point of view, COM Express defines a PCI and PCI Express-based Computer-on-Module that offers the latest interface such as PCI Express (Gen 2 capable), PCI, PCI Express Graphic (PEG), SDVO (DVI), USB 2.0, SATA and GbE, amongst others.
These interfaces are provided via the COM Express type 1 and type 2 pinouts. Type 2 offers two connectors; the first connector with identical pin assignments to type 1 and a second connector with additional
interfaces such as PCI, PEG (high-end graphics) and IDE. Since the connectors are in the same physical location on all COM Express Computer-on-Modules, regardless of the size of the module, COM Express allows designers to use their existing knowledge, such as specifications, approved design guides and reference designs.
The COM Express standard currently specifies the basic (95mm x 125mm) and extended (155mm x 110mm) form factors. This looks set to be extended by two even smaller form factors – microETXexpress
(95mm x 95mm) and the credit card sized nanoETXexpress (84mm x 55mm) that have been submitted to the PICMG as proposed extensions to the COM Express specification. Thus, applications requiring PCIe, USB 2.0, SATA, and GbE have a clear goal for reducing size in accordance with the established PICMG specification. In addition, micro- and nanoETXexpress Computer-on-Modules are already available, such as the microETXexpress-SP and nanoETXexpress- SP from Kontron that are based on the low power 45nm Intel Atom processor. Since these modules are 100 per cent COM Express compatible in terms of the layout
and location of the pinouts, designers are able to leverage their existing COM Express experience to start their designs immediately and bring their products to market quickly.
The first COM Express Computer-on- Module based on the new 45nm Intel Core 2 Duo processor and Intel GS45 chipset is the ETXexpress-PC from Kontron. With processers ranging from the high performance 2.26GHz Intel Core2 Duo processor SP9300 down to the 1.2GHz Intel ULV Core 2 Duo processor SU9300, these modules provide enhanced performance-perwatt ratios to suit a wide spectrum of next generation embedded applications. They also support the built-in, Intel AMT (Active Management Technology) 4.0 remote management engine, and AMT is a component of Intel vPro technology. This engine offers enhanced security and remote management for easier maintenance, higher system availability and reduced total costs of ownership. Intel AMT 4.0 allows system managers to carry out tasks such as
installation of a new OS without an on-site presence or separate remote management hardware. If there is an operating system failure, managers can run diagnostics, update patches, and reboot the system via
the network from a central service system within a few minutes.
An on-board trusted platform module (TPM 1.2) provides state-of-the-art software and data protection through Intel Trusted Execution Technology (Intel TXT). These features make the COM Express modules ideal for distributed systems such as railways, utilities, traffic lights, toll collection systems as well as cash, vending, ticket and gaming machines.
This wide application deployment is possible thanks to the excellent I/O flexibility of the COM Express modules, including 5x PCI Express x1, 4x SerialATA ports, 1x IDE and 8x USB 2.0 ports along with Gigabit
Ethernet. Via the multiplexed PEG pin-out, SDVO and Display-Port deliver additional video signals for VGA and DVI monitor outputs, SDTV and HDTV television outputs, and TV tuner inputs that simplifies system
graphics design. There is also continued support for non PCI-Express legacy components such as plug-in cards via the PCI 2.1 interface.
Shifting to Computer-on-Modules When shifting from standard board-level platforms to Computer-on-Modules, application-focussed system designers might suddenly find themselves without the required hardware, BIOS, middleware and firmware design capacities. When choosing a COM Express vendor, OEMs should check whether the vendor also offers services to alleviate the stresses encountered when
shifting from full-custom in-house designs to customisable Computer-on-Modules solutions. This is particularly important for fabless companies shifting from COTS platforms to semi-custom designs based on Computer-on-Modules. Kontron’s Boards & More services serve as one-stop-shops for complete and fully customised Computer-on- Module based embedded computing platform solutions that help OEMs
differentiate their solutions and reduce the time-to-market of their finished products.
Kontron’s Boards & More customers also benefit from the ready-made cores that can be implemented
in fullcustom boards. These are required for high-volume projects where each single component produces enormous overall costs that can be reduced by going for a fullcustom design. Smaller, more cost-effective
designs lead to economies of scale. At a critical point, a slightly lower price generates huge increases in sales. This stage is getting close, especially when you take all factors together and the fact that one-computer-perchild solutions are already on the way.
GERHARD SZCZUKA is product marketing manager, Kontron
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