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Advanced In-Vehicle Infotainment with the Intel® Atom™ Processor

By Christian Eder, Sales and Marketing Manager EMEA, congatec AG

Today’s car buyers expect their automotive electronics to keep pace with the advances in consumer electronics and personal computers. To keep up with these demands, manufacturers of in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems need a platform with the performance to deliver cutting-edge features, the flexibility to scale from high-end to low-end vehicles, and a robust ecosystem to speed time to market.

IVI manufacturers can meet these needs with the new Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series. This new processor offers significant improvements over its predecessors in graphics performance, memory bandwidth, and integration, enabling it to handle advanced IVI applications effectively and efficiently. The processor is available at speeds of 600 MHz to 1.6 GHz, providing the scalability to address a wide range of markets.

The Intel Atom processor E6xx series is supported by a comprehensive ecosystem that includes the proven conga-IVI reference platform from congatec AG. This reference platform leverages COM Express* computer-on-module (COM) technology to enable rapid development as well a high degree of scalability and flexibility.

In this article we will outline the emerging demands in IVI markets. We will show how the new Intel Atom processor is uniquely suited to meet these demands. Finally, we will demonstrate the advantages of modular hardware design and highlight key features of the congatec IVI reference platform.

Emerging IVI requirements
The rapid advance of smartphone technology is heavily influencing consumer expectations for IVI systems. Now that consumers have experienced devices with intuitive touch-screen interfaces, rich media capabilities, extensive feature integration, and always-on Internet connections, they want these same capabilities in their automobiles. Car buyers also want to seamlessly connect their existing electronics to their IVI systems.

To illustrate a few examples of how these rising expectations are impacting IVI design, consider the evolution of navigation systems. Next-generation systems are expected to crisply render not only roads, but also buildings, road signs, and other navigation features. The level of detail and resolution in these systems necessitates use of an internal solid state drive (SSD) rather than the traditional DVDs used in the past. Navigation systems are also integrating traffic information, speed camera warnings, and other real-time features that require network connectivity.

All this functionality must run smoothly while the driver and passengers engage in a variety of other activities. For example, the driver might begin a hands-free phone conversation or listen to a music track or radio station. Meanwhile, a rear-seat passenger might watch a video stored in the IVI system, play a video game, or even connect to a local Wi-Fi* network hosted by the IVI system. Future systems may even provide pause and playback of digital radio channels or video on demand streaming for rear passengers.

Connectivity is another key requirement for next-generation IVI systems. These systems must offer Bluetooth* for hands-free calling, USB and SD Memory card connectors to allow audio tracks to be download, and connectivity to the various systems within the vehicle, such as the local MOST bus.

Meeting the Need with Intel® Atom™ Processors
The new Intel Atom processor E6xx series provides the performance and capabilities needed for next-generation IVI applications. One of the most important new features of this processor is its high level of integration. Unlike its predecessors, the new Intel Atom processor E6xx series integrates memory, audio, and display interfaces on the CPU (see Figure 1). The Intel Atom processor also replaces the front-side bus (FSB) used in previous processors with a four-lane PCI Express* interface.

Figure 1
Figure 1.The new Intel® Atom™ processor offers high levels of integration and a PCI Express* chipset interface.
(Click on image to enlarge)

These new features bring several important advantages. First, the increased integration reduces the bill of materials (BOM) and board area. Second, the integrated memory, audio, and display interfaces significantly increase system bandwidth and performance. Similarly, the PCI Express interface offers a significant throughput increase over the slower FSB implementations used in the past. Finally, the PCI Express interface opens up the chipset options, enabling IVI manufactures to design their own FPGA-based custom chipset.

The Intel Atom processor E6xx series also offers several advantages in terms of performance and scalability. It offers a 50% increase in graphics performance compared to its predecessor, helping developers address the growing graphics demands of IVI systems. In addition, the processor is available at speeds of 600 MHz to 1.6 GHz, enabling developers to address a wide range of markets.

The Intel Atom processor E6xx series also features Intel® Virtualization Technology for IA-32, Intel® 64, and Intel® Architecture (Intel® VT-x). Intel VT-x provides hardware acceleration for virtualized systems, which run multiple operating systems (OSs) on the same hardware. Virtualization has a number of benefits, such as simplifying the migration of legacy code and aiding system prototyping and development.

Speeding Development with COM Express
IVI manufacturers can speed development of their Intel Atom processor E6xx series-based systems with the new IVI reference platform from congatec AG. This platform provides a highly complete yet flexible platform for rapid development of advanced IVI systems.

The heart of the kit is the 95 mm x 95 mm conga-CA6 COM Express module. As shown in Figure 2, this compact module contains the Intel Atom processor E6xx series, system memory, an SSD, and key I/O such as USB, Gigabit Ethernet, and CAN. The COM Express module connects to a 165 mm x 175 mm carrier that provides the I/O connectors (including DIN connectors) as well as additional features such as a radio tuner, Bluetooth, PATA, MOST, and a touch-screen interface. The carrier card also implements a video frame grabber in the onboard FPGA for systems with cameras. System expansion is supported through a PCI Express* mini slot that can be used for Wi-Fi, WiMAX*, or even TV modules.

Figure 2
Figure 2. The congatec IVI reference kit provides a fully featured platform for IVI development.
(Click on image to enlarge)

The kit also comes with a flat panel display, power supply, CD-ROM drive, and a full set of devices drivers for the automotive interfaces implemented in the Xilinx FPGA. The congatec AG IVI Reference kit is compatible with Moblin 2.1 for IVI, Wind River Platform for GENIVI, and Microsoft Windows Embedded platform, allowing developers to use the OS, compilers, and application software of their choice.

The key advantage of the COM approach is that it packages the core system functionality into a standardized module. Providing these core functions in a pre-engineered module significantly simplifies the design, as the carrier card only needs to provide I/O connectors and system-specific functionality.

Although using a standardized module saves considerable engineering time, it also leaves ample opportunity for customization. Because COM Express has a known form factor and pinout, IVI manufacturers can readily replace the kit’s carrier card with a custom carrier card designed to their unique connector and space requirements. Figure 3 illustrates how the module snaps into the carrier card. This standardized COM Express connector can be readily implemented in custom carrier card for a simple transition to a production-ready design.

Figure 3
Figure 3. The standard COM Express connector simplifies creation of a custom carrier card.
(Click on image to enlarge)

The COM concept also aids scalability. Developers can choose from a range of COM Express modules with different Intel Atom processors, memory configurations, and SSD options. This flexibility helps developers achieve the right balance of performance, power, and price for a variety of markets.

The COM concept also provides a clear upgrade path that helps developers stay on the forefront of new technology. Leading manufacturers like congatec AG update their modules in sync with Intel processor technology launches, and carrier card designs can accept the updated modules with little modification. As a result, modular designs give developers early access to the latest Intel architecture processors and provide time to market advantages over competitors using traditional electronic manufacturing processes.

In fact, the congatec IVI reference platform was originally created for the Intel Atom process Z5xx series. Due to the flexibility of COM Express-based solutions, it was easy to upgrade the solution to use the Intel Atom processor E6xx series.

Keeping up with the Consumer
The congatec AG IVI reference kit provides a ready-to-use foundation for IVI solutions that can save developers considerable time and effort. The kits provide the performance and features needed to implement cutting-edge designs, as well as the flexibility to scale to a wide range of markets. In addition, the standards-based, modular approach helps IVI manufacturers access new technologies quickly, giving them an important time-to-market advantage over the competition.

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The Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series delivers new levels of I/O flexibility, performance, and efficiency. Developers can take advantage of these features through the broad range of hardware, software, and tools offered by the Intel® Embedded Alliance.

With the latest development kits for the Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series, developers can start development in minutes instead of weeks — even as they take advantage of advanced technologies such as embedded virtualization.

This edition is sponsored by:
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