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Built for Embedded: The New Intel® Atom™ Processor E6xx Series

By Kenton Williston, Editor-in-Chief

As the first Intel® architecture (IA) processor designed specifically for embedded, the new Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series delivers the benefits of IA at a lower price point, bill of materials (BOM), and hardware footprint than ever before—all while offering significant improvements in I/O flexibility and system-level performance. With this new processor, embedded developers can tackle complex applications with confidence, knowing that they have the performance and flexibility to deliver cutting-edge solutions.

One of the main advantages of the Intel Atom processor E6xx series is the broad support it enjoys from Intel’s trusted partners in the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Alliance members offer a wide range of hardware, software, and tools targeting markets such as industrial automation, military/aerospace, medical, digital signage, and in-vehicle infotainment. These solutions help developers leverage the advanced features of the Intel Atom processor E6xx series and reduce time to market.

The Shifting Embedded Market
The need for a new processor like the Intel Atom processor E6xx series is clear. Embedded applications are becoming increasingly complex, often require sophisticated graphical user interfaces (GUIs), rich media-processing capabilities, and connectivity to a wide range of networks and devices. At the same time, these complex new devices retain long-standing embedded requirements such as low power consumption for fanless and battery-powered operation; small form factors; the ability to withstand harsh environments; and support for a broad range of embedded-specific I/O.

The Intel Atom processor E6xx series was designed with these requirements in mind. It delivers an unprecedented level of I/O flexibility, departing from proprietary chipset interfaces such as front-side bus (FSB) and Direct Media Interface (DMI) and moving to open PCI Express* (PCIe) interfaces instead. As we will see, this change allows the processor to connect o a wide range of chipsets. The processor is also highly integrated, delivering 3D graphics, video encode/decode, and memory and display controllers in one package to help reduce bill of materials and save board real estate. The Intel Atom processor E6xx series is available in both commercial and industrial temperature grades, and is backed by a seven-year lifecycle support. Figure 1 illustrates the processor and one of its chipset options, the Intel® Platform Controller Hub (PCH) EG20T.

Figure1
Figure 1. Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series offers a new level of flexibility and integration. Shown here are the optional Intel® chipset and a third-party power management IC (PMIC) and clock generator.
(Click on image to enlarge)

The Intel Atom family has always targeted power-efficient performance, and the Intel Atom processor E6xx series takes this concept to the next level. The new family offers a wider range of performance options than before, with processors available from 600 MHz to 1.6 GHz and power ranging from 2.7 to 3.9 watts. This scalability makes the Intel Atom processor E6xx series suitable for both entry-level and higher-performance applications.

Performance is enhanced by the inclusion of several IA-specific features. The architecture includes the Intel® SSSE3 vector-processing extensions, which can significantly accelerate media processing, machine vision, digital signal processing (DSP), and other applications. The processor also supports Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology (Intel® HT Technology), which allows the processor to execute two program threads in parallel.

The new processor also incorporates the Integrated Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 600 graphics engine, a power-optimized 2D/3D graphics engine that provides up to 50% better performance than the previous-generation solution. The graphics engine also offers hardware-accelerated high-definition video decode (for MPEG4, H.264, WMV and VC1) and encode (for MPEG4 and H.264), which is another new feature introduced in this processor.

Expand Your Options with Flexible I/O
Thanks to the new PCIe chipset interface, developers have a range of I/O options. In addition to the Intel PCH EG20T chipset, developers can chose from a variety of third-party chipsets, or they can create their own chipset using an FPGA or ASIC. Developers can even use the Intel Atom processor E6xx series as a stand-alone SoC without a chipset.

The Intel PCH EG20T is a good choice for general embedded development. This chipset integrates embedded-specific I/O such as CAN, IEEE* 1588 rev2, SPI, I²C, UART, and GPIO, as well common I/O such as SATA, USB, SD/SDIO/MMC, and Gigabit Ethernet.

OKI Semiconductor, Realtek, and STMicroelectronics are developing additional chipsets for applications such as media phones and in-vehicle infotainment (IVI). These specialized chipsets will provide a more optimal solution for the target markets they target. Figure 2 illustrates an example chipset that targets IVI applications, the ML7213 from Alliance member OKI Semiconductor.

Figure1 
Figure 2. The OKI Semiconductor ML7213 chipset is optimized for IVI applications.

Developers can also create their own custom FPGA or ASIC. This option is often a good choice for applications like industrial automation that employ a large amount of specialized I/O. At the other end of the spectrum, developers can use the Intel Atom processor E6xx series without a chipset, and connect it directly to PCIe peripherals. This approach may be the most cost-effective solution for applications with limited I/O needs.

Intel Embedded Alliance members can help developers create custom I/O solutions quickly and efficiently. For example, Alliance member ADI Engineering has a program to help developers create “thin” solutions that forgo the chipset.

Simplify Design with Off-the-Shelf Hardware
The Intel Atom processor E6xx series is available in a wide range of off-the-shelf products, including computer-on-module (COM) designs, motherboards, embedded PCs, and all-in-one flat-panel PCs. These off-the-shelf products can greatly reduce design complexity and help developers accelerate time to market.

For many applications, fully-configured embedded PCs and panel PCs offer the simplest design path. Intel Embedded Alliance members offer a wide range of embedded PCs and panel PCs optimized for markets such as industrial automation, digital signage, medical, and military applications. Figure 3 summarizes the key features of example offerings available from the Alliance.

System

Form Factor

Key Features

Target Markets

Kontron Rugged HMI Display Computer for Transportation (HMITR)

10.4” Panel PC
(310 mm × 220 × 90 mm)

• Up to 1.3 GHz processor
• 1 GB DDR2 down
• Touch panel or 32 hard keys
• Three Fast Ethernet and CAN buss
• SSD up to 32 GB
• Three USB ports, four serial ports, and SD socket
• Mini PCIe slot
• EN50155 and UIC612-01 compliant, IP54 rated
• Rail transportation

IEI
ECN-001B

Embedded PC
(170 mm × 136 mm × 27 mm)

• Up to 1.3 GHz processor
• 1 GB DDR2 down
• Dual display support
• SATA, dual SD slots, and CompactFlash
• Four USB ports
• Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules
• Optional antenna
• IR receiver
• Energy Related Products (ERP) compliant
• Digital signage
• In-vehicle infotainment
• Multimedia devices
• Kiosks
• Surveillance
• Point-of-sale

Norco
BIS-6622I

Embedded PC
(125 mm × 125 mm × 45 mm)

• Up to 1.3 GHz processor
• 1 GB DDR2 down
• Dual display support
• Dual Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi
• Mini PCIe slot with SSD support
• Four USB ports
• Line-out and mic-in interfaces
• Antenna
• Through holes for VESA mount
• Communication appliances
• Digital signage
• Kiosk
• Point-of-sale
• Thin client
• Automotive computers
• Industrial control

Figure 3. Example embedded PCs. Note that both of these PCs use the Intel® Platform Controller Hub (PCH) EG20T chipset.

For developers who need a more customized solution, boards and modules offer a good alternative. These solutions package the core system functionality in a pre-engineered platform while leaving ample opportunity for customization. Customization is straightforward, as most boards and modules conform to industry-standard form factors and pinouts. Standardization also provides a reliable upgrade path, allowing developers to quickly take advantage of new technologies as they arrive. Figure 4 summarizes the key features of example boards and module available from the Alliance.

Board

Form Factor

Key Features

Target Markets

Advantech SOM-7564

COM Express “ultra” module
(84 mm × 55 mm)

• Up to 1.6 GHz processor
• Up to 1 GB DDR2 down
• Gigabit Ethernet, SATA
• PCIe x1
• Dual display support
• Dual serial ports
• Application board with smart battery manager for hand-held devices
• Portable and hand-held devices
• Rugged applications
• Low-power applications

Emerson Network Power NITX-300

Nano-ITX motherboard
(120 mm × 120 mm)

• Up to 1.0 GHz processor
• Up to 1 GB DDR2 down
• Gigabit Ethernet, SATA and USB
• PCIe* x1 and PCIe Mini Card slot
• Dual display support
• Four serial ports
• Embedded instruments
• Medical carts
• Audio visual display systems

AAEON COM-TC

COM Express* compact module (95 mm × 95 mm)

• Up to 1.6 GHz processor
• Up to 2 GB DDR2 down
• Gigabit Ethernet, dual SATA, and PATA
• Seven USB
• Dual PCIe x1
• SSD up to 4 GB
• 24-bit LVDS and SVDO
• Healthcare
• Retail and advertising
• Test and measurement
• Gaming and entertainment
• Industrial automation
• Security
• Defense and government
• Digital signage

ADLINK CoreModule 720

PC/104-Plus single-board computer
(SBC) (90 × 96 mm)

• Up to 1.3 GHz processor
• 2 GB DDR2 SODIMM
• Gigabit Ethernet, SATA, SD, and four USB
• SSD up to 4 GB
• Four serial ports and one CAN bus
• Ruggedized design
• Rugged applications
• Aerospace / avionics
• Automation
• Transportation
• Military

DFI
QB700-B

Qseven* module
(70 mm × 70 mm)

• Up to 1.6 GHz processor
• 512MB DDR2 down
• Gigabit Ethernet, dual SATA, and SD
• Three PCIe x1
• Six USB 2.0 ports
• Industrial automation,
• Digital signage,
• Medical equipment
• Gaming

iBASE IB892

3.5” SBC
(146 mm × 102 mm)

• Up to 1.3 GHz processor
• Up to 1 GB DDR2 down
• Gigabit Ethernet and dual SATA
• DVI and LVDS (24-bit single channel)
• Four USB ports, four serial ports
• Mini PCIe slot and CF socket
• Digital security & surveillance
• Digital signage
• Gaming
• Industrial automation
• In-vehicle infotainment
• Medical
• Retail

NEXCOM EBC 310

3.5” SBC
(146 mm × 102 mm)

• Up to 1.6 GHz processor
• 2 GB DDR2 down
• Dual Gigabit Ethernet and SATA
• Mini-PCIe socket
• One USB 2.0 port
• Serial port
• Industrial automation
• Building automation
• Medical instruments
• Digital signage
• In-vehicle infotainment
• Mobile dvr

Portwell PQ7-M105IT

Qseven* module
(70 mm × 70 mm)

• Up to 1.6 GHz processor
• Up to 1 GB DDR2 down
• Gigabit Ethernet; dual SATA
• SSD up to 8 GB
• Four PCIe x1
• Seven USB 2.0 ports and CAN bus
• Dual display support
• In-vehicle infotainment
• Military / aerospace / government

SBS COMe9420

Custom COM
(68 mm × 62 mm)

• Up to 1.6 GHz processor
• Up to 2 GB DDR2 down
• Gigabit Ethernet, dual SATA ports
• Three PCIe x1
• Six USB ports, one client
• Four serial ports and  CAN Bus
• Dual display support
• Single +5V power supply, optional +5V stand-by for ATX function
• In-vehicle infotainment
• Rail transit
• Hand-held devices

Figure 4. Example boards and modules. Except for the Advantech SOM-7564, all of these products use the Intel® Platform Controller Hub (PCH) EG20T chipset. The Advantech module does not include a chipset, enabling use of the Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series as an SoC.

A Fast Start on Software
A robust software ecosystem is essential for dealing with today’s complex applications. The Intel Atom processor E6xx series is supported by a broad range of tools, debuggers, operating systems (OSs), and middleware packages that help developers deal with application complexity and take advantage of the processor’s advanced features.

OS support is particularly critical to enabling today’s complex applications. General-purpose OSs like Microsoft* Windows* Embedded Standard 7, Linux*, and MeeGo* provide robust support for complex GUIs, rich media, and other sophisticated features. These OS are available in optimized configurations that target markets such as digital signage and IVI, giving developers an important head start in these demanding applications.

Intel Embedded Alliance members also offer a broad range of real-time operating systems (RTOSs) like Wind River VxWorks*, Green Hills Software INTEGRITY*, and QNX* Neutrino*. Many of these RTOSs have received reliability and security certification under standards such Safety Integrity Level (SIL) and Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL), providing an excellent platform for mission-critical applications such as military and medical equipment. For example, the QNX* Neutrino* RTOS Safe Kernel is certified to IEC 61508 SIL3, meaning that its probability of dangerous failure per hour of operation is below 1 in 10,000,000.

Alliance members also offer embedded hypervisors that allow the Intel Atom processor E6xx series to run multiple operating systems simultaneously. A hypervisor is a specialized software component that runs beneath the operating system. Hypervisors create a virtual machine for each OS, allow each OS to run as if it had its own dedicated hardware (see Figure 5).

Figure5
Figure 5. Virtualization allows multiple operating systems to run on the same hardware platform.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Virtualization is a fairly new concept in embedded systems, but it is becoming more common as system complexity grows. For example, a system might use an RTOS for basic real-time functions and a general-purpose OS like Linux* to implement a GUI and other high-level features. Other systems require multiple OSs to isolate functionality and reduce the impact of faults.

The Intel Atom processor E6xx series includes a hardware virtualization assist feature known as Intel® Virtualization Technology for IA-32, Intel® 64 and Intel® Architecture (Intel® VT-x). By taking advantage of Intel VT-x, hypervisors can run virtual machines with near-native performance, making a wide range of virtualization scenarios possible. Examples of embedded hypervisors that leverage Intel VT-x include Green Hills Software INTEGRITY* Secure Virtualization*, TenAsys eVM* for Windows*, and Real-Time Systems RTS Real-Time Hypervisor.

Development tools for the Intel Atom processor E6xx series are available from leading vendors like Green Hills Software, while debugger solutions are provided by Alliance members such as Arium, Green Hills Software, Lauterbach, and Macgraigor. Wind River has also demonstrated early-access support for the new processor in its Workbench development environment and its JTAG debugging tools. One of the key benefits of this broad software ecosystem is that it enables developers to use their preferred solutions even if they are migrating from a different hardware architecture.

Getting started with the Intel Atom processor E6xx series is made even easier by the reference designs and starter kits available from the Alliance. For example, Wind River is working with a number of board vendors to create comprehensive kits that include hardware, development tools, OSs, hypervisors, and middleware, all in a pre-configured, ready-to-use package. With these kits, developers will be able to start programming in a matter of minutes.

Put Your Ideas to Work
Embedded markets are changing dramatically, presenting major new challenges and opportunities. Developers can rise to the challenge and deliver sophisticated new designs with the Intel Atom processor E6xx series. To get their designs to market on time and on budget, developers can turn to the Intel Embedded Alliance for support. Members of the Alliance offer a broad array of hardware, software, and tools solutions that simplify the design process and leverage advanced features of the Intel Atom processor E6xx series. With these solutions in hand, developers can truly take their designs to the next level.

For more details on the ecosystem support for the Intel Atom processor E6xx series, see the Intel Embedded Alliance Solutions Directory. This directory provides a robust list that is searchable by form factor, market segment, and many other key attributes.

Advantech, Emerson Network Power, and Kontron are Premier members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. AAEON, ADLINK, DFI-ITOX, iBase, IEI, Nexcom, Portwell, QNX, and Wind River are Associate members of the Alliance. Green Hills Software, Norco,OKI Semiconductor, are Affiliate members of the Alliance. SBS is a General member of the Alliance.

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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:
Intel Embedded Alliance
Learn more about the Intel®
Embedded Alliance



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