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The new Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series offers a 2X boost in graphics performance over its predecessor, as well as improved HD video support.  These features are a boon for the many embedded applications where graphics and video performance are key requirements.   For example, the Intel Atom processor E6xx series can enable sophisticated human-machine interfaces (HMIs) in industrial automation applications, and its HD video can enable low-cost digital signage solutions.

 

Let’s start with a look at the processor’s graphics performance.  The Intel Atom processor E6xx series features the Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 600, a power-optimized 2D/3D graphics engine based on the PowerVR SGX 535 from Imagination Technologies.  The graphics engine can be clocked at up to 400 MHz, up from the 200 MHz clock used in the otherwise identical 2D/3D engine in the prior-generation GMA 500—hence the 2X boost in performance.  This speed bump was possible because the Intel Atom processor E6xx series integrates the GMA 600 onto the same 45 nm die as the CPU.  In contrast, the previous-generation Intel® Atom™ processor Z5xx series placed the graphics engine on the 130 nm Intel® SCH US15W chipset.

 

In addition to bringing the graphics onto the CPU, the Intel Atom processor E6xx series integrates the video and memory interfaces onto the processor, and boosts the memory speed from a maximum of 533 MHz to a maximum of 800 MHz.  It also replaces the proprietary 400 MHz/533 MHz front-side bus (FSB) chipset interface with a much faster 2500 MHz PCI Express* interface.  These upgrades significantly improve performance in applications where bandwidth is a performance bottleneck—a common scenario in graphics-intensive applications.

 

To illustrate how all these upgrades translate to real-world performance, Intel has demonstrated the GMA 600 running Quake 3 at above 100 fps.  Although this may not be the most relevant benchmark for embedded applications, it does demonstrate the solid performance of the graphics engine.   To get a more visceral sense of the GMA 600’s performance, check out the video below.  Note that this video features the Intel® Atom™ processor Z6xx series, formerly known as Moorestown.  This processor uses the same GMA 600 engine as the Intel Atom processor E6xx series.

 

 

This level of graphics performance is extremely helpful for creating intuitive, responsive user interfaces.  The GMA 600 supports OpenGL* ES 2.0, OpenGL 2.1, OpenVG 1.1, and DirectX 10.1, enabling a wide variety of graphic user interface (GUI) tools to leverage the graphics engine.  For example, the Nokia Qt GUI tools use OpenGL.   To learn more about the possibilities of GUI design with the Intel® Atom™ processor, I recommend the article Touch-Screen Automation, Simplified for a good overview.

 

Turning our attention to HD video, the Intel Atom processor E6xx series includes hardware-accelerated high-definition video decode for MPEG4, H.264, WMV and VC1, and—for the first time—encode for MPEG4 and H.264.  The decode side supports 1080p30 H.264 base, main, and high profile content at up to 20Mbps.  Meanwhile, the encoder can handle up to 720p30 H.264 base profile L3.  As with the 2D/3D pipeline, the HD video acceleration comes courtesy of Imagination Technologies—in this case via their PowerVR VXD decoder and PowerVR VXE encoder.

 

It is also worth noting that some graphics- and video-intensive applications have modest CPU performance requirements.   The Intel Atom processor E6xx series includes a new 600 MHz option that is a good fit for the applications. This entry-level option retains the powerful graphics and video capabilities of its piers (although the graphics clock is reduced to 320 MHz) but turns down the processor clock for a lower-power and lower-cost solution.  The Intel Atom processor E6xx series also includes 1.0 GHz, 1.3 GHz, and 1.6 MHz variants for applications that need more speed.

 

Of course, performance isn’t everything—embedded applications have other tough requirements such as fanless operation, ability to withstand harsh environments, and rapid time to market.  Developers can meet these requirements with boards and modules from the Intel® Embedded Alliance.    The PROFIVE* P11 nanoETXexpress module from E.E.P.D. GmbH illustrates the advantages of these solutions.  This 84 mm × 55 mm module includes:

 

  • COM Express* Type 1 or Type 10 pin out
  • -40°C to +85°C extended temperature version and 0°C to +60°C standard version
  • Processor speeds from 600 MHz to 1.6 GHz
  • Up to 1 GB DDR2
  • One Gigabit Ethernet port and up to 3 PCI Express lanes
  • Up to two SATA interfaces; optional SATA SSD of up to 4 GB
  • Up to six USB 2.0 ports and one USB Client port
  • Two optional COM ports and optional CAN port
  • SDVO and LVDS interfaces

 

The PROFIVE P11 targets a variety of applications with demanding graphics requirements, including digital signage, rugged industrial and mobile systems, medical equipment, and kiosks.  Using this module is a great way to get a head start on designs for these markets. Figure 1 shows the PROFIVE P11.

 

p11.jpg

Figure 1. At just 84 mm × 55 mm, the E.E.P.D. PROFIVE P11 is remarkably compact.

 

Another example comes from Lippert, which offers the Toucan-TC COM Express Compact module.  This 95 mm × 95 mm module includes:

 

  • Support for  -40°C to +85°C extended temperature version and -20°C to +60° industrial version
  • Processor speeds from 600 MHz to 1.6 GHz
  • Up to 2 Gbyte DDR2
  • Gigabit Ethernet; five PCI Express lanes and a PCI Bus
  • Six USB 2.0 ports and one USB Client port
  • microSD slot
  • 3 SATA ports and 1 PATA (IDE) port; optional SSD 2-64 GB
  • CAN-bus and four UART ports on mechanically lockable option connector
  • SDVO and LVDS interfaces
  • Power consumption <10W and support for passive cooling

 

With its wide range of I/O and storage options, the Lippert Toucan-TC is a good choice for applications that need a high level of features and connectivity.  Figure 2 shows the module.

 

toucan-tc_s_lightbox.png

Figure 2. The Lippert Toucan-TC offers a rich set of I/O.

 

As a final note, I should point out that one of the key benefits of the Intel Atom processor E6xx is its compatibility with the larger family of Intel® architecture (IA) processors.  If performance requirements grow beyond what the Intel Atom processor E6xx series can deliver, developers can readily move up to another IA processor with more performance.  This is an important consideration for graphics- and video-intensive applications, because it provides a high degree of scalability and future-proofing.

 

Microsoft is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance.  E.E.P.D. GmbH and LiPPERT Embedded Computers GmbH are Affiliate members of the Alliance.  (E.E.P.D. GmbH is a division of Trucomp Inc.)

 

Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief

Embedded Innovator magazine

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