As competition grows, embedded designers must pack increased performance, real-time connectivity, and interactive graphics features into each new design while reducing power requirements to eliminate fans or extend battery life. Some of the latest specifications in critical applications such as healthcare also call for always-on, always-connected embedded devices to eliminate delays due to startup and data updates. The current generation of consumers that grew up with computers and smart phones also expect an easy to use, graphics-based device interface. To minimize future development efforts, designers also want to create scalable systems that can be easily upgraded as performance expectations increase. And as with all embedded projects, design teams are looking for the best architecture that can enable low cost, small form factor configurations with the minimum number of components.

 

Addressing these escalating requirements, the recently released the next generation Intel® Atom™ processor based platform (codenamed Cedar Trail) offers improved performance and lower power consumption along with improved graphics features including a dedicated media engine and enhanced display options.  Based on 32 nm process technology, this new architecture offers extended 7 year lifecycle support and multiple versions with that can be optimized for individual embedded applications and provide improved performance and power efficiency. The new embedded Intel® Atom™ processors include the 1.66 GHz N2600 with 3.5 W thermal design power (TDP), the 1.85 GHz N2800 with 6.5 W TDP, and the high performance 2.13 GHz D2700 with 10 W TDP. All of the processor options are dual-core, support up to 4 GB of DDR3 system memory, and interface with the Intel NM10 Express chipset for embedded computing (See figure 1).

 

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The new Intel® Atom™ processors feature an integrated Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 3600/3650 graphics engine to enhance 3D performance for media applications such as high definition 1080p video playback and streaming at a fraction of the power consumption of previous generations. Intel streaming single instruction, multiple data extensions can also be used to accelerate software processing of complex arithmetic and video decoding tasks. The platform delivers multiple digital display and output options including LVDS, HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort to support a variety of presentation formats.  The dedicated media engine combined with the integrated memory controller provides enhanced performance and system responsiveness, including an improvement in graphics performance up to 2X compared to the previous generation platform. Theses display features are well suited for embedded market applications such as digital signage, retail terminals, medical devices, and industrial controls.

 

One of the key improvements of the Cedar Trail platform for embedded devices is the low power consumption while delivering dual core performance. Designers can now develop power-efficient portable devices with up to 10 hours of battery life. These enhanced performance-per-watt scores also enable embedded designers to create always-on, always-connected devices using Intel Smart Connect Technology that interacts with the communications channel and updates data while it is in sleep mode. The N2600 and N2800 processors also support Intel® Deep Power Down Technology which significantly reduces power usage during idle periods so that internal transistor power leakage is minimal. Next generation embedded devices must provide the immediate response and rapid boot-up sequences similar to the “instant on” features of today’s consumer electronics technology. For fixed function embedded devices, the Intel® Boot Loader Development Kit allows designers to create customized initialization firmware to reduce boot-up times to less than a second. Intel® Rapid Start Technology enables fast resume from standby mode and helps conserve battery life for the more general embedded operating systems including Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard 7, Microsoft Windows XP/XPe, Microsoft Embedded Compact 7, and Yocto.

 

The question for embedded designers is how to best take advantage of these new features. One in depth approach is to start with an Intel® Development Kit featuring the N2800 or D2700 processor and the NM10 Express chipset (See figure 2). These kit features a small form factor, all-in-one design with dual independent display capabilities in a fanless system. The board provides standard VGA display ports with options for embedded DisplayPort (eDP), DVI-I or HDMI, and single or dual-channel LVDS. Other I/O ports include dual or single 10/100/1000 Mb/s integrated LAN, integrated Intel® HD Audio, serial ports, expansion capabilities, and debug features. Kits are initially priced at $249 and ship as a complete system in a mini-ITX chassis including the development board with 2 GB DDR3 memory, a solid state disk, power supply, documentation, and software.

 

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An even faster method to get involved with the next generation Intel® Atom™ processor based platform is to investigate pre-engineered, off-the-shelf boards, modules, and platforms that have already integrated this new architecture. In the wake of the release of the Cedar Trail architecture, embedded computing manufacturers worldwide have announced many new products that will benefit from the improved graphics performance, lower power, reduced component count, and lower costs.  In the second part of this blog series, I will present a selection of boards, modules, and other hardware based on this new architecture and explain how these products can help developers leverage the Cedar Trail platform. If you are starting an embedded design and plan to incorporate the next generation Intel® Atom™ platform, please offer your suggestions and share your experience or questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community.  You can keep up with the latest related technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on Intel Atom N2800 D2700.

 

An even faster method to get involved with the next generation Intel®  Atom™ processor based platform is to investigate pre-engineered,  off-the-shelf boards, modules, and platforms that have already  integrated this new architecture. In the wake of the release of the  Cedar Trail architecture, embedded computing manufacturers worldwide  have announced many new products that will benefit from the improved  graphics performance, lower power, reduced component count, and lower  costs.  In the second part of this blog series, I will present a  selection of boards, modules, and other hardware based on this new  architecture and explain how these products can help developers leverage  the Cedar Trail platform. If you are starting an embedded design and  plan to incorporate the next generation Intel® Atom™ platform, please  offer your suggestions and share your experience or questions via  comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community.   You can keep up with the latest related technical articles and product  announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on Intel Atom N2800 D2700.

 

 

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Warren Webb
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance