Though it could have earned you some cash a few months ago, that old clunker out back isn't going to do you much good with its lousy gas mileage, sputtering engine, and miscellaneous recalled items that you never bothered to get fixed.


Just as a vehicle needs a quality mechanical design to function properly and keep maintenance costs low, so too does an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) system require a reliable hardware platform to enable seamless integration and rapid development at minimal cost.


The Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design lays the foundation for an Open Infotainment Platform (OIP) that incorporates automotive-specific features and comes with complete schematics and bill of materials to simplify development and accelerate time to market. Fitting in a standard DIN slot, the small-footprint platform meets the high-performance/low-power requirements of IVI systems while providing full interoperability with existing home and office technologies.




Equipped with the Intel Atom Processor Z530 at 1.6 GHz and Intel System Controller Hub US15W, the Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design eliminates noise and reliability concerns related to the use of fans and heat sinks. In addition to offering broad software compatibility and compact I/O interfaces, the design platform supports loads of IVI connectivity functions, including Bluetooth, video capture, CAN and Media-Oriented Systems Transport (MOST), Ethernet, and USB connectors for various consumer electronics devices.




Besides a system controller daughtercard used for basic power management, the platform contains an automotive carrier board and the conga-CA COM Express module from Intel Embedded Alliance Associate member congatec AG, who provided input and support during the design phase of the carrier board. The 95 x 85 mm2 conga-CA module is designed with the Intel Atom processor, comes with 1 GB DDR2 memory, and offers embedded BIOS support.


All of the hardware and documentation for the Low Power Intel IVI Reference Design is included in the conga-IVI Starterkit, which automakers and suppliers are using to test and define new products, says Christian Eder, congatec's VP of marketing.


"The next generation of IVI solutions will be much more flexible and powerful," Eder says. "Congatec's modular approach means that upgrades to upcoming CPU performance steps will be easier."


To extend its flexibility and integrate IVI-specific functions, the Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design uses a Xilinx Automotive Spartan-3E FPGA that allows designers to produce a customized peripheral extension chip to the Intel System Controller Hub US15W. Alliance Affiliate member Xilinx was involved in creating the reference design and worked with Intel to develop the IP, platform integration, and development boards required.


With the FPGA handling all of the interfacing in the system, automakers can customize and future-proof their IVI designs while using the same basic platform, says Kevin Tanaka, senior manager of worldwide automotive marketing and product planning at Xilinx.


"As interface standards change based on the whim of the consumer market, the IP loaded into the FPGA can be updated to accommodate this change without impacting the base architecture of the design," he says.


Capabilities provided by the FPGA-based design include I2C, I2S, and UART connectivity; SDHC v2.0 for high-capacity storage; and video and MOST network connectivity. Because the XA Spartan-3E FPGA offers multiple density options, Tier Ones can scale up or down in the device line based on the required feature sets, thus optimizing their cost structure while maintaining the same footprint on their boards, Tanaka says.


"This way, you only pay for what you need to satisfy the end customer," he says.


With all that functionality packed into an IVI head unit, there's not much room left for heat sinks or fans. And although the Atom has a low Thermal Design Point (TDP) of 4.5 W, its small die size can result in high gap pad thermal resistance. To address this and other thermal/mechanical considerations, Intel developed new products for the Intel® AtomTM processor Z5xx series including industrial-temperature options, as well as different package-size choices better suited for in-car infotainment devices. These products provide enhanced thermal performance (14 °C cooler) and reliable operation under extreme conditions.


Intel, in collaboration with American Portwell Technology, an Associate member of the Alliance,  kept these thermal constraints in mind when developing the PCS-8220, one of the first system models built with that design. Portwell's PCS-8230, an Atom-based embedded car PC infotainment system, provides ultra-low power consumption (6 V to 24 V wide DC power input) and emits low heat (2.5 W generated by the CPU). Using the Intel Embedded Compact eXtended (ECX) form factor, the fanless 180 mm x 192.2. mm x 50 mm system fits in a single DIN slot that can slide right into a vehicle's dashboard.


The Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design can help automotive system designers overcome challenges specific to IVI applications by providing direction for a low-cost solution that selects the right performance level, implements smart power control, and determines how many RF, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other connectivity functions to use as dictated by the application, says Jack Lam, senior product marketing manager at Portwell.


"'Cost is efficiency' is the main reason for using a standard-based platform in IVI systems," Lam says. "Unlike the PC market, which always chases the latest and greatest, it is more focused on what is the best fit for most existing models in the IVI market."


Keep your browser bookmarked here for next week's final installment in this series illustrating how these IVI technologies are being integrated into automotive applications, transforming the way we roll.


Before we dive into the car app pool, I welcome your feedback on what you think about the Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design. How can designing with this platform bridge the gap between different generations of products? Besides thermal performance, what other technical challenges must be considered when developing IVI systems? How can designers reduce IVI design complexity and keep costs low? Give us your insight into these issues.


Jennifer Hesse
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance