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April 2, 2012 Previous day Next day

I spent last week at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC), and as usual I saw tons of cool new products and demos – including loads of new hardware, fun demos, and some cool software tools. The highlight of the show was the new Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2600 series, formerly codenamed Sandy Bridge-EP. These parts are the first Intel® Xeon® processors to use the latest-generation “Sandy Bridge” architecture found in 2nd generation Intel® Core™ processors. This upgrade provides a major boost in performance/Watt – for example, an eight-core part provides 68% more performance than a previous-generation six-core part with the same thermal envelope. Memory and I/O also get major upgrades, with four channels of 1600 MHz DDR3 and 40 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3 integrated into each processor.



Figure 1. Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2600 series.


The show floor was full of ATCA boards featuring this new processor, including the Emerson Network Power ATCA-7370, the Kontron AT8060, and the ADLINK aTCA-6200. All of these boards had impressive spec sheets, but the one that stood out to me was the Advantech MIC-5332. This board supports up to 256 GB of DDR3 – that’s a lot of memory!



Figure 2. Advantech MIC-5332.


I was also quite impressed by Super Micro’s Intel Xeon processor-based motherboards. Its X9DRi-LN4F+ motherboard supports an incredible 768 GB of DDR3 ECC registered memory (RDIMM), while its X9DRX+-F motherboard offers a stunning 11 PCIe slots – including 10 full-speed PCIe Gen 3.0 slots. Both boards really show off the high-end I/O available on the new processors.


There were also plenty of intriguing Intel Core processor-based products. For example, Emerson was showing its first OpenVPX single-boards computers (SBCs), the iVPX7220 and iVPX7223.  Emerson also noted that it had recently achieved VMware certification for its CPCI7203 CompactPCI SBC. According to Emerson, this is the first embedded product to be certified, and the first Intel Core processor-based product. What makes this so interesting is that this certification gives embedded systems access to enterprise-tested tools for managing virtual machines. Emerson expects these tools to be popular with its military customers, who rely on virtualization to achieve high levels of security and task separation.


On the other side of the show floor, Kontron had a “toy house” demo showing off its M2M Smart Services Developer Kit. The demo, shown in the video below, crams cameras, electronic door locks, and an HVAC system into a scaled-down house about 1m tall. The demo even pumped its video feeds to an external server so you could see who was walking by the booth from a web interface. I thought it was a creative way to show what you could do with the kit.


(Note: The HVAC connection actually uses ZigBee, not Bluetooth as I say in my narration.)


Norco also had a booth full of great embedded PCs. When I stopped to talk to their rep, he pointed out the many ways Norco is supporting scalability and longevity – to the point of thinking about how customers can retain their tooling even as they upgrade their designs over time. On the scalability front, Norco can go from an Intel Atom processor to a 2nd generation Intel Core processor in the same box. On the I/O front, Norco can offer 10-15 boards with different I/O combinations that can fit within the same box. The rep showed me an example box that has two rows for built-in I/O in the back, leaving room for custom I/O on a third row, along with an optional panel for custom I/O on the front. The point of this approach is that it lets customers keep their one set of tooling for different design variations.


I also saw a truly impressive debugger from Macraigor. With their new WiFiDemon, you can do you debugging wirelessly – how cool is that? And that is only the start of the unique features! The debugger is basically a specialized development computer – it is based on the Intel® Atom™ Processor E6xx Series and runs a full Linux-based development suite (complier, debugger, etc.). That means you don’t need to install any tools on your own desktop – all you need is a VNC client. In principle, you could do your development from an iPad! The debugger also includes a serial port and 12V DC power, which means you can remotely access and power cycle the target hardware from anywhere in the world.  Unfortunately the debugger does not seem to be online yet, but it is worth noting that it is intended to replace the existing Etheret-based mpDemon.


Last but not least, I want to give a quick shout-out to my colleague Stewart Christie, who won the Mentor of the Year ACE Award from EE Times and EDN. Stewart was recognized for his contributions to engineering education, including for his efforts to provide open-source development kits. Nice work, Stewart!


There was plenty more to see at the show. If you didn’t attend, I hope you can make it next time. I certainly found it worthwhile!


Emerson Network Power, Kontron, and Advantech are Premier members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. ADLINK and Norco are Associate members of the Alliance. Super Micro and Macraigor are Affiliate members of the Alliance.


Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston

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