The more digital signage systems a merchant or other user runs in their operation, the more they become concerned about power costs. While a small business operating two or three digital signs isn’t going to worry too much about power, a large business installing thousands of digital signs throughout their locations, is going to care and make power consumption a key part of a request for proposal (RFP). Paradoxically, these same RFPs generally also demand that media players deliver higher quality graphics and video, remote management capabilities, and the processing power for anonymous viewer analytics—all at a low cost per unit.
That’s a lot to ask. In this post, I want to look at how the energy savings from the latest generation of Intel® Core™ processors enables meeting such a request. In particular, I want to focus on using less expensive desktop processors rather than mobile versions, and provide two board examples from IEI Technology Corporation.
The Power Story
The 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7-3770 processor with integrated Intel® HD Graphics 4000 is a powerful desktop processor that runs at just 77 watts. This is particularly impressive when compared to a 2nd generation version, the Intel® Core™ i7-2600 processor. That processor runs at 95 watts. What’s the savings here? Nearly 20 percent. A lot of these savings come from Intel’s 22nm process technology used in the 3rd generation Intel Core processors and the revolutionary 3D Tri-Gate transistor technology. These innovations substantially decrease power consumption and die size.
Now, if you’re willing to pay the higher price (approximately USD 100 more) for a mobile version of a 3rd generation Intel Core processor such as the Intel® Core™ i7-3615QE processor, you could drop that down to just 45 watts. That’s only the power savings of the processor though. When we’re talking about spending 34 percent more on a processor and the impact it will have on the pricing of a media player, we need to look beyond just the savings in processor watts to see if they might be other reasons for sticking with the less expensive desktop version.
Keeping Power Low and Costs Down with Integrated Graphics
One big thing to consider is that all 3rd generation Intel Core processors that include Intel® HD Graphics 4000 virtually eliminate the need for an external graphics card and its power draw on a system. This is a big advantage in reducing overall system power and bill of materials (BOM). In addition to that, digital signage customers will appreciate saving the time and expense of managing thousands of graphics cards and their drivers spread over a large network.
Consider too what you get (see Figure 1). This fast graphics core with 16 execution units is up to twice as fast as the previous generation HD Graphics 3000 (12 execution units) in 3D performance and up to 60 percent faster in graphics performance. Plus Intel HD Graphics 4000 supports DirectX* 11 and can run graphics on three monitors simultaneously—a big advantage for digital signage applications.
Figure 1. 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processor HD Graphics microarchitecture.
There’s a lot of intelligence in HD Graphics 4000. For instance, Intel® Quick Sync Video provides native support for all mainstream codecs, as well as the ability to handle multiple 1080p streams simultaneously. Another feature, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, delivers advanced video technologies that remove jitter, create crisper visuals, plus enable adaptive contrast and skin-tone enhancements for vivid, rich colors.
Intel® HD Graphics 4000 shares last-level cache between the CPU and graphics. This optimizes load balancing and helps accelerate 3D rendering. What’s more, the graphics core frequency is a variable parameter. Third generation Intel Core processors support Intel HD Graphics Dynamic Frequency, a feature that adjusts the frequency of the integrated graphics core dynamically depending on the CPU utilization, power consumption and heat dissipation at a given moment. Essentially this means that when the graphics require the most processing power they can get a boost, provided the power consumption and heat dissipation at the moment allow it.
Plenty of Headroom
As for handling the anonymous video analytics tasks of such applications as Intel® Audience Impression Metrics Suite, the Intel® Core™ i7-3770 processor has plenty of headroom for that. Not only does this processor have four cores that make simple work out of multi-tasking, but it also includes Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology which allows each individual processor core to work on two tasks at the same time. This further improves multitasking and speeds up the workflow. In addition, for greater adaptability Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 delivers bursts of processor speed automatically when a workload demands additional performance.
Reducing Management and Power Costs with Out-of Band Manageability
Out-of-band manageability features also make the 3rd generation Intel core processors particularly appealing for signage applications. When their Intel® vPro™ technology features are activated, Intel Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT) enables remote management and maintenance capabilities that allow IT professionals to query, fix and protect networked media players even when they’re powered off, not responding, or have software issues. What’s more, this technology helps perform remote asset tracking and checks the presence of management agents virtually anytime.
Intel AMT also provides the means to remotely turn devices on/off to reduce energy consumption during non-peak operating times. This means store management doesn’t have to rely on store employees to do it and energy can be saved by keeping signage off when people aren’t present. Plus, if a merchant wants to use anonymous video analytics to put players to sleep when people aren’t present and to restart when they are, Intel® Rapid Start Technology enables systems based on 3rd generation Intel core processors to resume quickly so customers aren’t missed.
Two IEI Boards That Deliver These Advantages
Good examples of ATX and microATX boards that can provide all the advantages of 3rd generation Intel Core processors are available from Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance members like IEI. Both their IMBA-Q770 (ATX) and IMB-Q770 (microATX) boards (see Figure 2) support the 22nm LGA1155 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processor family and Intel® Q77 Express Chipset. Integrated dual HDMI and DVI-I on the Intel® Q77 Express Chipset and Intel® HD 4000 Graphics with DX11 support allow these advanced motherboards to deliver enhanced graphics performance and support three independent displays with an additional VGA connector.
Figure 2. IEI IMB-Q770 microATX board.
Both the IMBA-Q770 and the IMB-Q770 feature USB 3.0, PCI Express generation 3.0, a SATA 6Gb/s port, and dual-channel DDR3 1600/1333 MHz with maximum support up to 32 GB. The Intel® Q77 Express chipset supports state-of-the-art Intel® AMT 8.0, enabling IT managers to remotely diagnose and repair problems, making these platforms ideal for high-resolution digital signage applications seeking advanced manageability. They can even include IEI’s iEZman application which provides an out-of-band KVM function which allows full control of keyboard, mouse and video output viewing on a remote system through hardware-based Intel® AMT. Video output on a remote system is always visible even when there is a blue screen or missing disk.
With iEZman, a remote support person can remotely control and perform administrative tasks through a graphical user interface (GUI) in Windows. All functions can be managed through this single interface after password verification. iEZman also makes remote power management extra easy by enabling remote system on, off, and reset through this GUI, as well as scheduling specific times for systems to wake from a sleep state or shut down.
Digital signage system designers can effectively reduce both power consumption and system cost low by choosing boards based on desktop Intel® Core™ processors.
To learn more about bringing intelligence to digital displays and other retail devices, see Digital Signage - Top Picks
To see other community content on energy efficiency, see Energy Efficiency – Top Picks.
IEI Technology Corporation is an Associate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine