Attention to the size, weight and power consumption (SWaP) of an embedded platform in military and aerospace applications becomes increasingly critical as devices become more mobile and integrated into other electrical and mechanical subsystems.  The principals for optimizing the SWaP ratio apply across all levels of technology from chips to boards to systems. Added to this is the additional focus on cooling and cost, commonly referred to as SWaP-C2. Here we are going to take a look at the top considerations for SWaP-C2 that can have the most impact on your next design. Included are current examples of how Intel technology can help with your SWaP-C2 conundrum.


Processor and chipset selection

Top on almost every embedded platform designer’s list is the choice of processor and any related chipsets. Here Intel has the mid to high performance processor choices covered. Start with the best performance to watt ratio with the Intel® Atom™ processors and chipsets, move up to the Intel® Core™ processors and chipsets when performance is a bit higher in priority. Atom processors are available starting at under 5 watts for maximum power efficiency. Intel®; Core™ processors start as low as 21 watts and go up from there. Key to the Intel® Core™ processors is the thermal management capability that lets you optimize the processor performance but gives you access to higher performance when needed. Check out the two posts, Roving Reporter: Cooling in an unconventional way and Roving Reporter:  BIOS suppliers respond to manipulating the BIOS to affect cooling.


Cost-effective SWaP management is best achieved by using commercially available components whenever possible to keep the cost part of SWaP-C2 in balance. Exotic components that are custom built can blow any budget out of the water. This also means that you don’t have the use the cheapest, lowest priced processors or chipsets, boards, or systems; you can select from enterprise grade parts, with wider operating environments, and still be more cost effective than designing with specialized components.


Processor core management and Hypervisors

With the widespread use of multicore processors come many SWaP-C2 advantages. One is the fact that you can run multiple operating environments on a single multicore processor, assigning dedicated cores to specific tasks, and eliminating the need for application specific processors. In essence, a single multi-core processor eliminates several stand alone chips from the past. How does this all come together? It requires software that is capable of managing multiple operating modes, a la, the hypervisor. Intel’s Wind River has this covered with their Hypervisor.


Wind River Hypervisor is an embedded hypervisor that brings a new level of flexibility to the development of embedded devices. It opens up new opportunities for cost savings through hardware consolidation; it allows developers to leverage multiple operating systems in a single device so they can expand and enhance device functionality; it facilitates the adoption of multi-core processors by increasing reliability and reducing risk; and it provides the new software configuration options required to architect next-generation embedded devices.


Learn more about using hypervisors to improve your SWaP-C2 ratio by reading Roving Reporter: Paravirtualization improves hypervisor performance.


Power Management

Power management is addressed in the processor with Enhanced Intel SpeedStep®; Technology and Thermal Monitoring Technologies. Managing the processor speed has a great impact on the power budget of a system. Enhancements in 3rd Generation Intel®; Core™ processors makes power management even easier. Effective power management can eliminate the need for expensive, large, and heavy cooling systems. Designing a system that provides the proper amount of operating margin without blowing the SWaP or cost budget is important.


GPGPU - General Purpose Graphics Processor Unit

Adding additional functionality to processor packages is a favorite way to improve the SWaP-C2 ratio. Systems-on-a-chip (SOCs) have been doing this for years. One of the most power intensive processor blocks is the graphics processor (GP). Once you have added a GP to the die, you can then use that to aid in general purpose computational processing tasks. The ability to add this key functionality to today’s die packages is a major breakthrough in reducing the SWaP ratio, totally eliminating the need to expensive, space consuming graphics co-processors or boards. The fact that you can even use the processing capability of the GPU for other aspects of the application at no additional hardware costs is a huge savings in all areas of SWaP.


The latest 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ processors come equipped with the Intel® HD Graphics 4000/2500. This enables leading edge graphics capability all within a single chip solution. While designed primarily for the gaming industry, many military applications have the same requirements for high levels of graphics performance. Intel HD Graphics offers powerful features that enable a highly responsive and stunning 3D visual experience:

  • Advanced technologies that deliver higher performance and better energy efficiency.
  • Faster 3D rendering and more complex shading create incredibly responsive and realistic 3D graphics.
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000 delivers immersive mainstream capabilities with entry-level discrete graphics card performance—without an additional graphics card or chip.
  • Intel HD Graphics 2500 delivers casual capabilities without an additional graphics card or chip.

Solid State Disk drives

The ability to capture data accurately and efficiently is becoming as important as the advancement in the weaponry in the Mil-Aero market. To achieve increased functionality, performance and extended mission life in electronic systems, SWaP must be managed and reduced across applications. Developers are looking for embedded storage solutions that are smaller, lighter, and less expensive that can meet SWaP standards. Solid State Disks or SSDs are becoming very cost effective, leading the charge to reduce size and weight while remaining cost effective and improving system performance.


Premio has solved this challenge by offering developers a small Echostreams 1U 18" short-depth and light-weight storage system that supports an embedded Unified Storage Controller with onboard Intel i350 (GbE)/X540 (10GbE) Ethernet Controller, or an 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ processor-based ATX motherboard, ideal for low-power and high-performance digital data/content recording applications used on aircraft, submarines, and even in vehicles. And while similar solutions on the market are much longer and can only accommodate ten SSD drives, the 2.5” high Intel SSD 520 drives made it possible to support sixteen SSD bays with an AC/DC or DC/DC power supply, all in one compact package.

Premio Image.JPG


Premio 1U 16bay FlacheSAN1S


“Our biggest challenge when it comes to SWaP is in understanding exactly what a customer really needs,” commented Gene Lee. “Many customer won’t tell us the details of how a system will operate, so they often do not ask for the right solution.” Customers often have a hard time distinguishing between hard and soft requirements which leads them to frequently pick products that are either too expensive to build or compromises on key capabilities that comes back to haunt them later.


Small Form Factors

Size is relevant to the application. What may be considered small enough for one application may be way too large for another. When it comes to selecting a module, board, or system form factor, there is no shortage of choices; many of them are specifically targeted at small form factors. While the size is relevant to the application, there are many choices.


Intel works with the embedded community to support the development of a host of small form factors utilizing Intel processors from Atom to 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ processors. These platforms target intelligent systems across all markets. Single board computers and systems based on these small form factors greatly improve the SWaP-C2 ratio especially when total product life costs are taken into consideration.


“The combination of ruggedness, reliability and performance in Radisys’ COM Express modules enables our customers to implement an entire system or network that can be picked up and moved to meet changing battlefield situations,” said Jennifer Zickel, COM Express product line manager, Radisys. Radisys’ CEQM77, with third-generation Intel Core i7 processing, enables video applications in the defense, medical and enterprise markets to be brought into smaller more efficient space designs.


Many members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance offer board and system level products of all types and configurations to address your preferred SWaP-C2 priorities.



This may be one of the few technology areas impacting SWaP where Intel does not have a catalog offering though they may be closer than they think. As systems get smaller, there is a need smaller and more higher performing connectors. Active cables are one way to increase the performance so it is not a far stretch to the day when Intel processors will be embedded at one or both ends of cables to make them active.


But while Intel may not actually produce connectors, they do influence the protocols that require connectors. USB is perhaps the most ubiquitous connection in play today. Used in devices of all types, size and performance are key to its continued acceptance in all markets. Intel launched the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) in 1995 and the rest is history. Size and performance are the two top priorities for the USB standard as mobile devices of all types implement USB as the primary physical interconnection to other devices. Today, SuperSpeed USB 3.0 provides the highest standard in USB performance—up to 10 times faster than High-Speed USB 2.0, with a design data rate of five Gbps. In addition, SuperSpeed USB dramatically reduces the power necessary to transfer large amounts of data. Portable devices such as handhelds, cell phones, and digital cameras that connect to PCs as USB peripherals benefit from having additional capabilities to connect to other USB devices directly using USB On-The-Go (OTG) technology.


Thunderbolt™ is a new technology that is having great impact on SWaP. Transforming device interconnectivity, Thunderbolt™ technology is a dual protocol I/O innovation that dramatically increases transfer performance with bi-directional 10Gbps speed and offers daisy chaining to multiple devices, providing flexibility and simplicity for innovative system designs.


Out of all of this is a drive to continuously improve protocols and connector technology to be smaller and higher in capability and performance provided support for data, video, audio, and power connectivity.


Chassis cooling technology

Fully understanding the operating environment is very critical when it comes to chassis cooling. For instance, an embedded subsystem designed to operating without fan, will require some kind of airflow over the chassis. Otherwise the system will slow cook the system around it – leading to eventual failure. Even a very low power system without the right airflow will impart long-term damage.


Used widely in server platforms, the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) specification continues to improve server management and help reduce costs. IPMI is implemented by many intelligent systems, playing a key role in SWaP-C2 by providing a tool for chassis management and cooling.



For more on energy efficiency, see Roving Reporter: Improved Energy Efficiency Can Eliminate Active Cooling Devices, Reduce Power Consumption, and Save Board Space



Energy Efficiency - Top Picks

Military, Aerospace, Government - Top Picks


Radisys is a Premier member and Premio Inc. is an Affiliate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.


Jerry Gipper

OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Editorial Director,OpenSystems Media, VITA Technologies