Next to winning, nothing encourages people at a casino to stick with a game longer than a highly immersive, multimedia-rich gaming experience. But for casino owners, the requirements of a gaming platform are much more. They want a machine that can’t be remotely compromised or otherwise tampered with. They want ways to minimize downtime and IT visits. Fortunately for platform designers, it’s now easy to provide the desired performance, security and manageability simply by standardizing gaming platforms on the 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processor product family. In this post, I’m going to explain why, as well as provide an example of a board from Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance member Portwell on which to design a game platform.
The Ultimate Game in Visual and Audio Performance
Today’s casino goers have much greater expectations for gaming experiences. They’ve grown up with computer games. They know the advanced imaging and animation capabilities computers are capable of. Consequently, automated card, roulette, slot, and other gambling games need to provide similar high-definition 3D animation and video, as well as high quality audio, to captivate and satisfy these customers. Nor is one monitor enough. Another is required for tracking player-game information, such as points earned, player preferences, and casino services such as food and drink orders. Such conveniences are great when a player doesn’t want to leave a “lucky” machine during a hot streak. From the casino perspective, having even a third monitor offers a great way to advertise casino events to both the player and passersby.
All this is a lot to ask, particularly when electronic gaming system designers must compete on price for lucrative deals that could encompass hundreds of systems.
Fortunately for gaming platform designers, 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processors can drive down bill of materials (BOM) cost to make their solutions more competitive. In addition to providing processing power to spare for applications, these processors include superlative integrated graphics that make expensive add-in graphics cards and subsystems unnecessary. This lowers system cost and form factor. What’s more, since discrete graphics components no longer need to be powered, it also reduces energy consumption. Selling to large casinos, this can be a great sales point.
Just how good are these integrated graphics? Intel® HD Graphics 4000, Intel’s upgraded graphics engine, offers an up to 2X boost in 3D performance and up to 60 percent faster graphics performance over the previous generation processor. Built-in support for three displays includes comprehensive video port options—including LVDS, VGA, HDMI, and DisplayPort. Intel® Quick Sync Video provides native support for all mainstream codecs, as well as the ability to handle multiple 1080p streams simultaneously. And 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. DirectX* 11, OpenGL* 3.1, and OpenCL* 1.1 are all supported.
Integrated Intel® High Definition Audio (Intel® HD Audio) also helps reduce BOM and provide excellent sound performance. Capable of playing back more channels at higher quality than previous integrated audio formats, Intel HD Audio delivers outstanding multi-channel audio experiences using newer audio and video encoding/decoding algorithms to enable a higher-quality listening experience. Intel HD Audio hardware is capable of delivering the support and sound quality for up to eight channels at 192 kHz/32-bit quality and is architected to prevent the occasional glitches or pops that other audio solutions can have by providing dedicated system bandwidth for critical audio functions.
Taking the Gamble Out of Security
Now let’s talk about security. Gaming IT departments need to maintain the integrity and security of sensitive customer information stored on their electronic gaming devices. Equally important, IT staff must prevent any form of tampering that could result in large revenue losses, as well as electronic sabotage via malware by disgruntled customers or employees.
Embedded security technologies in the 3rd generation Intel Core processor family enable a level of protection unavailable to embedded systems until now. These processors incorporate Intel® vPro™ technology, a suite of hardware-based security and management capabilities that operate below the operating system (OS), installed agents and applications, to provide a deeper level of threat management; access authentication; data protection; and monitoring, remediation, and reporting.
These security capabilities include:
- Intel® OS Guard, which helps keep malware from rooting below the OS by blocking application access to critical OS vectors.
- Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT), which verifies a known safe environment for a machine being launched.
- Intel® Advanced Encryption Standard – New Instructions (Intel® AES-NI), which works with Intel® Secure Key (a hardware-based random number generator) to enable fast encryption/decryption without impacting performance—a great way to protect data on the floor and throughout the network.
- Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT), which enhances and secures certain tasks in virtualized environments that further protect the gaming system.
- Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT), which enables remote diagnosis, security patch distribution, and repair.
Intel TXT merits extra description. When gaming platforms with Intel TXT are powered on, the configuration in which they are launched is measured and can be verified from a remote management console, ensuring that there has been no tampering of platform subsystems. In the event of an issue, “poison pill” capabilities in Intel vPro technology can be used either to remotely or automatically disable a system based on a policy. Game over for the malware.
Intel® VT is also a player here. Typically gaming devices run different software applications on a single platform. These applications include multiple networking games, random number generation, data analysis, player tracking and user interfaces. Intel® VT enables one machine to run multiple independent OSs concurrently and isolates these applications to be stored and executed individually. Not only does this help reduce virtualization overhead and software complexity, but it also, through this high degree of separation, increases system security.
For a multi-layered protection, add McAfee Deep Defender. Optimized to work with Intel Core processors, this product provides advanced stealth malware prevention, and also detection, quarantine, and remediation. It does this by tapping into McAfee DeepSAFE software. Jointly developed by McAfee and Intel, this software utilities Intel® VT to execute between the silicon and OS. This enables McAfee Deep Defender to help identify and stop in real time stealthy kernel mode rootkit attacks. Unlike static scans and user-mode protections, McAfee Deep Defender monitors memory operations, stopping unknown, zero-day infections before they have a chance to do damage. If the rootkit has been concealing secondary malware, that malware will be revealed for cleanup by user-level protections like McAfee VirusScan Enterprise.
A Winning Hand in Manageability
IT support costs are a major concern for casinos that may have hundreds of gaming platforms on a floor and when any one of them is done, that’s one less machine to earn money on. That’s where Intel® AMT comes into play. It provides remote out-of-band manageability capabilities, allowing staff to remotely access a device even if it is powered down or has a failure at the OS or BIOS level. Using Intel AMT, staff can remotely repair and update the BIOS, OS, or system software through the network. This means casino operators can manage several properties from one location. By reducing onsite technician visits to the floors, it helps reduce maintenance costs for casino owners while shortening the repair time for machines to get back in operation and generating revenue.
Another feature to touch on here is Intel® Smart Connect Technology. Introduced in the 3rd generation Intel Core processor family, this feature enables devices to download the latest software updates, such as game or security updates, even while sleeping. This enables immediate installation once the machine resumes a wake state.
Playing to Win Starts with the Right Board
If you’re designing a gaming platform, look to the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance for a wide range of boards based on 3rd generation Intel Core processors. A good example comes from Portwell. The Portwell WADE-8013 is a Mini-ITX board that uses 3rd generation Intel Core processors and the Intel® Q77 Express chipset to deliver many of the advanced features discussed here for gaming (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Portwell WADE-8013 Mini-ITX board.
The WADE-8013 has an extensive feature set, including the latest USB 3.0 high speed transmission technology which supports 10 USB ports (four USB 3.0 ports on rear IO and six USB 2.0 pin headers on board). The board provides two long DIMM memory slots for DDR3 SDRAM up to 16GB, and connections for three display types: VGA, HDMI and DVI-D. In addition, the WADE-8013 is equipped with dual Gigabit Ethernet connectors, four SATA ports, six COM ports, the latest PCIe 3.0 (one PCI Express x16 slot), and one Mini-PCIe slot supporting the mSATA interface.
The board supports Intel AMT and, according to Portwell, several gaming customers are already testing the platform for their designs.
What are thoughts about designing gaming platforms around 3rd generation Intel Core processors? I’d like to hear your comments.
For more on securing intelligent gaming systems, see intel.com/p/en_US/embedded/innovation/security. I’d also recommend this white paper on securing business PCs. It’s very applicable to securing a network of gaming systems.
Portwell is a premier member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. McAfee is an Associate member of the Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine