After a lull in which economic crises and healthcare policy changes slowed medical imaging equipment sales, the picture is definitely brightening. Frost & Sullivan expects the global market to hit $30 billion USD by 2017, with much of the growth coming from emerging markets (source: 2013 Global Medical Imaging Equipment Market Outlook Report). All segments offer opportunities: Low-end modalities such as ultrasound are migrating into new form factors and applications, while high-end modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are increasingly being adopted in emerging markets.
Performance drives imaging innovation
Parallel processing is key to medical imaging, and the 4th generation Intel® Core™ processors and Intel® Xeon® processor E3 v3 deliver parallelism in spades. In addition to offering four cores with up to 15 percent faster performance than previous generations, these processors benefit from the Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel® AVX) 2.0.
Intel® AVX2 provides an infrastructure and building blocks for meeting the escalating performance requirements of medical imaging applications through wider vectors, a new extensible syntax, and rich functionality. This upgraded vector-processing technology introduces a fused multiply-add (FMA3) that effectively doubles the peak floating point throughput in comparison to the previous generation. Multiply-add workloads are a critical component of image processing, so this upgrade will significantly benefit medical imaging applications. Intel AVX2 also expands most integer Intel AVX instructions from 128 bits to 256 bits, doubling fixed-point performance. And with gather support, Intel AVX2 now enables vector elements to be loaded from non-contiguous memory locations to simplify code vectorization.
Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel® AVX) 2.0 doubles peak floating-point and fixed-point throughput.
The Intel Haswell micro-architecture also offers an upgraded graphics engine with a 60% 3D graphics improvement over previous generations. Enhanced high-resolution display capabilities support up to 4K resolution on three independent displays. What’s more, the new “collage display” mode can present multiple displays to the OS as a unified resolution. These features are all invaluable for display of high-resolution medical images, and they reduce the need for expensive and power-hungry discrete graphics cards.
Intel architecture (IA) offers scalability advantage
IA processors offer the performance, energy efficiency, and features for a wide range of modalities, from advanced CT, MRI, and molecular imaging scanners, to mammography, X-ray, and ultrasound. The new Haswell microarchitecture, as implemented in the 4th generation Intel Core and Intel Xeon processor E3 v3, delivers the superior image-processing performance and enhanced security for next-generation devices such as portable ultrasounds and dental radiography. At the other end of the spectrum, the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v2—based on the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture—offers exceptionally high performance along with energy efficiency for lower total cost of ownership for the most demanding imaging applications.
This scalability offers several important advantages. First, medical OEMs can scale their products to different price and performance points, and can quickly diversify into new markets. Second, the consistent architecture and toolsets speed and simplify development, letting OEMs focus on their application expertise instead of learning new hardware. Finally, the entire IA roadmap is now marching forward with a “tick-tock” cadence that is consistently delivering new levels of performance and power efficiency. This gives developers a clear upgrade path and helps them maintain software designs across product generations.
Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance products employ Intel AVX2 with Intel Core and Intel Xeon processors in form factors such as COM Express that are ideal for medical imaging applications
The Portwell PCOM-B630VG COM Express module brings quad-core technology and significant performance improvements with the 4th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor, while the Intel® QM87 integrated GMA graphics provides better performance and variable display interfaces for imaging-intensive applications. The module is designed to comply with both socket type and BGA type Intel® Core™ i7 processor for intensive computing, and the architecture of the module and carrier boards speeds time to market of tailor-made equipment. Features include the Intel Haswell Core i5/i7 BGA Type CPU, integrated memory controller that supports up to 32GB ECC DDR3-1333/1600, Intel® QM87 integrated GMA graphic, and support for 6GT/s SATA.
Intel Haswell-based Core i7/i5 CPU based Type VI COM Express module with ECC DDR3 SDRAM, Gigabit Ethernet, SATA and USB from American Portwell.
By integrating the new Intel® AVX2 and OpenCL 1.2, Kontron’s new COM Express module provides an increase in floating-point performance as well as improved parallel processing capacities for medical imaging and other imaging-intensive applications. The new application-ready COMe-bHL6 offers increased performance density and up to twice the graphics performance compared to its predecessors. Up to three independent, daisy-chained displays with up to 4K resolution are supported to create stunning user experiences. The module is available in versions up to quad-core Intel® Core™ i7 processors with up to 4x 2.4 GHz and features comprehensive display support with 3x dual-mode DisplayPort++ which can also output HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort 1.2. Kontron also offers standardized migration support services to accelerate design-in for fast field deployment.
Kontron COMe-bHL6 4th Generation Intel® Core i-Series COM Express™ with Intel® Core™ i7
Intel® System Studio supports medical imaging system innovation
On the development side, the IA platform is supported by a rich set of tools, libraries, and development kits that provide portable, optimized signal processing from Intel® Atom™ processors to Intel® Xeon® processors. One key example is the Intel® System Studio, an integrated software development suite that provides deep hardware and software insights to speed development, testing, and optimization of Intel-based embedded and mobile systems. For developers of advanced medical imaging systems, this support is critical to maximize processor performance.
Common aspects of medical imaging workloads include echo addition and cancellation, pattern recognition, noise reduction, anti-aliasing, compression, smoothing, morphing, correlation, and filtering. These types of workloads, which involve processing large amounts of changing data such as MRI images, benefit from the data parallelism and vector registers supported by AVX2, as well as language extensions in the Intel architecture that provide floating point capabilities for data manipulation, data swapping, and matrix multiplication—all required for signal and data processing. The Intel System Studio optimizes AVX code for signal and media processing to speed the data flow and significantly improve performance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Freelance technology writer and editor
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