Balancing power and performance is a challenge that industrial system designers face as much as any other embedded developer. But what happens when integrated graphics and connectivity demands begin to be placed on industrial platforms? Developers will need a compute option capable of next-generation performance that also provides the flexibility to meet current application needs.


Responding to industrial systems’ need for high performance in a flexible package, the recently released 4th generation Intel® Core™ processor (Haswell microarchitecture) integrates a wide range of SKUs and new features that enable developers to cope with a changing landscape. This Roundtable discussion with Vibhoosh Gupta of GE Intelligent Platforms, and Dan Demers of congatec provides an overview of the Haswell microarchitecture’s benefits, while also considering how scalability within the Intel® product family is pushing computing “closer to the idea of common platforms.” Edited excerpts follow.


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Vibhoosh Gupta, Product Management Leader, GE Intelligent Platforms



Dan Demers, Director of Marking – America, congatec, Inc.


Intel Roving Reporter: What is driving the need for increased performance in industrial computing, and what does this mean for system designs?


Vibhoosh Gupta, GE Intelligent Platforms: Industrial systems are performing more tasks and doing so more quickly, more accurately, and in harsher environments than ever before. They are becoming connected tools with substantially more computing and communication capabilities, allowing them to interoperate with other devices. According to a 2011 Ericsson study, 50 billion machines will connect to the Internet by 2016. As these billions of machines join the connected world, appetite for higher processing will continue to evolve.


Dan Demers, congatec: Previously cabled systems are going wireless, and, of course, are now being connected to the web more and more: the Internet of Things (IoT). An example application is industrial tablet PCs being used for multiple tasks versus single tasks. This drives the industrial tablet to perform at higher levels than many previous platforms, and also takes into consideration thermal and power designs much more. Connectivity and security are being addressed more as well.


Oftentimes, the demand for higher clock speed and graphics capabilities not only means a higher cost silicon platform, but also increased challenges in packaging the platform in a portable, lightweight design. It is definitely a balancing act, especially if a previous design is based on two or more separate subsystems that make up the entire product (for example, a brick-type PC or enclosure accompanied by a standalone LCD and standalone input device).


RR: How does the Intel's Haswell microarchitecture enable designers to meet the challenges of these systems?


Dan Demers, congatec: The Haswell microarchitecture is a very scalable platform. This certainly helps designers fine-tune their applications and systems to get the most out of the silicon. The recently announced Haswell microarchitecture system-on-chip (SoC) designs help address not only overall size, but cost as well. The performance of the integrated graphics is certainly something that cannot go unmentioned. When you add that to the fact that multicore processing is standard, the Haswell microarchitecture is a very compelling story for designers. Security is also addressed. We continue to see higher levels of integration from Intel, and this helps designers more easily and economically implement aspects into their designs (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Intel's Haswell microarchitecture integrates a variety of features that allow designers to easily integrate advanced functionality into their designs.


Intel® Turbo Boost Technology is something that comes to mind right away. When the application needs it, the Haswell microarchitecture boosts to deliver the extra performance. The Haswell microarchitecture has a long list of advanced technologies that help to balance power and performance (Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology, Intel® Virtualization Technology, and so on). The scalability of the Haswell microarchitecture also increases the likelihood that designers will find the right SKU for their system; in other words, a SKU that has the right amount of performance and power draw for their scenario.


The most grueling applications are obviously going to focus on the higher end of Haswell microarchitecture offerings. At congatec, we see a lot of demand for the Intel® Core™  i7-4700EQ processor SKU. It is where many designers start their benchmarking and performance data gathering (Figure 2). There is often that inherent desire to have the latest, greatest, and fastest. As development continues, many customers hone in a little tighter to their true requirements. It really depends on the application and performance requirements.



Figure 2. The conga-TS87 is a Type 6 COM Express Basic module based on the 4th generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor for industrial applications that require high-end performance.


Vibhoosh Gupta, GE Intelligent Platforms: The performance requirement for industrial systems varies by application. While some applications require better graphics engines, others require more highly integrated chipsets. One thing they all have in common that is emerging is a demand for higher performance and lower power.


There are two general trends that seem to be converging for this class of CPU:


1) Low-end embedded control applications, such as engine control, are adding Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) and beginning to use multiple cores for some of the real-time functions that previously ran on dedicated Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs).


2) From the high end, more and more applications are starting to meet their processing needs by using 4th generation Intel® Core i3/i5/i7 processor-class CPUs as opposed to server-class CPUs. This makes system design much more attractive, enabling cost savings on multiple fronts.


The biggest challenge is finding the correct balance between power, performance, thermals, real estate, and cost. The flexibility to scale performance/cost with pin-compatible 4th generation Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors allows embedded engineers to meet application-specific power/performance balances (Figure 3).




Figure 3. The rugged XVR16 6U VME Single Board Computer (SBC) from GE Intelligent Platforms is based on a quad-core 4th generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor in the same power envelope as its predecessor, making it ideal for image and digital signal processing applications.


RR: What are your projections for the future of industrial systems, and how is the Intel product line ensuring industrial designs keep pace?

Dan Demers, congatec: I fully expect to see the drive to reduce size and power while increasing performance to continue. Higher levels of integration will continue to happen. Flexibility is something that I see increasing as well. By this, I mean that more and more industrial systems will operate multiple functions to really make an impact on return on investment (ROI) and true cost of ownership. We only have to look at how flexible a product like an Apple iPad* is when consider the number of “things” it can do.


The opportunity identified is so large that Intel must focus resources on it. There is a lot of data to mine and a lot of devices that want to talk to each other. Creating a scenario where hardware, software, and tools simplify the means of understanding all of the data seems daunting, but there is so much to be gained. Intel is spending a lot of time and resources educating designers and the public about the Intelligent Systems Framework. It is inherent that they will continue to design platforms to fill all of the areas in the chain. Think about the massive amount of scalability in platforms that Intel offers today – this is enabling a situation where we get closer to the idea of common platforms.



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congatec and GE Intelligent Platforms are Associate members of the  Intel® Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions Alliance.

Brandon Lewis

OpenSystems Media*, by special arrangement with the Intel® Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions Alliance

Follow me on Twitter: @BrandonLewis13