intelA field of medical equipment that would have come in handy pre-zombie apocalypse in the land of “The Walking Dead,” In Vitro Diagnostic (IVD) instruments collect and examine specimens taken from a living human body to assess health status, for example, checking urine for the presence of glucose or blood for signs of infection. These analytical medical devices enable doctors to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness, guiding clinical decisions in chronic disease management as well as in acute settings, such as coping with outbreaks of infectious diseases (perhaps of the flesh-eating, half-dead variety).


Fueled by advancements in analytical laboratory automation and progress in diagnostic fields such as point-of-care testing, the global IVD market is forecast to reach $69.1 billion by 2017, a 7 percent CAGR from its value at $49.2 billion in 2012, according to a recent report by Research and Markets. This growth presents an opportunity for the embedded hardware industry, as embedded computing platforms are used in IVD instruments designed for various qualitative or quantitative diagnostic procedures, commonly called assays, in assessing or measuring the target entity out of the samples.


Depending on the type of IVD application, the steps involved in handling assays, including separation and purification, amplification and enrichment, detection and measurement, and data analysis, can be combined in one self-contained platform, in several discrete platforms, or a combination of both. Many IVD instrument providers use a modular approach, starting with a small-footprint platform and adding modules as needs grow. Thus, an embedded computing platform intended for an IVD instrument must be easy to configure and easy to expand.


To handle heavy, complex medical data loads, IVD instruments also demand high computing power to produce accurate, timely test results and provide reliable performance in managing and scheduling functions such as sample loading, assay control, robotics, optical detection, and data analysis. This peak performance must be delivered in a compact, power-efficient design suitable for portable, graphics-intensive IVD instruments.


The 4th generation Intel® Core™ processor imparts enhanced computing power and graphics capabilities to IVD instruments that require high compute and graphics performance for managing complex assays. Based on a tri-gate transistor design using 22 nm process technology, the Haswell microarchitecture increases performance per watt by 15 percent and offers up to 50 percent savings in battery life compared to the previous-generation architecture, enabling an IVD instrument to occupy a smaller footprint and be configured with less weight for increased portability.


In addition to providing real-time overclocking for boosted performance while maintaining power levels as low as 6 watts, the next-gen Intel Core platform offers improved features such as Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator (FIVR) to reduce design complexity, stable power management to decrease active and idle power, and enhanced Intel® Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (Intel® AES-NI) for accelerated data encryption and decryption, helping secure the critical data collected and examined via analytical medical devices.


With double the 3D performance of previous Intel® HD Graphics products and upgraded Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions 2 (Intel® AVX2) instruction sets that accelerate computations in floating point, vector, and signal processing, the latest Intel Core processors enhance image processing and data analysis performance in IVD instruments, while also helping IVD instrument designers save cost, space, and power in product development by eliminating the need for a separate GPU chip or card.


Portwell is capitalizing on these graphics processing capabilities along with other advanced computing features offered by the 4th generation Intel Core processor in a Mini-ITX embedded board that enables a dynamic, intuitive user interface for an automated, multi-parameter blood analyzer designed to perform cell analysis from a single dilution of reagents. The WADE-8015 (Figure 1) serves as the onboard computer for this IVD instrument, running Microsoft® Windows® to multitask operational tasks such as data analysis and, with the right display, rendering analysis results in a histogram, scatter plot, or other applicable graphical (2D or 3D) representation.

Portwell WADE-8015.jpgFigure 1. The WADE-8015 Mini-ITX board from Portwell offers high computing performance, low power consumption, advanced graphics, and flexibility in supporting modular design for future expansion.


Featuring a triple display via VGA, HDMI, and DisplayPort, the WADE-8015 offers a variety of high-speed interfaces to address specific needs in the blood analyzer (illustrated in Figure 2), including serial ports to control the A/D circuits for the motors, valves, and other fluidics components; PCI Express (PCIe) 3.0 to handle image data from the optical detectors; USB 3.0 for external connection and input interfaces; and dual Gigabit Ethernet to allow remote access and monitoring. In addition to providing two memory slots for up to 16 GB of DDR3 SDRAM, the Mini-ITX board is equipped with a mini PCIe connector that can support either a mini PCIe interface or mSATA interface for a Solid-State Drive (SSD), a key feature for portable medical device applications.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 2.06.53 PM.pngFigure 2. The WADE-8015 enables a dynamic, colorful, intuitive, and easy-to-navigate user interface in the multi-parameter blood analyzer.


The WADE-8015’s modular platform helps decrease design risk and speed time to market, and enables a shorter learning curve by offering the same user interface throughout development. The board’s side gold finger expansion interface allows functions to be added via side expansion boards and provides legacy support for IVD devices with PCI and ISA interfaces. In the blood analyzer application, this gold finger expansion interface offers the potential for bridging connectivity between the CPU and the fluidics and thermal cycler functions, which are currently performed by another independent instrument but are planned for integration within the blood analyzer as market demands arise.


With the 4th generation Intel Core processor supplying the processing power onboard, the WADE-8015 also comes equipped with the Intel® 8 Series Platform Controller Hub (PCH), which employs a new I/O design called Flexible I/O that enables some I/O ports to be configured at the time of system design. Out of 18 differential signal pairs, either USB/PCIe or SATA/PCIe mixed signals can be selected, with two signal pairs for both. Flexible I/O can be implemented with six different configurations to fit various requirements and applications, further increasing possibilities for functional enhancements to be added to the IVD instrument.


In addition to powering equipment for medical diagnostics and testing, the Haswell platform is delivering enhanced CPU and graphics processing performance in a variety of intelligent medical devices. Read this product brief to learn how the latest-generation Intel Core processors are meeting the health care industry’s growing compute-intensive demands.


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Jennifer Hesse

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance