When I was a kid, I loved super heroes and I definitely was a fan of the Super Friends (which you can still watch today on Boomerang). One of the consistent themes was, just like most super hero teams (ala X-men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, The Incredibles, etc.), is that - despite some members having incredible powers - it is almost always the effort of the whole team that was needed to carry the day. Even today, in the modern version of Super Friends - known as "" (JLU) - that mantra continues. In one episode of JLU, a superhero known as "" came to the rescue by shrinking down to microscopic size to slip into a highly armored bomb to defuse it just before it blew. In an amusing coincidence - the Intel® Atom™ brand is actually filling a similar role in the Intel team of super-powered processors.
As the world's smallest x86-compatible processor, the Intel® Atom™ processor series has an incredibly low TDP (from 0.65W to 2.4W) and an almost more incredibly low price (from $20 to $135). Specifically in the case of the embedded (long life: 7+ years of manufacturing support) versions - the Z510 and Z530 - they both have a TDP of 2W and a price of $20 and $70 respectively (1ku direct tray price). Also, there is the embedded "sidekick" to consider - the Intel® US15W Chipset - which also has an incredibly low TDP and price (2.3W and $25 1ku direct tray). Together, the embedded-versions of the Intel® Atom™ Processors with its System Controller Hub (SCH - or an all-in-one chipset) - the total solution has a lower TDP than the next lowest-TDP embedded Intel® Processor available today (the Intel® Celeron® M Processor ULV 423 @ 5.5W). So, from that perspective, the embedded Intel® Atom™ brand is able to squeeze into lower thermal envelopes and go into lower price points than we had in the past - all with a processor that still has multi-GHz performance and, in some cases, the ability to handle more than one thread at the same time (two logical cores in one physical core). The big advantage here isn't just that we can put a chip with the Intel logo on it into deeper places - we were able to do that with the ARM-based PXA line that we sold off to Marvell - but it is that we can do it while keeping 100\% compatibility with software written for Intel® Architecture processors. Let me repeat that - it is that important - Intel® Atom™ Processors can run the exact same code that could run on say the Quad-Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5440 (the - as defined by SPECpower_ssj2008). Imagine that - you can go from say a 10W-fanless embedded board to a 2.83 GHz, dual-socket, quad-core processor rack-mounted telco server and run exactly the same software. There is only one phrase that describes that: Ultimate Embedded Scalability (UES) - and that is the "superpower" of the embedded Intel® Atom™ brand.
From a development standpoint, it is a lot like golf - the best golfers in the world will tell you that you want to develop a very consistent swing, and then change your clubs to change the distance. The same is true with a lot of embedded development - if you can create rock solid software (the swing) then you can just change the processor (the club) to get the fit you need - while having a remarkably constant product line. What would be an example of this? How about printers - have the same code running in the low-end, home-office oriented printer as you do in your gargantuan, hall-filling, gazillion pages a minute corporate one. Why would this be good? Now, you have just 1 print driver that you (the printer maker) need to develop regardless if the salesperson using it is printing from her home office, printing at the branch office, or printing from main corporate headquarters. One driver and one current version for every printer in use and, since the printer would be using the same Intel® Architecture that the clients are using - even more overlap and code savings. Every code jockey would be an Intel® Architecture developer, all using the same compilers, the same job trackers, the same everything. If this doesn't sound like a big deal - go ask a printer maker (or any other embedded developer) that had previously had to use an non-Intel architecture based-processor when developing some of their lower-end products and ask them how much effort they waste every day having developers on different systems, using different tools, and then trying to get it all work together nicely at the end - but bring tissues because I'd expect you'll see some tears...
But wait, there's more...
Ultimate Embedded Scalability is not the only thing that the embedded Intel® Atom™ brand brings to the table - here are some ways that it could improve our everyday lives:
A Smarter Door: Why are we using 14th century technology to secure our 21st century homes? Embed an Intel® Atom™ Processor into your front door and it could recognize you as you approach, unlock & open for you (even with the Star Trek "" if you wished), have an embedded webcam in lieu of a peep hole (see who is at the door even when you're not home), watch for burglars, electronically sign for packages (the package guy holds the bar code up to the built-in scanner and you get an email) and even let friends leave vidMail messages.
A Smarter Car: People already have navigation systems and DVD players, but what about the next step - such as being able to get an instant answer to the command, "Find the cheapest gasoline in a two-mile radius" - alerts about a traffic jam on your route AND the best way around it - eliminating car keys by using thumb scanners and facial recognition - and "PathTracking" for when your teenager borrows the car (did they really go to the library or just drive by it on the way to the mall so that they can say "I drove to the Library" without lying?)
A Smarter Robot: As I mentioned in my
blog on robots- iRobot wants to sell you 4 different robots to take care of your floor and more than that if you have a two story house! I just want 1 - and I want it to climb stairs (and vacuum them while we're at it), pick the toys that my son leave around, and feed the organic pets when the bowl get low - but it will take a lot more brains than iRobot is using today:)
In the end, the embedded Intel® Atom™ brand will be a big success by fitting into small places - and follow-on products to the line down road will extend that reach even further - it feels like a great time to be involved with the Embedded Intel movement. Feel free to add you own great ideas in the comment space below and let's start inventing the future today