Maybe like a lot of other people, I read an interesting statement and I jot it down. There are two of these quotes close to my computer in the office. One of this is from Justin Rattner of Intel “Satisfaction per watt” talking about the advances in reducing the power needed by a processor while still delivering high performance.
The second quote is my inspiration for today:
“… the twin demons, Cost and Time-to-market, and their evil sister, Performance.”
This little gem was in a Tom Williams column from RTC Magazine not too long ago.
I think this second quote really hits the mark when we’re considering small form factor solutions. Put it together with the comment from Mr. Rattner and you’ve got the full equation for solution consideration à Price, Power, Performance and Time-to-market.
You know we can’t ties this issue to just a single small form factor. It affects them all board level and module level. Since we at Kontron have over a decade of module experience serving both ordinary and very custom application, I’ll use ETX and COM Express small form factors to highlight how to fight off these evil forces.
So time-to-market: for starters, with a COM design you’re already saving development time because the software development can be done on the module and an eval carrier board while the application-specific hardware elements are being finalized. That’s in the initial design. When you want to transition to different processing performance but not change feature sets or power, you’re okay still with respect to time-to-market because the COM at the core of the design is what you’re changing out. Depending on what processor chipset platform you’re moving to you may or may not need to do any driver updates.
What about the other tricky elements of power and performance? That can be made less nasty. If you’re using an ETX-PM or ETX-PM3 module, an easy transition to the newer ETX-DC module is a simple path. They keep the feature set and low power consumption plus the platforms themselves (Intel Pentium M processor / Intel 82855GME / Intel ICH4 and Intel Atom processor N270 / Intel 945GSE / Intel ICH7M) have compatible cost structures. (Cost -> look we took care of one of those demons too). Because the design has stayed in ETX the path to dual core processing performance is open but not forced. That takes care of the performance evil in addition to cost and power.
I said that I’d use a COM Express example too. When designing with COM Express, especially pin-out type 2 solutions, you’ve really got the ultimate tool for fending off these potentially harmful traps. Say the initial design didn’t need PCI Express but you thought you’d need it down the line. You chose the Kontron microETXexpress-PM module that had PCI and the type 2 pin-out that allowed for PCI Express in the future. Now you’re ready to transition to Atom technology and you like the Diamondville platform (Atom N270 process paired with the Intel 945GSE / Intel ICH7M chipset). You can swap out the microETXexpress-PM for the new microETXexpress-DC. You keep your other features and now have PCI Express and you don’t have to sacrifice performance or accommodate extra power consumption. Not only do you take out those demons and their evil sister, but you get back to that “satisfaction per watt” too. Yeah!
So the trick to fending off the demons is pretty simple. Pick a solution that gives you what you need today and has an open path to what you may need in the future.
Christine Van De Graaf
FYI – If you’d like some figures for performance and power for ETX and COM Express, let me know and I’ll send you links to some comparisons we’ve done at Kontron.