I just got back from ESC 2010, and it was a great show. There was a renewed sense of optimism about the economy, and widespread excitement about new products and technologies. In this three-part series I’ll share my top picks from the show floor.

 

Let’s start with a roundup of small form factor boards and modules, which were some of the hottest items at the show. Nearly every member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance had boards and modules based on the new Intel® Atom™ N450 and D510 processors, and for good reason: These new processors integrate the graphics and memory controller onto the CPU for a solution that is significantly faster, smaller, and more power-efficient than the older Intel® Atom™ processor N270.

 

My favorite Intel Atom N450 solution was the AAEON AQ7-LN Qseven computer-on-module (COM) shown in Figure 1. I like this module because it demonstrates the power savings in the Intel Atom N450. The Qseven standard limits power dissipation to 12 Watts, and until now only the Intel® Atom™ Z5xx processor series could meet this requirement. With the Intel Atom N450, designers finally get another option. Kudos to AAEON for being the first to take advantage of this new opportunity.

 

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Figure 1. The AAEON AQ7-LN is the first Qseven module with an Intel Atom processor D450. As the Qseven name implies, the board measures a scant 7 x 7 cm. 

 

I also liked the new ADLINK CoreModule* 740 (Figure 2). This PC/104-Plus single board computer (SBC) shows how tough the Intel Atom N450 can be. The SBC is rated for operation at temperatures from -40 C to +85 C, and it is MIL-STD-202G-rated for vibration up to 11.95Grms and shock up to 50Grms. Those are some seriously rugged conditions!

 

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Figure 2. The CoreModule* 740 is the latest in ADLINK’s long line of PC/104 solutions. (The PC/104 form factor was created 20 years ago by Ampro, which is now a part of ADLINK.) 

 

I was also impressed with ADLINK’s hardware philosophy. The company does much of its business in military and industrial applications where service life is measured in decades.  Maintaining a reliable supply of replacement components is a key challenge for these applications. For example, Intel recently published an end-of-life notice for the Pentium M processor range and Intel 852/855GME chipsets, so designers are facing a looming shortage of boards and modules based on these parts. In recognition of this challenge, ADLINK has launched a new Product Migration Services Program to help customers move to newer parts. The program is remarkably comprehensive—ADLINK even goes so far as to create a board support packages (BSPs) for the old OS used in the original design. I commend ADLINK for taking such a proactive approach to this tricky and often underappreciated problem.

 

I also got to see the Intel® Embedded Development Board 1-N450 in action. This new board is inexpensive—it costs only $149—but is packed with tons of useful features. The board uses a non-standard form factor and is not intended for use in commercial applications, but it’s a great way to do rapid prototyping. Check out the handy 1-N450 FAQ for more information.

 

Although the Intel Atom N450 was the clear star of the show, there were also a number of Intel Atom D510 products on hand. I particularly liked the ADLINK ReadyBoard 740 EPIC SBC, which is notable for its inclusion of a Broadcom Crystal HD H.264 video decoder. The board is also notable for its optional Automotive Power Module for in-vehicle designs. The module provides a wide input voltage range, reverse battery protection, overvoltage protection (OVP), and DC/DC conversion.  Taken together, these features make the ReadyBoard 740 a great choice for in-vehicle HD video applications.

 

Now let’s turn our attention to the Intel Atom Z5xx processor series. I knew that solutions based on this processor series were small and efficient (the chipset burns less than 5 Watts) but I was surprised at how feature-rich and affordable the boards and modules were.

 

The Toradex Robin module is a perfect example. The module uses the credit-card sized Nano COM Express form factor, which is also known as nanoETXexpress. Despite its small size, the module manages to pack in a flash drive with up to 4 GB, a MicroSD slot, and a ton of other features. Best of all, the module costs just $179—and that’s the price for single-quantity orders!

 

Kontron also has an intriguing nanoETXexpress offering. Its new Kontron nanoETXexpress Starterkit for Wind River VxWorks (Figure 3) comes pre-assembled with:

 

 

The onboard flash drive is pre-programmed with VxWorks 6.8 and Human-Machine Interface (HMI) demo applications built with the Tilcon Graphics Suite. The point of all this is to make it easy to get started on HMI applications. From my brief experiment with the kit, I’d say Kontron succeeded.

 

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Figure 3. Kontron’s kit comes with a nanoETXexpress module (lower left); a baseboard, touchscreen, and various accessories (right), and HMI demo software (upper left). 

 

My final pick of the SFF lineup is the LiPPERT Core Express-ECO, shown in Figure 4. At 58 x 65 mm, this CoreExpress* module is the smallest Intel Atom module available.  This board has been around since 2008, but the form factor was only recently standardized by the Small Form Factor Special Interest Group (SFF-SIG). This new standard is very forward-looking. Among other things, the standard supports PCI Express Gen2 and DisplayPort, with pins reserved for USB 3.0 support in the future. The bottom line is that if you want an extremely small module with cutting-edge I/O, the Core Express-ECO deserves a look.

 

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Figure 4. At 58 x 65 mm, the LiPPERT Core Express-ECO is the smallest Intel Atom module available.

 

I’ll be back on Thursday with a look at the best high-performance solutions at ESC. In the meantime, I want to hear from you. What do you think about my picks? Did I miss any hot new products?

 

Kontron and Advantech are Premier members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. AAEON, ADLINK, and Wind River are Associate members of the Alliance. LiPPERT is an Affiliate member of the Alliance.

 

 

Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief

Embedded Innovator magazine