Welcome back to my three-part series on the best of ESC. In part 1 I looked at my favorite small form factor boards and modules. This time I’ll reveal my top high-performance hardware picks.
Let’s start with the Intel® Core™ i7-based boards and modules. My top pick here is the IEI KINO-QM57A Mini-ITX single-board computer (SBC) for digital signage. This is one of the first embedded products to support the brand-new remote KVM (Keyboard, Video and Mouse) features in Intel® Active Management Technology 6.0 (Intel® AMT 6.0). This new feature hasn’t received nearly the level of attention it deserves—it is an incredibly powerful asset for system management. For example, AMT 6.0 lets you view the remote video even without an OS present. That means you can control the remote terminal even if there is a drive failure or a dreaded “blue screen of death” (BSoD). The following video explains how it works:
I give IEI high marks for being one of the first vendors to support this new tech, and they get bonus points for creating their own software to support Intel AMT. This software, called IEI Easy Manager, provides a single graphical interface for a wide range of remote control and maintenance tasks. Example tasks include one-key remote system recovery and power scheduling to set shut down and wake up times. I haven’t seen management software like this anywhere else. If you are interested in taking advantage of Intel AMT 6.0, I highly recommend giving IEI’s solution a look.
(Although IEI offer some unique advantages, I should note that you can get Intel AMT 6.0 in boards and modules from a variety of vendors. For the full list, see Intel® AMT 6.0 Platform Ready Boards. I should also note that Intel AMT 6.0 is available only in select Intel® Core i7 and Intel® Core i5 chipsets. In addition, you must have and Intel® vPro™-enabled Ethernet controller and BIOS to use Intel AMT 6.0.)
My second-favorite Intel Core i7 module is the Emerson CPCI7203. This module marks a number of important firsts. It is Emerson’s first 3U CompactPCI* blade, and it is also the company’s first product to support the new CompactPCI PlusIO specification (PICMG* 2.30). In fact, the CPCI7203 is one of the first CompactPCI PlusIO modules available from any vendor, and as far as I can tell it is the only Intel Core i7 CompactPCI PlusIO module on the market. This is a big deal: CompactPCI PlusIO supports data transfer rates of up to 5 Gbps, a significant increase over previous CompactPCI backplane specifications. (For more on CompactPCI PlusIO and the related CompactPCI Serial standard, check out the CompactPCI Serial blog.)
Although it’s not a new product, I also enjoyed seeing the Intel® Intelligent Digital Signage Concept (see video below). I read about this nearly 8-foot tall display when it was unveiled in January, but nothing I’ve read really does it justice. Interacting with the concept made me feel like I was on the holodeck. The sign’s analytics software determines your gender and height, and then projects custom ads at eye level onto a holographic screen. It’s a really cool experience that you should try out for yourself. The whole thing is powered by a pair of Emerson MATXM-CORE-411-B i7 microATX SBCs. It’s a good way of showing off the computational power of these boards.
My final Intel Core i7 pick is the ADLINK Express-CBR, a COM Express module that combines cutting-edge performance and features with the ability to withstand extreme conditions. This is a rather unusual combination—highly ruggedized solutions usually impose performance tradeoffs. Not so with the Express-CBR. This module boasts an Intel Core i7 running at up to 2.0 GHz, up to 8GB of DDR memory, Gigabit Ethernet, eight USB 2.0 slots, and four SATA ports. The Express-CBR is no slacker when it comes to ruggedization, either. It can withstand voltages from 9V to 16V, temperatures from -45 C to 85 C, and MIL-STD-202G levels of shock and vibration. I commend ADLINK for creating such a tough yet capable solution.
In addition to all the great Intel Core i7 hardware, there were also a few solutions based on the Intel® Xeon® Processor 5600/5500 Series. My favorites were Emerson’s new ATCA server blades, which feature the six-core Intel® Xeon® processor L5638. These modules come in two flavors, the dual-socket ATCA-7365 and the single-socket ATCA-7367. The dual-socket ATCA-7365 is Emerson’s highest-performance 10Gbps ATCA server blade to date, and it supports up to 96GB DDR3 memory (or up to 80GB for NEBS variant). That is an impressive amount of memory—competing ATCA boards are often limited to 48GB. The single-processor ATCA-7367 is notable mainly for offering an AMC bay. Before the arrival of the Intel Xeon Processor 5600/5500 Series, it was difficult to fit six cores and an AMC on the same blade. (I’m not aware of any solutions that did so.)
Last but not least, I was thoroughly impressed by the demos at the Imagination Technologies booth. Imagination Technologies is responsible for the video decoders and 3D graphics engine inside the Intel® Atom™ Processor Z5xx Series chipset. You might not think of the Intel Atom as a high-performance platform, but in truth it has some remarkably capable video and graphics hardware. For example, the following video shows an Intel Atom processor simultaneously decoding a H.264 HP L4.1 Blu-Ray stream along with a WVGA H.264 MP L3.0 stream—all with essentially zero CPU loading:
Imagination had a number of equally impressive demos, including a demo of an Intel Atom decoding sixteen SD video streams simultaneously and a number of high-end 3D graphics demos. It’s rather difficult to capture the quality of the 3D graphics demos online. I hope you get a chance to check these out in person.
That’s all for this round. On Friday I’ll return with the best of the show’s system-level solutions, including panel PCs and industrial computers.
Emerson is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. IEI and ADLINK are Associate members of the Alliance
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)
Intel® Embedded Alliance
Embedded Innovator magazine