Embedded system engineers that contemplate a system design based on Intel® Architecture (IA) processors have a broad choice of both form factors and processor feature sets. The ever-increasing integration of more features on chip means that design teams can get the latest in processor technology in very small packages. Compact designs based on the latest Intel® QM57 Express Chipset can deliver advanced features such as video support for industrial-control applications or media-centric applications such as digital signage. Moreover form-factor standards such as the Embedded Platform for Industrial Computing (EPIC) allow expansion of system capabilities via broadly available PCI-104 modules or Mini PCIe cards.
EPIC is promulgated by the PC/104 Embedded Consortium and is one of many small-form-factor standards available to embedded system designers. EPIC boards measure 165x115 mm. The standard was originally developed by a group of companies that had widely used the smaller stackable 96x90-mm PC/104 boards. The idea behind EPIC was to develop a slightly larger standard for single-board computers (SBC) and to augment that SBC capability by still supporting a stack of PC/104 peripheral boards.
As the PC market moved to PCI and then to PCIe (PCI Express) technology as a system bus, the PC/104 Embedded Consortium tracked the PC industry. The Consortium developed both an updated EPIC Express standard for SBCs and the PCI-104 and PCI/104-Express standards for stackable peripheral modules.
There are hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of modules on the market that fall under the auspices of the PC/104 Embedded Consortium standards. You can buy stackable peripheral boards for standard features such as Wi-Fi and for highly-specialized functions such as data acquisition or motor control.
There are also a number of vendors that make EPIC SBCs and that offer a broad set of processor choices. For example, AAEON* offers the EPIC-9457 board based on the Intel® Atom™ N270 processor. The SBC can host 1 Gbyte of DDR2 memory and integrates dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers. The company also offers the EPIC-9456 SBC with Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or Celeron® M processor choices.
You can also buy the very latest in IA processors on an EPIC SBC. AAEON has a new EPIC board that's based on the Intel QM57 chipset that will support Intel® Core i5 and i7 processors. The EPIC-QM57 supports 8 Gbytes of DDR3 memory, dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers and support for PCI/104-Express (the latest flavor of PC/104 module standards) expansion.
IEI Technology** also offers a QM57-based EPIC SBC. The NANO-QM57A supports i7, i5, and i3 processors. The board integrates a Gigabit Ethernet interface and as much as 4 Gbytes of DDR3 memory. IEI chose to provide a single Mini PCIe expansion slot rather than relying on a PC/104-centric expansion standard. The level of integration in the chipset made that choice possible because the board design truly implements a complete system.
The NANO-QM57A and other designs based on the QM57 chipset offer design teams the ability to build compact systems with the latest in multimedia capabilities. Certainly the Core i7 processor brings state-of-the-art processor performance. But it’s the graphics and video capability in the QM57 chipset that can drive advanced applications such as multimedia signage or advanced user interfaces on industrial systems.
The IEI product, for instance, leverages the multimedia support in the chipset. The SBC can drive dual DVI (Digital Visual Interface) outputs. Moreover the hardware acceleration in the chipset allows the SBC to support MPEG-2, Windows Media Video, and AVC (Advanced Video Coding) video decoding and streaming.
The QM57 chipset actually supports both DVI and HDMI (High-definition Multimedia Interface) outputs. In fact HDMI can carry both HD video and Intel® High Definition Audio streams on a single cable. This Intel Platform Brief fully explains the capabilities of the platform for embedded computing.
Have you developed a video-capable embedded system using a standard such as EPIC? Which form-factor standards have you found to be the best choice for such systems? Please share your experience with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community through comments.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)
Intel® Embedded Alliance
*AAEON is an Associate Member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance
** IEI Technology is an Associate Member of the Alliance