Newcomers to Intel® Architecture (IA) processors and chip sets will find highly-integrated support for a plethora of I/O options in every platform. Indeed, no other processor architecture enjoys the same level of I/O integration that’s been driven by a combination of high-volume applications including PCs, workstations, servers, netbooks, notebooks, and embedded applications. The result is support for any I/O or connectivity needed by a design team and availability of that robust I/O in very small system footprints. Let’s have a look at some small single-board computers (SBCs) that illustrate my point.
I’ve covered several standard board-level platforms recently including EPIC, Com Express, and CompactPCI PlusIO. But many embedded systems don’t need extensive bus expansion capability or modularity. In some cases a small SBC without the connectors and complex PCB that come with a modular platform can be the lowest cost approach to applications ranging from auto infotainment to portable medical instruments to compact communications gateways.
Consider the ECM-QB from Avalue Technology*. The 3.5-in SBC is powered by the Intel® Atom™ E620/640/660/680 series processor along with the Intel® Platform Controller Hub EG20T. The E6XX Series, formerly code named Queens Bay, is the newest member of the Atom family and among the most-highly-integrated platforms in the IA family.
The microprocessor chip integrates the processor, a memory controller, and a graphics controller with graphics- and video-acceleration features. The IC can drive an LVDS display using an 80-MHz pixel clock or an SDVO display using a 160-MHz pixel clock. The IC also includes an SPI Flash interface, 14 GPIO lines, and 3 PCIe channels.
The EG20T integrates the remainder of the I/O and networking support. The list is long including:
- 6 USB 2.0 host ports
- I USB 2.0 client port
- I Gigabit Ethernet port
- I CAN interface
- ! SATA Gen2 interface
- 4 UARTS
- 1 SPI link
- I I2C link
- 12 GPIO lines
- 2 SD/SDIO/MMC card interfaces.
Avalue manages to expose the bulk of the available I/O on what is a packed SBC – see photo below. Indeed the design adds an extra Gigabit LAN connection, along with an additional UART over and above the I/O features in the chipset. In total, the SBC includes 3 RS-232 ports, 1 RS-422 port, and 1 RS-485 port. The design also packs in a single PCIe Mini Card slot for limited expansion capability. For example, a design team could add an IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi card or other peripheral.
The combination of small size, wide temperature tolerance, and integrated features make the SBC a good match for an application such as infotainment. The integrated graphics/video capability in the processor can handle MPEG4, H.264, WMV, and VC1 video stream decode.
A number of other companies also make compact SBCs with robust I/O support. Axiomtek**, for example, has a 3.5-in Capa Board family. The CAPA800 is the newest product in the line. It integrates an Atom N450/D410/D510 processor. I covered that family in a prior post noting that from a system perspective it was the lowest-power IA platform. Note that the new E6XX platform is the next step in that integration/power and will now take that title.
The CAPA800 board integrates 8 USB ports and 4 serial ports. There is also a PCIe Mini Card slot. And the board includes LVDS and VGA video interfaces. See the SBC in the photo below.
Have you developed a multimedia-capable embedded system based around a miniature SBC. What challenges did you face and which I/O options proved most valuable? Please share your experience with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community through comments.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)
Intel® Embedded Alliance
*Avalue Technology is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance
** Axiomtek is an Associate member of the Alliance