The new Intel® Atom™ processor E6x5C series includes an FPGA in the same package as the processor, enabling developers to couple custom I/O and hardware accelerators to the popular Intel® architecture.  (As shown in Figure 1, the processor and FPGA reside in the same package but use separate dies.)  This new processor, previously known under the code name “Stellarton,” targets applications in the transportation, energy, industrial control, medical, and military fields.

 

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Figure 1. The Intel® Atom™ processor E6x5C series. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Pairing an FPGA with the processor significantly simplifies board layout and inventory management, as the FPGA enables a single board to adapt to multiple applications.  Packaging the FPGA and processor together can also lower the bill-of-materials (BOM).  For one thing, the integrated FPGA eliminates the need for an external I/O Hub (IOH).  In addition, many applications already pair a processor with an external FPGA.  For these applications, putting the FPGA in the same package is a natural evolution that saves board space.

 

Figure 2 illustrates the inner workings of the processor.  At the heart of this 37.5 x 37.5 mm device is the same Intel® Atom™ processor found in the Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series.  In this implementation, the processor is available in speeds from 600 MHz to 1.3 GHz.   Notable components of the processor include an upgraded graphics engine, video encode/decode capabilities, display and memory controllers, and PCI Express* (PCIe) interfaces.  The processor supports Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology (Intel® HT Technology) for increased performance in multi-threaded applications.  It also supports Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT), which enables developers to consolidate multiple operating systems onto the processor.

 

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Figure 2. Block diagram of the Intel® Atom™ processor E6x5C series.

 

The FPGA is an Altera Arria II GX that is programmed using standard Quartus II tools.  The FPGA provides over 60,000 equivalent logic elements (LEs), 3.125-Gbps transceivers, and 312 hardwired multipliers. The FPGA is fabricated in a 40-nm process with an emphasis on low static power, and like the Intel Atom processor, it can support industrial temperature ranges of -40 °C to +85 °C.  Figure 3 summarizes the FPGA features.

 

Adaptive Logic Modules (ALMs)

25,300

Equivalent LEs

63,250

M9K Memory Blocks/Mb

495/4.5

Total Memory (M9K + MLAB in Mb)

5.3

18-Bit x 18-Bit Embedded Multipliers

312

PLLs

4

Maximum Transceivers

6

PCI Express Hard IP Blocks

1

User I/O Pins

350

Figure 3. FPGA features.  (Source: Altera)

 

The FPGA provides a high degree of flexibility for implementing custom I/O, including high-speed I/O.  For example, the FPGA supports LVDS connections with SERDES at up to 840 Mbps, and it supports a variety of memory interfaces including DDR3.  The FPGA is also a powerful resource for accelerating processing-intensive algorithms.    It is particularly useful for the digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms found in applications such as industrial control, medical, and military applications.  In many applications, implementing these algorithms in the FPGA instead of the processor can improve the power efficiency of the solution.  To get a sense of the DSP possibilities with an FPGA, I recommend checking out the FPGA benchmarks from research house BDTI.

 

For more technical details on the processor, see the Intel Atom processor E6x5C series product brief.   I also recommend reading our earlier coverage of the Intel Atom processor E6xx series for more details on the CPU half of this new device.

 

The first product to incorporate the new processor is the Kontron MICROSPACE* MSMST, shown in Figure 4.  This PCIe/104* single board computer (SBC) targets automation, medical, transportation, energy, military, and communications applications. It includes a 1.3 GHz Intel® Atom™ processor E665CT, up to 2 GB of soldered RAM, and two SATA and two USB 2.0 interfaces.  I/O can be expanded via the FPGA using validated IP cores for CAN-bus, serial interfaces (SPI Master / UART), PCI-Express, I²C and GPIO.  These optional interfaces are carried out on High-Speed Mezzanine Cards (HSMC) that connect to the bottom of the module.  The HSMC also offers Gigabit Ethernet, VGA or DVI, and audio outputs, and Kontron offers FPGA programming services for additional I/O options.

 

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Figure 4. The Kontron MICROSPACE* MSMST.

 

An important point about this approach is that you get a highly differentiated product from an off-the-shelf solution.  Because the differentiation is done in software, you don’t need to worry about the long-term availability of hardware components.

 

The bottom line here is that combining the Intel Atom processor with an FPGA creates a flexible solution that can solve a number of common design challenges.   Among other benefits, the Intel Atom processor E6x5C series can enable custom I/O and hardware accelerators, simplify board layout, and lower the BOM.  So how will you put these benefits to use?

 

Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance.  Altera is an Affiliate member of the Alliance.

 

 

Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief

Embedded Innovator magazine