The new 2nd-Generation Intel® Core™ (Sandy Bridge) processors offer embedded designers a number of important upgrades including multiple CPU cores, an integrated graphics processor, an extended instruction set, Intel® Turbo Boost Technology, and remote management support.  This scalable architecture allows Intel® to offer versions with extended 7 year lifecycle support that can be optimized for individual embedded applications and provide improved performance, I/O, and power efficiency. The question for embedded designers is how to best take advantage of these new features. One of the fastest methods is to investigate pre-engineered, off-the-shelf boards, modules, and platforms that have already integrated this new architecture. In the wake of the release of the 2nd-Generation Intel® Core™ architecture, embedded computing manufacturers worldwide have announced dozens of new products that will benefit from the improved performance and power efficiency. In this blog series, I will present a selection of boards, modules, and other hardware based on this new architecture and explain how these products can help developers leverage the new processor. I will also look at a few details about the processor that were only recently revealed.

 

Digital signage is a huge and growing embedded application area where 2nd generation Intel® Core™ processors deliver a substantial boost in performance. The latest versions of these signage systems typically operate in a remote location and require ultra-high-speed, high-definition image processing to drive one or more large-screen displays.  Several variations of the Sandy Bridge processor include Intel®’s Clear Video HD Technology which integrates multiple hardware and software image processing technologies to enable jitter-free, 1080p playback with enhanced color fidelity. In addition, Intel®’s Quick Sync Video Technology uses hardware on the processor instead of software to accelerate video encode, decode, and transcode operations. For intensive graphics applications such as gaming and 3D applications now also appearing in signage, Intel® HD Graphics delivers up to three times the performance of previous-generation graphics. Two versions of Intel® HD Graphics are available with either six or twelve parallel execution units to optimize the rendering and shading necessary to deliver a responsive and realistic 3D experience. The Sandy Bridge graphics core also supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology, allowing clock frequencies to scale up temporarily to handle intense workloads.

 

To reap these obvious performance gains, embedded manufacturers have already integrated 2nd-Generation Intel® Core™ architecture into many signage and gaming support products. For example, NEXCOM recently announced the NDiS 166, a full-HD, 1080p digital signage player for advertising, hospitality, brand promotion, and digital menu board applications. The NDiS 166 incorporates an Intel® Core™ i5/i7 processor, an Intel® QM67 chip set (codename Cougar Point), and two DDR3 memory sockets for up to 8GB of storage. The player supports dual Independent displays delivering full-HD combinations of videos, pictures, flash, web pages, RSS, and scrolling text for dynamic, real-time promotions using DVI, HDMI or VGA interfaces. The NiD166 also utilizes the Intel® Active Management Technology to enable remote system management for monitoring, troubleshooting, and content updates. The Sandy Bridge technology enhances overall performance by as much as 20% and offers a 30% increase in graphics capability compared to previous players. The NDiS 166 offers quiet, low power operation without a cooling fan and can be mounted directly behind the display device, such as a LCD monitor.

 

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Advantech has also announced a number of embedded boards based on the 2nd Generation Intel® Core technology including the SOM-5890 COM-Express module which fits digital signage applications. The 4.92 x 3.74-inch SOM-5890 is compliant with the newly released PICMG COM.0 R2.0 type 6 specification and offers HDMI, DVI, and Displayport video interfaces as well as SVDO, LVDS and VGA output. The COM-Express module is based on the Intel® Core™ i7 processor and Intel® QM67 Express chipset and supports graphic intensive, multi-display applications. As seen in the figure below, the SOM-5890 supports up to 16GB of dual-channel DDR3 memory and extensive interface expansion for up to three DDIs (digital display interfaces), multiple PCI Express lanes, USB 2.0 ports, and gigabit Ethernet interface along with serial and general purpose I/O ports. The module supports both Linux and Microsoft Windows Embedded and ships with Advantech’s iManager software and related APIs.

 

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These products are a couple of examples where the performance improvements and energy efficiency of Sandy Bridge provide embedded signage developers with both programmable media architecture and fixed function video processing. These potent graphics features supply the embedded designer with new tools that will change the future of digital signage. If you think that Sandy Bridge fits your next graphics related project or if you have already started a project please share your concerns, questions,  and successes with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. Also, please check back as I uncover more 2nd-Generation Intel® Core™ architecture products that you can use to extend the performance of your next embedded project.

 

Warren Webb
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance

 

Advantech is a Premier member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance. NEXCOM and Microsoft Corporation are Associate members of the Alliance.