Embedded products destined for manufacturing, transportation, and industrial automation applications face unique design requirements due to their long life expectancy, ruggedness, high availability, and the wide variation in I/O configurations. In many industrial situations embedded designers are faced with the challenge of combining slower legacy interface circuitry with the latest high-speed control devices and multiple displays. These legacy control systems may be driven by a specialized and often home-grown real-time operating system that would be difficult to integrate into a modern software system. However, several recently announced modules based on the new 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ processor family (codename Sandy Bridge) offer industrial designers scalable, multi-core architecture and virtualization to easily combine existing I/O requirements and operating software with newer high-bandwidth control functions.
With Intel® Core™ processors, developers can use multiple techniques to integrate old and new control functions including symmetric or asymmetric multiprocessing and virtualization. In the symmetric case, a single operating system allocates threads or tasks across the available cores while managing common memory and hardware resources. In contrast, asymmetric multiprocessing allows each core to run independent software so that a single system can easily combine real-time, deterministic tasks with a graphical user interface. With virtualization, a hypervisor isolates and allocates system resources between the operating environments so that real-time, general-purpose, and legacy software can be readily integrated in a multicore system.
In many industrial applications, the best move is to purchase an off-the-shelf, pre-engineered, high performance CPU module that mounts on a unique carrier board that links all the peripherals together. COM Express, an open specification from PICMG (PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturer Group), is a plug-in CPU module concept giving industrial designers access to PCI Express and other modern I/O technologies. In a recent announcement, RadiSys combined the next generation quad-core performance Intel® CoreTM i7 processor and the Mobile Intel® QM67 Express chipset (See figure below) into the ProcelerantTM CEQM67, a basic size COM Express Revision 2.0 module. The 95mm x 125mm module is tailored for applications that include compute intensive applications such as image processing or test and measurement analysis. The ProcelerantTM CEQM67 provides seven PCI Express x1 ports, a PCI Express x16 interface, up to 12 USB ports, four SATA ports, and three DDIs, including High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), DisplayPort and Serial Digital Video Out (SDVO) interfaces. The module provides support for both Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and Intel® Active Management Technology (AMT) enabling remote access and diagnostics via the RadiSys Embedded Software Platform (eSP).
Another approach to industrial control is to combine the processor functions along with the I/O functions in a slightly larger 17cm x 17cm mini-ITX form factor motherboard. Targeting the Industrial Platform Computing (IPC) market segment of the embedded industry, MSI recently upgraded their IM-QM67 motherboard to accept the 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ processor family (See figure below). The new IM-QM67 is based on the Intel® Core™ i7 and Core™ i5 processors and the Intel® QM67 Express chipset and provides for multiple display outputs with LVDS, VGA, DVI, HDMI, and embedded DisplayPort interfaces. The board also features Direct-X 10 shader model 4.0 and full hardware acceleration delivering 3D graphics and support for up to 1080P high definition video. The IM-QM67 also supports Intel® AMT providing the user with certificate-based activation, reconfiguration, and possibly, deactivation of remote embedded systems regardless of the current operational status. Expansion features include dual SO-DIMM slots for up to 8GB of RAM, one compact flash slot, and 5 SATA ports for data storage along with one PCI slot.
These example modules are just two out of the dozens of new products based on 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ processor architecture that promise to deliver industrial designers higher performance, lower power requirements, and improved I/O flexibility. If you think that Sandy Bridge fits your next industrial automation 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, stay tuned as I take a look at Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) boards and systems based on 2nd-Generation Intel® Core™ architecture and designed for the extreme performance requirements of military and aerospace applications.
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance
RadiSys is a Premier member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance. MSI (Micro Star International) is a General member of the Alliance.