Modular products based on the second-generation Intel® Core™ i7 processors are rolling into the market, and those products will prove very useful in sensing and analytic applications across a broad set of markets including Military & Aerospace (M&A), medical, and industrial. Among other features, the Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) instruction set and single-instruction multiple-data (SIMD) execution unit will enable faster processing of real-time data from a variety of sensor types including vision systems. Let’s look at the AVX capability, some products that are based on the new processors, and some resources that embedded design teams may find useful in developing AVX-based applications.

 

The newest Core i7 processors available in the Intel® Architecture (IA) family are based on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture that was first discussed publicly last fall at IDF. The new architecture brought numerous innovations including ECC memory and improved Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. The architecture also includes an on-chip ring-based interconnect that links cores, the graphics processor, caches, and the memory controller.

 

The new AVX implementation is perhaps the most significant new feature for computationally-intensive applications. AVX delivers double the peak floating-point performance of the prior Core i7 processors and other IA processors based on the previous Nehalem microarchitecture and the Intel® Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE).

 

The performance boost comes from a wider data path and the ability to load data into the execution unit more efficiently. The AVX data path is 256 bits wide whereas the newest SSE implementations used a 128-bit path. The AVX implementation also includes dual data-load ports. Moreover the unit can execute 256-bit add, multiply, and shuffle operations in a single cycle, whereas the SSD units required multiple cycles to handle those operations.

 

With the AVX capabilities, IA processors can handle more sensing and analytic applications without external accelerators. For example, the processors can implement video content analytics in digital surveillance applications. For more details on how the AVX capabilities work and how to access the feature set, see the excellent article “Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions: Next-Generation Vector Processing” that was published in the Embedded Innovator magazine.

 

Among the companies with boards based on the second-generation i7, General Electric Intelligent Platforms* (GE) has recently introduced a portfolio of such products based on a choice of CompactPCI, VME, and OpenVPX platforms. The newest products include the XCR14 CompactPCI board and the XVR14 VME board. The CompactPCI board is pictured below. GE offers each with a choice of dual- or quad-core processors that operate at clock speeds up to 2.5 GHz.

 

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While GE has noted the range of features such as ECC and Turbo Boost as significant in the new products, the company highlighted AVX as critical for compute-intensive roles in communications and M&A applications. For example, the company noted that AVX will enable signal processing intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) and radar/sonar applications.

 

GE has published a new whitepaper entitled “Latest Intel processors, chipset provide dramatic embedded improvements” that covers AVX among other new features. According to the paper, the fact that the AVX unit can execute eight 32-bit single-precision floating-point operations simultaneously will extend i7 usage in ISR. The paper mentioned Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as a potential application.

 

Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing** has also recently announced an OpenVPX product – the VPX6-1956 – based on the second-generation i7. The company notes that the processor is a good match for acquiring and processing data from video, radar, and sonar sensors.

 

The applicability for AVX and other second-generation i7 processor features extend far beyond M&A applications. For example, a number of companies are working on vision-based object-recognition systems for automotive applications. With ramping compute power, vision systems will be able to warn drivers about slow vehicles, or pedestrians or cyclist in the steered path. Likewise facial recognition will come to affordable mainstream security system with IA processors supporting such analytics. Industrial inspection is another prime application for such analytics.

 

Design teams looking for commercial-targeted platforms for the new i7 processors should peruse Kontron’s*** offerings. In fact the company has products that span the range of embedded motherboards for commercial systems to OpenVPX systems that primarily target M&A usage.

 

Kontron recently announced small motherboards based on the Flex-ATX (the KTQ67/Flex) and Mini-ITX (KTQM67/mITX) platforms. Pictured below, both boards offer a choice of second-generation i3, i5, or i7 processors. Kontron targets the products at imaging applications in industrial automation and medical fields.

 

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Kontron also announced the CP6003-SA CompactPCI board based on a choice of new i5 or i7 processors. The company notes the importance of both AVX and Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 for compute-intensive tasks. The nominal maximum clock speed of the CPUs on the board is 2.1 GHz, but Turbo Boost allows a core to operate at 3.1 GHz for periods of peak load. Kontron added the VX3035 VPX board based on the new i7 to its M&A-targeted portfolio.

 

Are you contemplating sensing and analytic designs in the area of vision systems and other data types? Have you done such designs previously? How did you handle the compute-intensive tasks? Do you think the new AVX capability will allow you to realize such analytics without accelerators? Please share you experiences with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community via comments.

 

Maury Wright

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

 

* General Electric Intelligent Platforms is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance

** Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing is an Affiliate member of the Alliance

*** Kontron is a Premier member of the Alliance