The Intel® Atom™ Z6xx series of processors, code named Oak Trail, came to market earlier this year delivering the lowest system-level power consumption to date in a CPU that can execute the x86 instruction set. The combination of performance and low-power consumption will set a new energy-efficiency milestone for the Intel® Architecture (IA) family. In the general-purpose-computing space, the first products were tablets. Not surprisingly, similar ruggedized tablets will be the first products in the embedded sector that emerge with the new processor. Let's review the feature set of the Z6xx series, discuss the industrial-computing application space, and have a peak at an early design based on the new processor series.

 

Most designs based on the Z6xx series will use the combination of either a Z650 (1.2 GHz) or Z670 (1.5 GHz) processor along with the Intel® SM35 Express chipset. The processor is rated at a TDP (thermal design power) of 3W while the companion IC features a 0.75 TDP. The combined power consumption sets a new benchmark for IA processors.

 

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The processor IC includes the CPU core, a graphics- and video-acceleration block, and a memory controller – all in a 13.8x13.8mm package.  The IC is manufactured using Intel's 45-nm Hafnium-based high-k metal-gate-transistor technology platform.

 

The processor core integrates a 512-kbyte L2 (level 2) cache along with a 24-kbyte L1 (level 1) data cache, and a 32-kbyte L1 instruction cache. The design supports Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology (Intel HT) to execute two threads simultaneously. The HT technology can boost performance in a system running a multithreaded application and also enable virtualized support of two operating systems.

 

The integrated Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 600 graphics engine is based on a 400-MHz core. The GMA accelerates 2D and 3D applications. The graphics/video block also includes dedicated hardware for video decoding and the implementation can support MPEG2, H.264, WMV9, and VC1 content. The design can output 1080P high-definition video streams.

 

The 32-bit single-channel integrated memory controller supports as much as 2 Gbytes of system memory. The SM35 IC integrates most of the I/O support including USB, SATA, HDMI, and more. That IC also supports Intel® High Definition Audi for multimedia applications.

 

For more details on the Z6xx platform, view Intel's platform brief. You might also review the Atom processor overview and the Atom video library to see how the Z6xx fits into the family.

 

Industrial computing

 

The industrial-computing segment is ripe for a processor such as the Z6xx series that has both the performance needed to run an operating system such as Microsoft* Windows while offering the low-power attributes required for extended battery-powered usage.

 

The term industrial is truly not broad enough to describe the opportunity for ruggedized tablets and similar portable systems. The range of uses goes to the extremes including military and aerospace applications. The devices could find usage in safety- and security-centric roles with police, fire, and other emergency-service organizations. And medical could provide a major opportunity.

 

Still the biggest application segments are probably industrial in nature. Examples include manufacturing and other factory-floor applications. Expect to see a broad market in field services and even warehouse applications.

 

Advantech** has long targeted the ruggedized system segment, and also happens to have shown among the first such devices based on the Z6xx series. The MARS-3071 is a semi-ruggedized system in something akin to a tablet form factor. Driven by the target application, the design is quite a bit thicker at 39mm than the tablets that are popular in general-purpose applications.

 

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The MARS-3071 features a 7-in TFT LCD panel. The design utilizes a four-wire, resistive, single-touch overlay. Advantech will offer the system with a choice of Z650 or Z670 processors. Maximum screen resolution is WSVGA – 1024x600 pixels.

 

Advantech offers the system with batteries rated for four hours of life as a standard feature and in that configuration the tablet weights just over 2.4 lbs. Optionally, the company offers a configuration that supports eight hours of life and weighs a bit over 2.8 lbs.

 

The system includes both Wi-FI and Bluetooth support for wireless connectivity, and many target applications will be wireless in nature. Other features that target the industrial application include a barcode scanner and a 2-megapixel camera.

 

As for the rugged nature of the design, the system can handle a four-foot drop. It's designed to operate at temperatures to 45°C – with no cooling fan included. And the sealed design meets the IP-54 standards for resistance to water and dust.

 

Expect Advantech and others to bring much broader lines of Z6xx-based products to market as we head towards the end of the year. There are numerous angles for differentiation. For example, Advantech has built a fully-rugged tablet based on an Intel® Core™ Duo processor.  The MARS-3100R can operate to 55®C. It's likely you will see such designs based on the new Atom processors that come in at lower weights and with longer battery life.

 

What can you accomplish with a processor and chipset combination that comes in at less than 4W? In what form factor might you utilize the new Z6xx series? Fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community would enjoy hearing your ideas via comments. And stay tuned in the coming months. I suspect we'll have more to discuss on Z6xx applications.

 

To view other community content focused on performance and power-consumption efficiency, see "Energy Efficiency – Top Picks."

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Maury Wright

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

 

*Microsoft an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance.

**Advantech is a Premier member of the Alliance.