Intel® processors have traditionally been the “big guns” of the embedded world. When you needed huge performance or showy graphics, Intel was the go-to option. But Intel can also go small – and it’s never gone smaller than with the new Intel® Quark SoC X1000.
Based on Intel’s smallest core to date, the Intel Quark SoC X1000 boasts a thermal design power of just 2.2 Watts, high levels of integration, and a tiny 15 mm x 15 mm footprint (see Figure 1). The chips are designed for headless applications – and hence lack a graphics engine – in areas like industrial automation, transportation, and energy. Low cost is also a key design target. For example, the chips use BGA packaging with a 0.593 ball pitch to enable inexpensive 4-layer boards.
Figure 1. The Intel® Quark™ SoC X1000 is small and low-power.
While the chip itself may be small, its significance for the Internet of Things (IoT) is huge. By bringing Intel technology to low-power edge devices, the Intel Quark SoC X1000 addresses major challenges in the areas of software complexity, design scalability, and device interoperability.
The heart of the new chip is a 32-bit, single-core, single-thread Intel® Pentium® processor instruction set architecture (ISA)-compatible CPU operating at speeds up to 400 MHz. Code written for this processor can run on Intel® Atom™ and Intel® Core™ processors without recompiling. Conversely, code written for more powerful processors can be readily ported to the Intel Quark SoC X1000. This compatibility facilitates rapid time to market, supports interoperability with legacy equipment, and enables a consistent software architecture across the network.
These advantages are enhanced by the hardware and software support available from members of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance (Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance). From modular components to market-ready systems, Intel and the 250+ global member companies of the Alliance provide scalable, interoperable solutions that accelerate deployment of intelligent devices and end-to-end analytics. In the remainder of this blog I’ll take a look at some of these off-the-shelf IoT solutions.
Comprehensive Software Stack
One of the most impressive features of the new chips is the robust software support. For example, National Instruments (NI), an Associate member of the Alliance, supports the Intel Quark SoC X1000 with its LabVIEW for Linux – a graphical development environment for measurement and control. Another example is the SYSTEM CASCON validation and test platform from GÖPEL electronic GmbH, a General member of the Alliance. This tool uses the SoC’s native debug ports as a control interface for platform debugging, electric validation and production tests.
Most notably, the chips are supported by an IoT software stack (Figure 2) that includes manageability, security and connectivity features. The IoT software stack has been pre-integrated with numerous hardware platforms, giving developers a range of off-the-shelf gateway options. Known as the Intel® Gateway Solutions for the Internet of Things (Intel® Gateway Solutions for the IoT), these hardware/software platforms gives developers a major head start on IoT designs.
Figure 2. The software stack provides key technologies and protocols.
For more details on the software stack, check out our recent IoT gateway blog. In the meantime, we’ll look at two of the hardware options available with the stack.
The KBox A-201 shown in Figure 3 is the latest “wartungsfrei” embedded PC from Kontron, a Premier member of the Alliance. (That’s a “maintenance-free” PC in German.) The machine is fanless, battery free, and features soldered memory down, giving it a rugged design suitable for industrial, communication and transportation applications where the device may be inaccessible of locked down.
Figure 3. The KBox A-201 features a rugged design.
The most notable feature of the Kontron PC is its scalable design. OEMs can choose from either an Intel® Quark™ X1020 SoC with up to 1 GB of memory and no display, or an Intel® Atom™ processor E3800 product family with up to 4 GB of memory and HDMI. This scalability makes it easy create design variants with or without displays, with different performance levels, or with other differentiating features. Other features include 2x RS232, 1x RS422/485, 2x USB 2.0, 2x Ethernet, GPIO, and optional Fieldbus. Storage is provided through a Micro SD slot, and expansion options such as Wi-Fi* are supported through a full-size mini PCI Express* (mini PCIe*) slot.
OEMs who want a more custom solution can choose from boards and modules like the A1SQN motherboard from Associate member Super Micro. This 4” x 4” board includes the Intel® Quark™ SoC X1020D, 512 MB DDR3, 1x RS-232, 1x RS485, 2x USB2.0, 2x Ethernet, and an 8-channel analog input. A Micro SD slot provides storage. Expansion options include 2x mini PCIe slots and 1x ZigBee module socket.
Many More Options on the Way
The solutions we’ve looked at here represent only a small sample of the Intel Quark SoC solutions from the Alliance. We haven’t even touched on the Arduino-compatible Intel® Galileo board or its software ecosystem, for example. And many more options are on the way. Be sure to check back here for updates, and visit the Solutions Directory for the latest product listings.
Contact featured members:
Solutions in this blog:
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston