Users of the next generation of fixed function embedded devices expect the immediate response and rapid boot-up sequences similar to the “always on” features of today’s consumer electronics technology. However, to obtain needed fast start performance, designers must modify or eliminate the typical basic input/output system (BIOS) found on most x86 processor platforms. The normal tasks for the BIOS are to initialize and identify system devices and then locate and execute the boot loader software transferring control to the operating system. In a typical embedded application, the configuration remains constant so there is no need for that portion of the BIOS that checks for and interfaces with new attached hardware. A much faster approach can be developed with a basic boot loader created specifically for the embedded application, adapted to one well-defined hardware configuration, and one version of the operating system.
Offering a shortcut to “instant on” operation, the Intel® Boot Loader Development Kit (Intel® BLDK) allows designers to create customized initialization firmware for embedded platforms such as the Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series. The Intel® BLDK software toolkit simplifies the development of basic fixed-function firmware rather than the full capabilities delivered with a traditional BIOS. Customers can optimize initialization firmware for shorter boot times. The Intel® BLDK product brief list the baseline boot speed at under three seconds although several vendors have created embedded products that boot in under a second. The kit includes sample reference board images that developers can use as a starting point to customize their system firmware images. The Intel® BLDK is based on the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) standard and features an integrated development environment to ease the modification and debug of the underlying code base. Because the toolkit is based on open UEFI standards, a significant portion of the source code is openly available and only low-level CPU and chipset initialization code are abstracted in binary libraries. The Intel® BLDK also helps reduce recurring costs since there are no fees or royalties.
The Intel® BLDK is also available with off-the-shelf software development packages. For example, the popular SourcePoint debug interface From Arium now includes built-in features that allow developers to debug in the source code used in Intel® BLDK development. SourcePoint enables rapid development of firmware for fixed-function embedded designs and includes Intel® BLDK support with an extension of the current UEFI-aware features offered by Arium. The most recent feature additions include cache-as-RAM, DRAM code execution trace buffers, and Architectural Event Trace (AET). For Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series support, developers can run SourcePoint with Arium’s ECM-XDP3 JTAG Emulator for real-time display and manipulation of source code (See figure 1). Arium designed the ECM-XDP3 and the Arium software interface to be optimized for the Intel® Atom™ processor family. The SourcePoint software runs on both Microsoft Windows and Linux hosts.
Several commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) module manufacturers also support the Intel® BLDK allowing designers to easily create embedded devices with rapid startup features. The SYS9400 Reference Platform from Inforce Computing is an example of a complete, ready-to-use developer kit based on Intel® Atom™ technology and specifically created for ultra-mobile, small form-factor applications (See figure 1). The Nano-ITX single board computer supports the Intel® Atom™ Processor E6xx Series, the Intel® Platform Controller Hub EG20T, and up to 1 GB of on-board DDR2 memory. Human interface features include VGA, HDMI, and LVDS plus HD Audio along with an integrated resistive touch controller. In addition, the SYS9400 has four USB 2.0 ports, two RS-232 serial ports, a parallel port, general purpose I/Os, and Gigabit Ethernet. The module also includes a SD Card Slot & dual SATA storage options.
In addition to Intel® BLDK compatibility, Intel® Atom™E6xx series architecture provides a plenty of performance enhancements and features to simplify these “instant on” device applications. One improvement over the previous generation architecture is the integration of the display, audio, and memory interfaces onto the CPU resulting in higher system bandwidth along with a reduced bill of materials (BOM) and board area. To deal with the potentially rugged environments found in some embedded applications the Intel® Atom™E6xx series processors are available in the -40 to 85 °C extended temperature range. If you are starting or have completed a fixed function embedded design with rapid start features, please offer your suggestions and share your experience or questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. You can keep up with the latest related technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on Intel® Atom™E6xx.
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Arium is an Affiliate member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance. InForce Computing is a General member of the Alliance.