Intel processors - Haswell and Bay Trail - offer multiple benefits for SFF designs

4Engineers across markets such as military, aerospace, medical, automotive, etc., are leveraging the performance and power management benefits of Intel’s 4th generation Core processors (Haswell) and Atom E3800 processor product family SoCs (Bay Trail) for their small form factor (SFF) embedded computing designs. The Core’s i7 high-performance attributes are enabling unprecedented performance capability for intensive signal processing functions in radar and medical imaging, while the E3800 family is popular in wearable applications due to its ability to marry performance with significant power savings.

The Haswell architecture was introduced in 2013 as the successor to the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. Built on Intel’s 22 nanometer (nm) process, the devices greatly increase performance over previous products and have become the driver behind intensive graphics processing applications such as gaming and simulation, and also fuel military signals intelligence systems. The Atom processor E3800 product family is also based on 22 nm with 3D Tri-Gate transistors, which help enable thermal efficiency, according to Intel’s website. Built on the Silvermont microarchitecture, the processors provide significant power savings in extended thermal conditions for a range of embedded applications.

Bay Trail

“The Bay Trail E3800 is a low power device with mid-scale performance that can handle Gigabit Ethernet,” says Ken Grob, Director of Embedded Technology for Elma. It is good for image processing and any program with low-power requirements. With the Haswell Core i7 you typically have to manage 27 to 35 W, but with Bay Trial you only have to manage 12 to 18 W.

What is nice about Bay Trial “is that it is capable enough performance-wise to be considered where Atom devices could not before,” Grob continues. “Mission computers with Bay Trail are acceptable solutions – especially when we are challenged with power where things have to be passively cooled.” Both chips are used on small form factor designs such as COM Express and PC/104, he adds.

“Which chip is chosen depends on the power and performance requirements,” he continues. “If it is a mobile solution for the battlefield or anywhere a battery is driving the power it will be a Bay Trail selection as it makes more sense.” Outside of the military applications you would see SFF products using Bay Trail in industrial inspection applications and in security camera interfaces, he adds.

For other high-performance applications Elma offers the Core i7-based S50G-1 Vehicle Mission System. It is a COM Express form factor with XMC and miniPCIe expansion. The device is conduction cooled and has two solid-state drives built into it, Grob says. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Elma’s Core i7-based S50G-1 Vehicle Mission System uses the COM Express form factor Core i7.
(Click graphic to zoom)

“The latest Intel x86 processors, such as the 4th gen Intel Core i7, bring advanced graphics, memory, high-speed I/O, and multi-core processing capabilities unseen before in embedded small form factors in terms of performance-per-watt,” says Mike Southworth, Product Marketing Manager at Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions. “Military and aerospace customers are keen to leverage this processor’s large memory architecture, built-in Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) signal processor, dual/quad-core CPUs, Gen 3 PCI Express bus, DisplayPort and USB 3.0 interfaces for demanding command-and-control, image processing, and surveillance requirements. The quad-core, 4th gen Core i7 processor has enabled Curtiss-Wright’s DuraCOR 80-41 mission computer system to deliver much higher computational performance, more powerful graphics, unmatched I/O, modular expansion, and greater data storage flexibility compared to its predecessor, the DuraCOR 80-40, while reducing overall size and weight by 25 percent.” (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2: The DuraCOR 80-41 mission computer system from Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions uses the 4th gen Core i7 processor.
(Click graphic to zoom by 1.9x)

In future iterations of the Intel products “our traditional experience with next-generation Intel designs leads us to expect to see a roughly 2x performance increase on graphics, a 10 percent bump up in processor core performance, more high-speed I/O, and a lower MIPS-per-watt performance per core,” he continues.

“Curtiss-Wright does not currently offer a Bay Trail or similar Atom-based system, but these architectures should conceivably serve power-sensitive users very well for general-purpose processing requirements,” Southworth says. “Neither provides the PCI Express Graphics Bus (PEG) nor the large memory architecture offered by the Core i7 models, however, which may be a factor in deciding between the models. Higher performance requirements will sway users to the Intel Core family, whereas lower power consumption requirements will drive users to Atom.”

Engineers at Connect Tech leverage the Intel chips in their CCG010 COM Express Type 10 Mini Carrier Board in applications such as unmanned systems, avionics, military ground vehicles, and digital mapping. The CCG010 is the smallest of the Connect Tech CCGxxx line of COM Express Carrier Boards. The device features rugged, locking connectors and supports extended temperature ranges of -40 °C to +85 °C. It has two mini PCIe, mSATA, SATA, two GbE, six USB, LVDS, DisplayPort/HDMI/DVI/VGA, HD audio, and two RS-232/422/485. The device has one LVDS interface (18-bit, three data pairs), two Gigabit (10/100/1000) Ethernet ports, one from COM Express, and one from the onboard Intel 825741 PHY/controller. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3: The CCG010 COM Express Type 10 Mini Carrier Board from Connect Tech can be designed with either the Core i7 or the E3800 processor.
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Thermal management attributes

The faster speeds of modern processors enable wonderful capabilities, but also generate excessive amounts of heat, which is critical in any application, but especially in the harsh environments and small space prevalent in military electronics applications. Intel’s devices have some built-in characteristics that help mitigate high thermals.

“The shrinking of physical dies and the use of Intel Speed Stepping technologies enable the Intel Core processors to deliver impressive MIPS-per-watt performance and protect against thermal overload,” Southworth explains. “Innovative thermal management designs at the subsystem level have enabled Curtiss-Wright to reliably integrate Intel Core processors across extended temperature ranges using passive cooling methods.”

“When you put a lot of stuff in a small space it is hard to get the heat out,” says Eric Sivertson, Executive Vice President of the ATD Business Unit, Kontron. “We also need to deal with how to get heat out without air or fans. Conduction cooling in a rugged environment is a real challenge, as electronics get smaller. Wearables also represent a thermal management challenge. They require good conduction cooling rather than liquid cooling. It needs to be fanless to prevent the insides from being exposed to dust and environmental conditions while performing ever-greater tasks. This is also putting a real strain on power technologies like rechargeable batteries.

“One trend that will enable more efficient management of SWaP is the use of 3D transistors,” Sivertson continues. “Working with companies such as Intel as they go to a 14-nanometer silicon process with 3D transistors enables an increase in processor speed at lower power – all critical to meeting the SWaP challenge.”

Kontron’s COM Express Computer-on-Module (COM) features the Intel Atom E3845 processor with up to quad core 1.91 GHz performance, featuring high performance density and low power consumption in a small footprint, low profile design.

Obsolescence and Intel processors

The Intel roadmap process also makes it easy for SFF designers to keep up with changes and updates to the processor families.

Obsolescence is “only going to get worse because commercial parts – such as processors from Intel – are driving the performance curve with new introduction life cycles now on the order of only six to eight months,” Sivertson says. “For the military the best they can hope for leveraging many commercially-targeted devices is 24-36 months peak market window. At Kontron we use long-term supply agreements as part of many contracts with our customers,” ensuring beyond the normal part life cycle by figuring out the quantities necessary for long-term support well past the manufacturer’s expected end-of-life (EOL) date and offer this as a service to our customers, he continues.

“You need to maintain a good relationship with the commercial part supplier,” Sivertson says. “A good example is the one we have with Intel. As one of their premier partners, we have great insight to their roadmap. Knowing which products are best targeted to the defense customer needs and when their products are going [EOL] enables clear visibility and reduces risk to the main supply chain. This is a huge benefit to working with a COTS vendor such as ourselves.”