Should You Switch To Intel’s Latest Embedded Boards

Embedded applications with smaller footprints and lower power requirements, such as SMARC, Qseven, COM Express Compact/Mini and Pico-ITX SBCs, are getting a boost with the launch of Intel’s latest family of Elkhart Lake processors. Replacing the previous generation of Apollo Lake, it not only provides increased processing performance with lower power requirements for industrial IoT applications, but also enables real-time operation by supporting real-time communication and real-time hypervisor technology.

Delivering an impressive increase in performance, while requiring much less power, Intel’s trio of Elkhart Lake processors run on a low-power foundation – Atom, Celeron, and Pentium – to speed up processing multi-threaded workloads by +50% over the previous generation, due to the implementation of New micro-architecture on four cores. For single-threaded applications, high clock rates of up to 3GHz are beneficial and help increase performance by up to +70%. This high processing performance can be taken advantage of in extremely cold and hot environments, with trouble-free operation from -40 to +85°C, which is very important for the industrial sector.

And with the introduction of Elkhart Lake, embedded apps can now take advantage of Intel’s 10nm SuperFin technology, which debuted with low-power Atom processor technology. Increased RAM support provides more memory bandwidth and allows for much higher transfer rates. Up to 32 GB of LPDDR4 memory is now supported with data rates of up to 4,267 MB/s, in contrast to 8 GB LPDDR4 with up to 2400 MB/s from the previous generation. The ability to add additional memory capabilities with budget-friendly Intel Inband Error Correction Code (IBECC) is a welcome feature for mission-critical real-time applications. Instead of using expensive, dedicated ECC memory modules, designers can take advantage of traditional low-cost RAM. The mode can easily be set as ECC or non-ECC in the BIOS, which means that developers can choose which areas of memory will be allocated as IBECC.

High-speed graphics performance with a little appetite

The latest generation of processors uses Intel Gen11 graphics units, located on top of the CPU die, which doubles graphics performance to a maximum speed of 3x 4k @ 60fps and 10-bit color depth. Once again, the use of 10nm technology in the manufacturing process allows for amazing performance with low power requirements.

The biggest contributor to the performance doubling is the increase of up to 32 integrated execution units (EUs) in the Gen11 graphics unit, compared to the 18 EU-only found in the low-power Apollo Lake Gen9 unit. Moreover, improved compression, increased L3 cache, and higher data transfer rates result in highly efficient operation, while providing more performance space for graphics intensive applications.

Huge increases in data transfer rates

With PCIe Gen3 finally introduced in lower-power Intel core processors, data rates increased to 32GB (16GB coming in and out) at an 8GHz clock frequency, which is double that of PCIe Gen2 at 5GHz.

USB 3.1 Gen2 compatibility for the low-power x86 version is another feature that bumps up performance to a maximum of 10 Gbit/s, allowing UHD video to be transmitted as an uncompressed signal via USB. This is certainly a welcome feature, for example, to transfer raw data directly from the camera to the screen.

Drastic improvements in performance per watt, compared to Apollo Lake processors, are delivered by congatec boards and modules featuring Intel Elkhart Lake processors.
Figure 1: Dramatic performance improvements per watt, compared to Apollo Lake processors, delivered by congatec boards and modules featuring Intel Elkhart Lake processors

Native Ethernet support that unleashes full bandwidth

Another advantage is support for time-synchronous networking with Intel time-coordinated computing and real-time hypervisor systems. Compared with the previous generation, there is also native support for 3x 2.5Gb Ethernet, which greatly increases the bandwidth of the local network.

But real-time support over IP is only one side of the equation in industrial applications that require deterministic behavior. The same IP-based communication between embedded computers and I/Os, with reduced latency and reduced noise, is also required for concurrent operations. Powered by Intel’s TCC technology, it can now also be formatted.

The transportation industry’s use of real-time applications that require CAN bus integration, for example, will benefit from these features. Settings can be finely tuned using the Intel TCC Software Toolkit.

Figure 2: Developers of compact designs featuring advanced graphics and computing performance, along with a broad I/O range with a low-power enclosure, will benefit from Congatec’s Pico-ITX to COM-Express Compact, Mini, SMARC, and Qseven modules featuring microprocessors New Intel Atom

Advanced security inside

Security is an indispensable feature of high-end IoT devices. Although it can be integrated by OEMs through the use of virtualization techniques, as with an RTS real-time hypervisor for example, the best solution is to have it as part of the hardware. Designed for use with the new Intel Atom, Celeron and Pentium processors, Congatec’s new low-power processor-based boards and modules come with a wide range of integrated features that help meet high security requirements. This includes Intel Boot Guard 2.1 for boot verification, Intel Platform Trust Technology (Intel PTT) for TPM compatibility, and Intel Dynamic Application Loader (Intel DAL) to help developers build unified and reliable applications.

For data encryption and decryption, Elkhart Lake-based Congatec boards and modules provide more value with the inclusion of new Intel Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-NI) guidelines and SHA add-ons that provide advanced security for hardware-accelerated secure hash algorithms. Support for SMx encryption and HDCP 2.3 copy protection for high-resolution media playback are additional features that developers will appreciate.

ZELJKO LONCARIC is a marketing engineer at congatec AG in Deggendorf (Germany). Prior to joining Kongatek in mid-2010, he held various positions with international companies in product management, marketing and sales marketing in Germany and Australia. Zeljko, who has an MBA in business administration and a degree in media technology from Deggendorf University, is also a Bosch trained electronics technician.

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