Roundtable: Form Factor versus Features

By Cameron Bird, Executive Editor

Embedded developers, like other technologists, are sprinting in two directions at once. As board standards shrink, so does the amount of available and arable real estate. Yet, vendors are expected to deliver on an increasingly wide array of features —from triple-independent, high-definition video displays to vast I/O panels. To find out where this is all going, Embedded Intel® Solutions organized a virtual roundtable discussion with three industry representatives: Todd Shaner, business development manager of ITOX Applied Computing; Frank Shen, product marketing director of American Portwell Technology; and Victor Borlaza, northeast regional business development manager of AAEON Electronic.

EIS: Point-of-care medicine is being touted as a growing and opportune market for embedded developers, in large part because people are living longer but suffering from more chronic illnesses. What barriers remain to developing more compact and sophisticated embedded components for point-of-care systems?

Victor Borlaza: The broadest challenge to achieving more compact products lies in providing overall cost effective solutions, because applications continue to increase in complexity. While smaller forms of solid-state media such as Compact- Flash and Disk On Modules become more prevalent, they are not as cost effective per gigabyte compared to a hard drive.

Frank Shen: I see three biggies: low overall system power consumption to enable longer run time for battery operated mobile cart and reduce frequency of recharging; crisper video performance to enable high-resolution video streaming, which makes some medical images in PACS (picture archiving and communication systems) more feasible to display and better video viewing experience for bedside communication and entertainment.

Todd Shaner: Obviously, the number one concern is lowering power and overall cost for whatever platform is being developed. We're hearing that all the time, even in medicine, which isn't always as cost sensitive as direct consumer markets. The other issue is that most of today’s Intel® architecture platforms are multicore and many traditional applications weren’t written to take advantage of multicore. Programming teams and software developers are being chalchallenged to bring to bear the right tools and compilers that allow them to fully utilize multicore processor architecture.

Another barrier, to some extent, is liability, because applications— including life support equipment—are going into end-user home environments, dealing with an individual and life support equipment. Liability goes back to the OEM, as well as Intel.

EIS: What other developmental challenges lie ahead for small form factor devices?

Borlaza: The physical size itself has its limitations. It is becoming more challenging to populate small form factor devices with all of the necessary I/O requirements in today’s evolving technology. There also tends to be a trade-off dictated by the chipset as to whawhat features can and cannot be used.

Shen: We have received many new inquiries for modular product such as Qseven (70mm x 70mm) modules. We realized that the modular computing system architecture speeds up time to market and is flexible for upgrade to future processor technology. It is a shift from all-in-one embedded to modular approach.

Shaner: As you reduce the board size, especially when you're getting down to System on Modules like COM Express, you reduce the capacity to cool the device, especially for passive heat sinks. Again, this points out that further power reduction is going to be required at these smaller geometries. The other aspect is that when you have a smaller board, you obviously have less real estate to put down devices and connectors, so it makes it more challenging to provide the I/Os and feature sets customers need.

Victor Borlaza, northeast regional business development manager of AAEON Electronic




Frank Shen, product marketing director of American Portwell Technology