Dual-Core Technology: Duplicated Cores for Greater Added Value

By Norbert Hauser, Vice President, Marketing, Kontron

The Power of Duo
Intel® dual-core technology for embedded systems is expected to achieve the same resounding success that the Intel® Pentium® M processors did, when they were introduced two years ago. Parallel technology was previously only available in expensive parallel computers but offer a reduction in power dissipation for given performance levels. This was the decisive argument in favor of the Intel Pentium M processor over previous desktop and mobile processors and will therefore also be critical in determining the use of dual-core processors in embedded systems. In addition, the Virtualization Technology introduced with dual-core technology provides, for the first time ever, a significant added value feature of interest for numerous embedded applications. Let’s start, though, with a “classic” computing feature— performance.

The performance-to-power ratio is currently up to 100% higher with dual-core processors than with Intel Pentium M processors. The increase in nominal power consumption at 2 GHz from 27W to 31W is less than 15% for an increase in computing power of up to 100%. The applications do not need to run on different threads to enable this advantage to be used. They only need each to use one of the cores in the dual-core system. Various tasks can thus be distributed on the chips and response to user input in particular can be accelerated. If full advantage is taken of the dual-core technology through use of applications with independent threads, performance and processing speed can be improved for applications that previously could only achieve the required performance with single core processors through extreme increases in clock speed. Thus, applications currently running at their performance or power dissipation limits on computers with Intel® Pentium® 4 processors with Hyper-Threading technology can now work at manageable levels thanks to dual-core technology.

According to Intel, the performance of dual-core processors will be twice as high as that of 64-bit Intel® Xeon™ processor-based server platforms (development status as of May 2005) by 2006. The only alternatives to dual-core are hence systems with parallel processors. The future clearly belongs to multi-core systems, given the roadmaps of the processor manufacturers; processors with four or more cores are expected to be around in the near future. This should enable performance to rise by a factor of 10 by 2008, while Intel is only predicting a threefold increase for single-core systems by that time. Dual-core will become main stream in the commercial computer technology areas of servers, desktop PCs, and notebooks. Intel is projecting that none of these important segments will have less than 90% dual-core technology introduced by 2007. Hence, this technology is also of great importance for embedded computer technology and doubtlessly will also become established in this area.

The trend toward miniaturization will also continue, and in 2009 chip production with 45nm technology should be possible. We are currently at 90 nm with the Intel Pentium M processor. Dual-core processors are produced with 65nm technology. This is also beneficial for embedded computer technology. For a given space and pow-er consumption, considerable boosts in performance will be possible in the next few years. Integration is also advancing. Interface technologies continue to be integrated into processor chipsets, bringing with them functions such as SATA and PCI Express almost automatically and resulting in increased availability of lower-cost peripheries based on the latest technology standards. Whether or not certain features make sense for embedded systems is unclear, but one thing is indisputable: highly integrated equals low cost. Hence, every step toward a higher degree of integration is associated with cost savings and increased reliability. A current example of this is the graphics function integrated into chipsets. RAID 5, for example, will be automatically supplied with the Mobile Intel® 945GM Express Chipset which is validated with the Intel Core Duo processor.

Besides integration, another function related to processors, chipsets, and CPU boards will gain in importance in the future: integrated software functions that facilitate “working” with system platforms while improving ease of use and security. Intel® Virtualization Technology is a key feature for embedded systems.

VT - Intel® Virtualization Technology
The new Intel® Virtualization Technology is a component of dual-core technology that represents a major parting with previous technologies. It provides simpler hardware administration and will become standard in all new Intel® platforms. It allows multiple operating systems and applications to run as “virtual machines” in independent partitions on one platform. This makes overall systems more stable because processes that would collide on single-core systems can be separated. The partitions can be assigned as necessary, even when the system is running. Through a higher degree of abstraction, applications can be “moved” from one server to another. This was previously unimaginable before dual core and is highly beneficial for embedded IT management systems. Finally, virtualization offers the option to integrate previously standalone systems such as controls, firewalls, and data servers, completely isolated from other solutions, in a single system. This contributes enormously to cost reduction.

The various OS manufacturers will support Intel® Virtualization Technology; for example, RedHat, Suse, and Montavista will bundle the public domain virtual machine monitor XAN with their software.

T ypical Embedded Applications
Dual-core and virtualization together offer innumerable configuration possibilities for the management of embedded systems and hence a high degree of freedom for implementation of multiple applications on one system, which ultimately leads to savings in hardware costs. Sample applications which can now be based on a single dual-core system are:
  • Visualization, e.g., under Windows and control with VxWorks on one system
  • WebServer and soft PLC
  • One dual-core board instead of two Telecom CPU boards
  • Software-redundant systems
  • Two, four, or more robots independently controlled with only one system
  • Gaming machines with two monitors for two players
This not only increases the security of multifunction applications but also simplifies management of systems during operation. Software upgrade functions can be carried out during operation: a new function can be validated in the separate upgrade partition, then moved to a different partition and activated with a few mouse clicks. Developers are free to create multiple functions on a single system. This applies in particular to remote servicing and diagnostics, which up to now have entailed huge security risks. With multi core technology, critical applications can be secure at all times thanks to the use of independent partitions. That is one of the compelling advantages of this new technology for embedded systems and is much more important for the embedded market than for commercial or home entertainment systems.

In the End, It All Comes Down to Power
Apart from these promising features, which software developers will have to work hard to get used to, performance (per watt) of course remains a deciding factor for embedded systems and industrial PCs. Because dual-core desktop PC processors already available from a well-known German discount store since October 2005 are not suitable for use in embedded systems, mobile dual-core processors must be introduced before they can gain a foothold in the embedded computer technology sector. They will arrive by the time Embedded World 2006 rolls around. Kontron will introduce its first platform solutions based on these new processors at Embedded World 2006, in parallel with Intel’s launch of its Intel® Core™ Duo Processor technology, which were also adopted in Intel’s embedded roadmap, thereby guaranteeing long-term availability,. Thanks to its “Premier” membership in the Intel® Communications Alliance, Kontron will be able to introduce four embedded platforms and hence offer customers optimum time-to-market advantages as soon as the new embedded dual-core processors and chipsets are introduced. Mini-ITX, 3U & 6U CompactPCIs, and ETXexpress, a COM Express solution (PICMG COM.0-compliant), the form factors screaming for better performance, were supplied with dual-core processors first. The dual-core architecture will be introduced into further Kontron platforms and systems over the course of the year.

Each of the first four Kontron embedded computing platforms is equipped with the Intel® Core™ Duo Processor and the Mobile Intel® 945GM Express Chipset or Intel® E7520 chipset (6U CompactPCI) and provides a clock speed (dual core) of 2 GHz at 31 W, a 667-MHz FSB, and 2 MB of L2 cache. Alternatively, the boards and the computer-on-module can be supplied with Intel® Core™ Duo Processor (LV) with 1.66-GHz clock speed (dual core) or with Intel® Core™ Solo Processor with 1.66-GHz clock speed (single core). The latter processors have one core less, but support Virtualization Technology and hence provide embedded system developers with identical advantages, except for their lower performance and smaller L2 cache.

To make the dual-core technology comparable, these new systems should be compared with “classic” Intel Pentium M processors. Kontron’s initial measurements showed that the new dual-core processors nearly achieve what theory promises. The Intel® Pentium® M processor 756 (2.1-GHz) was compared with the Intel® Core™ Duo Processor(2.16-GHz). This comparison shows the growth factor for productivity for identical clock speeds and conventional office applications:
  • Floating point performance: + 96.5%
  • Integer performance: + 89.3%
  • 3D mark: + 100%
For the same clock speed and single-threaded software, the performance is nearly doubled. Consequently the answer to the question as to which processor should then be embedded into the system is definitely “dual-core.” For multithreaded software, the performance is expected to increase exponentially.

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