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Small-Form-Factor Boards Leverage Intel® Atom™ Processor Series

Bigger gains come from thinking smaller.

By Frank Shen

In today’s flattened economy, everyone is hunkering down and hoping to save money. While other companies are thinking small, the people at American Portwell Technology are thinking “smaller”—with the help of the new 45-nm, ultra-low-power, singleform- factor Intel® Atom™ processor and its paired controller chip.

The Intel Atom processor and Intel® System Controller Hub US15W (Intel® SCH US15W) consume less than 5 W. The CPU package measures a mere 13 x 14 mm (about the size of an American penny) while the die size is only 25 square mm. It enables many Intel® architecture-based embedded boards to be designed in smaller form factors. Such small form factors, such as ECX and Nano-ITX, provide the low-power and fanless advantages of the Intel Atom processor. They also keep the necessary I/O connectors on board (one-piece board) with no need to go with modular (multiple pieces). These on-board features can include the HDD interface, GPIO, VGA, LVDS, GbE, audio, USB SDIO, PCIe x1, and RS-232.

Trending Toward Energy Efficiency

These days, energy and power consumption are key issues in the design and development of new products. Applications are becoming more processor intensive. In addition, there’s a wider concern for “green” power and energy efficiency. As a result of these trends, ultra-small processors like the Atom will jump straight to the head of the line.

The embedded computing industry is aware of such trends. It predicts that more designs will port over to Intel Atom processor-based platform as standard now, which will help save costs and speed time to market. As a result, many small-form-factor boards with the Intel Atom processor are available for selection and use. Examples include Mini-ITX, Com-Express, ETX, ECX, Nano-ITX, and even Q7.

Intel® Atom™ Processor In Action

The Intel Atom processor was designed for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs), and other commercial, portable low-power devices. Yet this processor can potentially benefit many other embedded applications, such as medical equipment, healthcare automation, digital signage, robotics, industrial automation, military, and Infotainment. American Portwell’s ECX board, dubbed the PEB-2737 (see Figure 1), takes full advantage of the Intel Atom processor and its controller chip’s features. It is therefore able to reduce the energy bill for clinical diagnostic instrumentation, effectively drive digital X-ray on multiple displays, and cost effectively aid therapy to a patient. The PEB-2737 also can operate a point-ofcare medical cart much longer with existing battery technology. Lastly, it can supply easier and faster communication or Internet within a bedside patient service unit or provide energy savings for the pharmacy system in a hospital or drugstore.

Figure 1: The PEB-2737 is an Intel® Atom™ processor-based ECX embedded board with dual display, Gigabit Ethernet, Audio, USB and SDIO.

Airports can reap savings from this processor as well. Using Intel Atom processor-based ECX or Nano-ITX to display the flight information will generate less heat. In fact, the NANO-8044 (see Figure 2) was the first Nano-ITX board based on the Intel Atom processor and Intel SCH US15W. At just 120 x 120 mm (4.72 x 4.72 in.), it is only 50% of the standard Mini-ITX.

Due to the low cost of this platform, electric power can be saved in the digital signage installed in a 24-x-7 retail store. In addition, a hospital can pay less to display information on a 1080p, large-size liquid-crystal display (LCD). A taxi cab may be able to make extra income by playing commercials through its mobile digital signage device. And casinos and public stations are able to cost-effectively display information and grab the consumer’s attention. Today’s trains, buses, and even elevators are running low-power, processorbased signage systems. Overall, the Intel Atom processor platform enables an informative and environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Figure 2: The NANO-8044 is an Intel® Atom™ processor-based Nano-ITX embedded board with dual display, Gigabit Ethernet, Audio, USB and SDIO.

Figures 3A and 3B: Front and back views of the PCS-8230: Single-DIN in-vehicle infotainment system based on Intel® Atom™ processor Z510.

With the Intel Atom processor Microsoft Windows-based solution can actually be implemented in a military, industrial, or even commercial robot. A rugged industrial PC consuming less power and energy is much more feasible now. Because it eliminates overheating issues, an Intel Atom processor-based car PC also can operate more stably. The car PC can play a movie on multiple liquid- crystal displays (LCDs), access the Internet, and find a location via its integrated GPS. American Portwell’s PCS-8230, the first Intel Atom processor-based car PC, has ably demonstrated the concept and usability of this application (see Figures 3A and 3B). Its engine is the Intel Atom processor-based ECX board, the PEB-2736 (See Figure 4).

Figure 4: The PEB-2736 is the Intel® Atom™ processor-based ECX embedded board with dual display, Audio, USB and SDIO that powers the PCS-8230.

Moving Forward

The embedded world can look forward to embracing even more applications through increased computing power while retaining the same low power consumption. In the near future, a wide array of COTS Intel Atom processors and supported software may even entice applications away from other processor architectures, such as RISC. In fact, Intel has already announced a dual-core version of the Intel Atom processor. Like the world in which it thrives, embedded technology never stands still.

Frank Shen is the product marketing director at American Portwell Technology. There, he is responsible for product management and new market development. Shen has over 15 years of product marketing experience in the embedded computing, industrial computing, and touch-panel industries. He holds a masters degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California.