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EETE JULAUG 2014

INDUSTRIAL COMPUTING A duel of Atoms: Qseven vs COM Express Mini By Zeljko Loncaric When Intel launched the first generation of the Atom processor Z500 series (codenamed Silverthorne), this represented a major step forward in terms of multimedia features in compact and mobile applications with X86 architecture. In the consumer market, it led to the emergence of Atom Inside netbooks, later to be replaced by the first tablet PCs and smart phones. In the industrial environment, advances were just as exciting with increasingly smaller ITX single board computers and the introduction of new computer module standards such as Qseven and COM Express Mini for specific applications. With the launch of the new generation of Atom processors (codenamed Bay Trail), it is time for a fair comparison between the two computer modules. Advances in Atom technology With the addition of some well-known Core i processor extensions, such as out-of-order execution for faster chain of command execution plus modern and competitive graphics with DX11 and OpenGL 3.2 support, Intel’s new Bay Trail Atom and Celeron Fig. 1: Footprint comparison: Qseven vs COM Express Mini Computer-on- Modules. processors are technologically back on trend. The new feature sets and options bring them significantly nearer to the Core i series and close the performance gap. With manufacturing based on the latest 22nm tri-gate transistor technology, production costs and power consumption are both reduced while performance remains competitive. According to Intel, the same power consumption yields three times greater performance, while achieving the same performance requires only one-fifth of the power consumption of previous Atom processor generations. This means that the computing power per watt is even greater than with the latest ARM processors. For the first time, the Atom and Celeron processors are now also available as quad-core processors. These extend the range of the previous dual-core processors with hyperthreading, which is no longer available for Fig. 2: COM concept exemplified by Qseven computer module and carrier board based on the Intel Bay Trail processor. the new processors. The updated Turbo burst which, if necessary, allows individual cores and the graphics to be clocked much higher depending on the load within the thermal budget, ensures further performance gains. The COM concept facilitates fast product development One of the best ways to integrate new processors into applications are Computer-on-Module (COM) form factors such as Qseven and COM Express. They offer developers the comfort and safety of a standard board solution combined with the flexibility of custom designs. COM manufacturers such as congatec offer compatible, application-ready modules that are pre-integrated for many standards and real-time operating systems and already include all appropriate peripheral drivers. So the customer can buy compatible modules to mount onto his own specific, mostly custom-made carrier boards without further costly adjustments. Thanks to close cooperation between the module suppliers and chip manufacturers such as Intel, the latest technology is available immediately after the announcement of new building blocks for own implementations, without the need for difficult and expensive in-house development effort. This reduces product development time and costs quite dramatically. Another great advantage of the COM concept is that the carrier boards continue to be manufactured in-house. This not only preserves resources and jobs but also eliminates the need to share know-how, which often lies in the peripherals and connections, with outsiders. Thanks to the variety of compatible modules, own products can often be adjusted to individual customer requirements by simply swapping modules. However, for the whole process to work as described, the module manufacturer needs to have all the required qualifications with years of experience and also be able to provide the appropriate support for the development of custom boards. Even though the modules themselves are standardized, a lot of useful benefits are hidden in the detail, such as the scope and quality of the supplied firmware and software or operating system customizations. It is particularly useful and practical if other important system components are pre-integrated on the COM, or if configuration is an option. This is especially true where battery management needs to be expanded for mobile solutions, or an additional graphics unit is required for designs that offer extreme scalability in terms of processor and graphics performance. Advantages of COM Express Mini and Qseven The small module form factors COM Express Mini and Qseven developed for the Atom processors have both successfully established themselves in the market with their respective advantages. The COM Express Mini form factor (55x84mm), which was Zeljko Loncaric is Marketing Engineer at congatec AG - www.congatec.com 30 Electronic Engineering Times Europe July/August 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE JULAUG 2014
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