Development Options Evolve with Advances in Intel® Processor Performance-Per-Watt

The latest Intel® processors bridge a performance-power-cost gap to open a range of new low-power and small form factor embedded design strategies for IoT, industrial, healthcare, smart energy and transportation applications.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is fueling change by transforming isolated systems into smart, connected networks. Low-power performance is essential to this equation, enabling compact, sophisticated devices with outstanding thermal characteristics. Improvements in power consumption are expanding possibilities, and developers now have access to a credible option for low-power Intel® processor-based designs in a very small footprint. The latest Intel® Atom™ processor E3800 product family and Intel® Celeron® N2930 and J1900 processors, formerly known as Bay Trail, bridge a performance-power-cost gap in the Intel processor families and open a range of new embedded design strategies.

Industry Impact of Low-Power Improvements

Understanding Intel Atom processor E3800 product family’s power efficiencies is essential to understanding the IoT opportunity. The shift from isolated systems to connected intelligent platforms requires not only performance and connectivity, but also the creative design of smaller, rugged edge devices. Characteristics of the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family are specifically suited to these demands, and the series is purpose-built to enable design innovation in high-performance, small form factor (SFF) intelligent systems.

In this new era of connected computing technology, intelligent systems add global value as standalone systems evolve from their foundation in machine-to-machine (M2M) concepts to network and communicate with each other and the cloud. OEMs and developers can anticipate a convergence of increasingly connected devices, answering demand for real-time data gathering and sharing, nonstop communication, new services, enhanced productivity and more. Systems will solve business problems by being smart and connected, which is becoming a priority, adding business value such as cloud economics for compute and data operations.

As IoT strategies unfold—for example in healthcare, smart metering, POS and retail banking, factory floor systems and connected buildings—the business case for intelligent services increases. Minimal power consumption is a primary driver in this renaissance. Low-power designs using the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family support mobile or portable devices, but more importantly, capitalize on thermal characteristics to manage fully enclosed, passively cooled designs as the key to enabling connectivity anywhere.

Redefining the Low-Power Landscape

To capitalize on this promise of the Internet of Things, innovative embedded designs must not only be high-performance but also power-sensitive, assuring they can be deployed in the broadest spectrum of computing environments. Low-power computing is at the heart of this requirement, enabling small, high-performance systems that inherently require more stringent thermal characteristics. Where low-power architectures for smartphones and tablets have increased visibility of energy-efficient consumer devices, a similar shift is evident in connected embedded arenas.

The x86 evolution continues, with Intel answering low-power needs with smaller, more efficient Intel® AtomTM processors. The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family is a system-on-chip (SoC) developed for intelligent systems—embedded systems that are designed to be smarter, securely collecting and sharing sensor data to enable new applications or user experiences. These SoCs are optimized for systems that require efficient imaging workflows, delivery of secure content and interactive, real-time processes—supporting OEMs and developers as connected embedded applications grow in demand and functionality.

Scalable Low-Power Performance

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family closes a gap in power and performance—offering more horsepower than earlier Intel Atom processors—and touching the performance of entry-level Intel® Core™ processors. Efficiency is improved over earlier generations of Intel Atom processors, and thermal design power (TDP) and footprint are smaller than Intel Core processors. In addition to featuring 22nm process technology, new Silvermont microarchitecture (See Figure 1) and more efficient cores, these small, efficient Intel Atom processors integrate faster graphics and a built-in security engine on a chip that draws less than 10 watts of power; the resulting low-power profile is ideal for the non-stop performance demands of intelligent systems.

Figure 1. Silvermont microarchitecture represents the first top-to-bottom redesign of low-power Intel Atom processors, slated first in a family of cores that Intel states will be refreshed every year for the next few years. Where the previous 32nm microarchitecture was a derivative of 45nm process technology, Silvermont microarchitecture represents an entirely new design re-architected from the ground up.

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family series features multiple SKUs with pin-compatible single-, dual- and quad-core offerings. These SoCs can handle both single-threaded and multi-threaded processing when more complex computing tasks are required. In addition to being capable of handling larger and more demanding processing jobs via multi-threading, good scaling speed improves processing efficiency; this is essential for the range of real-time data streams coming from sensors, communications or video applications common to connected embedded applications. When applications are ready for next-generation, low-power performance, Intel Atom processor E3800 product family-based designs are easily scalable to Intel Core processors within the same architecture.

Fine-Grained Power Management

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family incorporates sophisticated power-management capabilities, such as very low power consumption for embedded systems that spend significant time in sleep states, such as printers or ATMs. The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family assigns the total SoC energy budget dynamically according to application needs; this supports dynamic power sharing between the CPU and graphics, which allows for higher peak frequencies.

Intel® Burst Technology 2.0 support for single- and multi-core also offers a high degree of responsiveness scaled for power efficiency. With intelligent burst technology, the system can tap an extra core when necessary, which allows CPU-intensive applications to run faster and smoother. What’s more, 2MB of L2 cache assures the device operates faster and more responsively when running multiple applications and services at the same time.

Applying Intel Atom Processor E3800 Product Family Improvements to Connected Embedded

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family’s SoC design reduces bill of materials (BOM), offering a cost advantage in tandem with power and performance gains. In addition to BOM savings, a one-chip solution allows for smaller form factor solutions over earlier generation, two-chip offerings. In certain cases, such as multifunction printers or ultrasound machines, the SoC even eliminates the need for development of custom ASICs/FPGAs to perform imaging functions. Further, a single die on a single package delivers the high levels of integration needed for intelligent system designs, such as efficient and dedicated image signal processing.

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family’s integration of I/O interfaces is outstanding—supporting display interfaces with graphics processing, camera interfaces with image processing, audio with digital signal processing (DSP), multiple storage types and legacy embedded I/O. Expansion capabilities are readily available through industry-standard high-bandwidth interfaces such as PCI Express Gen 2.0, Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 connectivity.

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family also performs to within industrial temperature extremes (See Figure 2), with a Tjunction range from -40° C to 110° C. This feature allows for passively cooled, light solutions that must exist in extreme environments, such as either hot or cold.

Figure 2. Low-power value adds design value for battery-operated devices, yet is even more relevant to enabling passively cooled systems with no forced airflow, deployable in the broadest range of rigorous embedded arenas.

Security and Graphics Improvements Add Design Value

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family’s advancements in visual-processing capabilities are relative to previous-generation Intel Atom processors, and enable faster media conversions, stereoscopic 3D, immersive web browsing and enhanced HD video transcoding with Gen 7 graphics and highly efficient image processing. For example, the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family series graphics are strong enough to accommodate a modern OS with a graphical user interface for Blu-ray playback, as well as throughput appropriate for demanding applications such as complex 3D drawings and gaming.
Security is also of essential importance in connected embedded designs, and the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family’s built-in security features can be considered a competitive factor in these applications. For security enhancement and content protection, the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family incorporates Intel® Advanced Encryption Standard New Instruction (Intel® AES-NI), hardware-assisted encryption instructions to enable faster data encryption and decryption. Secure endpoints protect sensitive content and allow only chosen software to run on the device. Data is secured as it moves through the network, and is encrypted up to four times faster than earlier generations. Overall, encryption and decryption performance improves when executed in hardware, in contrast to using software algorithms, which can be costly in terms of cycling and power consumption.

Design Choices in Context

In the embedded realm, determining a design path requires consideration of a broad range of values. Designing with Intel processors has developers evaluating price, processor performance and power, but also software development and I/O requirements, ecosystem constraints and overall ease of development.

Figure 3. ADLINK Technology is enabling the Internet of Things with innovative embedded computing solutions for industrial automation, communications, medical, defense, transportation and infotainment industries. Our Intel Atom processor E3800 products include SMARC® computer-on-modules to power edge devices, the MXE-200i IoT gateway for connectivity and data transfer, and our SEMA (Smart Embedded Management Agent) Cloud Services for access to system data from anywhere, at anytime.

Software is often the most challenging part of system design. Familiar Intel processor environments are supported by development tools that help to implement, debug and fine-tune software. Performance is assured while time-to-market is reduced. Pinouts and I/O interfaces are also well-established for Intel processors, as Intel has been instrumental in defining not just the core microprocessor and instruction-set architecture, but also the architecture of peripherals. Embedded computing products based on Intel processors have capitalized on that chip-level expertise by providing either proprietary or open-standard products using common I/O interfaces. Common connector pinouts enable the widest range of hardware- and software-compatible peripherals for use in customizing end-user products.

The ARM environment is more complex and differentiated, with a singular focus on products typically optimized for a particular application. With less historical focus on building standard I/O definitions, each SoC would be used on a custom board design; also, depending on the target market, I/O options do not emphasize standard buses such as PCI Express. The resulting ARM marketplace includes a number of proprietary form factors and connector definitions that may lock designs to a single vendor and that may not support more than a single generation of silicon even as designs move to more advanced SoCs.

Low Power Enables Embedded Innovation

Embedded evolution marches on, and developers now have access to a credible option for low-power Intel processor designs in a very small footprint. The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family can help designers balance power and performance, while still developing the high-compute solutions for which Intel processor are known. Developed to enable high performance, small form factor intelligent systems, the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family addresses a specific power-performance need—blending media and compute performance, low TDP and reduced BOM in a low-power SoC. OEMs and developers are capitalizing on these characteristics to advance the Internet of Things; embedded connected solutions now encompass lightweight, passively cooled solutions supported by a known and trusted software toolchain and next-generation scalability to Intel Core processors.

The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family offers more computational power than its predecessor, and is able to fit the thermal envelope required for applications with temperature and airflow constraints, for example, passive cooling with no forced airflow and +80°C ambient air. As connected embedded requirements continue to expand—for instance onboard train management and wayside control systems, remote video surveillance and monitoring, factory automation such as pick-and-place and 3D robotics—designers have a greater range of Intel processor options to develop competitive designs that quickly get to market.


As ADLINK CTO, Jeff Munch heads all R&D operations in North America and Asia and is responsible for building ADLINK’s presence throughout the world. Munch has over 20 years of experience in hardware design, software development, and engineering resource management. Before joining the company, he spent five years at Motorola Computer Group as director of engineering. Munch is Chair of several PICMG Subcommittees and brings a wealth of technical knowledge and experience to ADLINK’s management team.
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