Intel’s Atom Secret Decoder Ring

Intel’s code names have gotten even more confusing with the new Atom processors.

It used to be that Intel had one code name for a processor family or process technology variant and then the part number SKUs followed easily from that. Haswell, for instance, is the 4th Generation Core family and the SKUs are 4-digit numbers starting with “4″. Ivy Bridge was 3rd Generation with 4-digit SKUs starting with “3″. And so on.

The Atom family has changed all of that and I’m confused as hell. Every time I see a new Atom SKU like “C2000″ or “E3800″ I have to do some research to figure out what the heck it actually is.  For some reason, Intel has split the Atom family into mobile, value desktop, microserver, and SoC versions. I’ve yet to find a comprehensive comparison chart that maps the code names (and former code names) to SKUs, markets, or other useful quick-look info.  The chart probably exists somewhere on the massive Intel website(s) ecosystem. Or in a PowerPoint presentation presented at an overseas conference. Or maybe not.

Here are a few hints, but I won’t even pretend that this is accurate or comprehensive.

The Artist Formerly Known as Bay Trail

Intel tries to demystify this whole naming bug-a-boo with a sort-of useful table called “Products (Formerly Bay Trail)”.

Intel attempts to de-mystify Atom's myriad code names and SKUs. I'm not sure it helps much.

Intel attempts to de-mystify Atom’s myriad code names and SKUs. I’m not sure it helps much because you have to drill down in each instance and there’s no market segment mapping (you’d need the Press Release to do that).

Bay Trail is the newest 22nm Atom designed for mobile, value desktop and the sorts of applications you’d expect Haswell’s baby brother to target. But there are also “Pentium” versions (J and N versions) and Celeron versions (N). Intel is targeting these at desktops, low-end laptops and other “value” platforms that can’t bear the price of Ivy Bridge or Haswell CPUs and chipsets.

Bay Trail Atoms also come in E and Z versions. E38xx was just launched and is called the “SoC” version, is based upon Bay Trail’s Silvermont microarchitecture, and has a TDP of 10W targeting embedded applications. The Z versions are aimed at tablets–exactly the target you’d expect for Intel’s flagship low power CPU.

Atoms to Protect and Server

Then there are the C2000 Atom versions. There are two flavors here, broken down by market segment. They’re all 22nm Atoms, but the C23xx, C25xx and C27xx SKUs target servers–more specifically, the microservers where ARM is making headway. Intel’s got a leadership position in servers with Sandy Bridge (Gen 2), Ivy Bridge (Gen 3), and Haswell (Gen 4) CPUs…plus all manner of heavy weight Xeon server CPUs. So it’s essential to offer a competitive product to whatever ARM and their partners might throw at servers (such as the multi-threaded A53 or single-threaded, deep pipeline A57).

To confuse matters further, there’s the C2000 Atoms targeted at communications platforms. Bizarrely, Intel also calls them–wait for it–C23xx, C25xx, and C27xx. Could they not have changed a few digits around to protect designers’ sanity if only to obviate the need to look them all up?

These Atoms aren’t Bay Trail at all–they’re the former “Avoton” coded Atoms and they’re definitely not aimed at mobile like Bay Trail. As I dug a bit deeper to try to figure this out, more code names like Rangeley popped up. Along with an Avoton block diagram that showed the same Bay Trail Silvermont core surrounded by Avoton I/O resources all labeled “Edisonville”. Avoton? Rangeley? Edisonville?

(Sigh.) At that point I decided to stick with the Bay Trail embedded versions for now and forget about the networking and communications versions before my head exploded. I’ll dig into this again with a fresh perspective and see if I can find a roadmap slide that makes this all clear.

If you can suggest some links–better yet, Intel charts–that stitch the Atom family into all of its permutations please send me a link. I’ll post your name with fanfare and gratitude.

In the meantime, be sure to always check www.ark.intel.com as your first SKU reference. It won’t map part numbers to the all important market segments, but it’s a good start.

The Soft(ware) Core of Qualcomm’s Internet of Everything Vision

Qualcomm supplements silicon with multiple software initiatives.

Qualcomm Snapdragon
Update 1: Added attribution to figures.
The numbers are huge: 50B connected devices; 7B smartphones to be sold by 2017; 1000x growth in data traffic within a few years. Underlying all of these devices in the Internet of Things…wait, the Internet of Everything…is Qualcomm. Shipping 700 million chipsets per year on top of a wildly successful IP creation business in cellular modem algorithms, plus being arguably #1 in 3G/4G/LTE with Snapdragon SoCs in smartphones, the company is now setting its sights on M2M connectivity. Qualcomm has perhaps more initiatives in IoT/IoE than any other vendor. Increasingly, those initiatives rely on the software necessary for the global M2M-driven IoT/IoE trend to take root.

Telit Wireless Devcon
Speaking at the Telit Wireless Devcon in San Jose on 15 October, Qualcomm VP Nakul Duggal of the Mobile Computing Division painted a picture showing the many pieces of the company’s strategy for the IoT/E. Besides the aforementioned arsenal of SnapDragon SoC and Gobi modem components, the company is bringing to bear Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, local radio (like NFC), GPS, communications stacks, and a vision for heterogeneous M2M device communication they call “dynamic proximal networking”. Qualcomm supplies myriad chipsets to Telit Wireless, and Telit rolls them into higher order modules upon which Telit’s customers add end-system value.

Over 8 Telit Wireless modules are based upon Qualcomm modems.

Over eight Telit Wireless modules are based upon Qualcomm modems, as presented at the Telit Wireless Devcon 2013.

But it all needs software in order to work. Here are a few of Qualcomm’s software initiatives.

Modem’s ARM and API Open to All
Many M2M nodes–think of a vending machine, or the much maligned connected coffee maker–don’t need a lot of intelligence to function. They collect data, perform limited functions, and send analytics and diagnostics to their remote M2M masters. Qualcomm’s Duggal says that the ARM processors in Qualcomm modems are powerful enough to perform that computational load. There’s no need for an additional CPU so the company is making available Java (including Java ME), Linux and ThreadX to run their 3rd generation of Gobi LTE modems.

Qualcomm is already on its 3rd generation of Gobi LTE modems.

Qualcomm is already on its 3rd generation of Gobi LTE modems.

Qualcomm has also opened up the modem APIs and made available their IoT Connection Manager software to make it easier to write closer-to-the-metal code for modem. Duggal revealed that Qualcomm has partnered with Digi International in this effort as it applies to telematics market segments.

Leverage Smartphone Graphics
And some of those M2M devices on the IoE may have displays–simple UIs at first (like a vending machine)—but increasingly more complex as the device interacts with the consumer. A restaurant’s digital menu sign, for example, need not run a full blown PC and Windows Embedded operating system when a version of a Snapdragon SoC will do. After all, the 1080p HDMI graphics needs of an HTC One with S600 far outweigh those of a digital sign. Qualcomm’s graphics accelerators and signal processing algorithms can easily apply to display-enabled M2M devices. This applies doubly as more intelligence is pushed to the M2M node, alleviating the need to send reams of data up to the cloud for processing.

Digital 6th Sense: Context
Another area Duggal described as the “Digital 6th Sense” might be thought of as contextual computing. Smartphones or wearable fitness devices like Nike’s new FuelBand SE might react differently when they’re outside, at work, or in the home. More than just counting steps and communicating with an App, if the device knows where it is…including precisely where it is inside of a building…it can perform different functions. Qualcomm now includes the Atheros full RF spectrum of products including Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, NFC, Wi-Fi and more. Software stacks for all of these enable connectivity, but code that meshes (no pun) Wi-Fi with GPS data provides outside and inside position information. Here, Qualcomm’s software melds myriad infrastructure technologies to provide inside positioning. A partnership with Cisco will bring the technology to consumer locations like shopping malls to coexist with Cisco’s Mobility Services Engine for location-based Apps.

Smart Start at Home
Finally, the smart home is another area ripe for innovation. Connected devices in the home range from the existing set-top box for entertainment, to that connected coffee pot, smart meter, Wi-Fi enabled Next thermostat and smoke/CO detector, home health and more. These disparate ecosystems, says Duggal, are similar only in their “heterogeneousness” in the home. That is: they were never designed to be interconnected. Qualcomm is taking their relationships with every smart meter manufacturer, their home gateway/backhaul designs, and their smartphone expertise, and rolling it into the new AllJoyn software effort.

The open source AllJoyn initiative, spearheaded by Qualcomm, seeks to connect heterogeneous M2M nodes. Think: STB talks to thermostat, or refrigerator talks to garage door opener.

The open source AllJoyn initiative, spearheaded by Qualcomm, seeks to connect heterogeneous M2M nodes. Think: STB talks to thermostat, or refrigerator talks to garage door opener. Courtesy: Qualcomm and AllJoyn.org .

AllJoyn is an open source project that seeks to set a “common language for the Internet of Everything”. According to AllJoyn.org, the “dynamic proximal network” is created using a universal software framework that’s extremely lightweight. Qualcomm’s Duggal described the ability for a device to enumerate that it has a sensor, audio, display, or other I/O. Most importantly, Alljoyn is “bearer agnostic” across all leading OSes or connectivity mechanism.

AllJoyn connectivity diagram.

AllJoyn connectivity diagram. Courtesy: www.alljoyn.org .

If Qualcomm is to realize their vision of selling more modems and Snapdragon-like SoCs, making them play well together and exchange information is critical. AllJoyn is pretty new; a new Standard Client (3.4.0) was released on 9 October. It’s unclear to me right now how AllJoyn compares with Wind River’s MQTT-based M2M Intelligent Device Platform or Digi’s iDigi Cloud or Eurotech’s EveryWhere Device Framework.

Qualcomm’s on a Roll
With their leadership in RF modems and smartphone processors, Qualcomm is laser focused on the next big opportunity: the IoT/E. Making all of those M2M nodes actually do something useful will require software throughout the connected network. With so many software initiatives underway, Qualcomm is betting on their next big thing: the Internet of Everything. Software will be the company’s next major “killer app”.