Quiz question: I’m an embedded system, but I’m not a smartphone. What am I?

In the embedded market, there are smartphones, automotive, consumer….and everything else. I’ve figured out why AMD’s G-Series SoCs fit perfectly into the “everything else”.

amd-embedded-solutions-g-series-logo-100xSince late 2013 AMD has been talking about their G-Series of Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) x86 devices that mix an Intel-compatible CPU with a discrete-class GPU and a whole pile of peripherals like USB, serial, VGA/DVI/HDMI and even ECC memory. The devices sounded pretty nifty—in either SoC flavor (“Steppe Eagle”) or without the GPU (“Crowned Eagle”). But it was a head-scratcher where they would fit. After-all, we’ve been conditioned by the smartphone market to think that any processor “SoC” that didn’t contain an ARM core wasn’t an SoC.

AMD’s Stephen Turnbull, Director of Marketing, Thin Client markets.

AMD’s Stephen Turnbull, Director of Marketing, Thin Client markets.

Yes, ARM dominates the smartphone market; no surprise there.

But there are plenty of other professional embedded markets that need CPU/GPU/peripherals where the value proposition is “Performance per dollar per Watt,” says AMD’s Stephen Turnbull, Director of Marketing, Thin Clients. In fact, AMD isn’t even targeting the smartphone market, according to General Manager Scott Aylor in his many presentations to analysts and the financial community.

AMD instead targets systems that need “visual compute”: which is any business-class embedded system that mixes computation with single- or multi-display capabilities at a “value price”. What this really means is: x86-class processing—and all the goodness associated with the Intel ecosystem—plus one or more LCDs. Even better if those LCDs are high-def, need 3D graphics or other fancy rendering, and if there’s industry-standard software being run such as OpenCL, OpenGL, or DirectX. AMD G-Series SoCs run from 6W up to 25W; the low end of this range is considered very power thrifty.

What AMD’s G-Series does best is cram an entire desktop motherboard and peripheral I/O, plus graphics card onto a single 28nm geometry SoC. Who needs this? Digital signs—where up to four LCDs make up the whole image—thin clients, casino gaming, avionics displays, point-of-sale terminals, network-attached-storage, security appliances, and oh so much more.

G-Series SoC on the top with peripheral IC for I/O on the bottom.

G-Series SoC on the top with peripheral IC for I/O on the bottom.

According to AMD’s Turnbull, the market for thin client computers is growing at 6 to 8 percent CAGR (per IDC), and “AMD commands over 50 percent share of market in thin clients.” Recent design wins with Samsung, HP and Fujitsu validate that using a G-Series SoC in the local box provides more-than-ample horsepower for data movement, encryption/decryption of central server data, and even local on-the-fly video encode/decode for Skype or multimedia streaming.

Typical use cases include government offices where all data is server-based, bank branch offices, and “even classroom learning environments, where learning labs standardize content, monitor students and centralize control of the STEM experience,” says AMD’s Turnbull.

Samsung LFDs (large format displays) use AMD R-Series APUs for flexible display features, like sending content to multiple displays via a network. (Courtesy: Samsung.)

Samsung LFDs (large format displays) use AMD APUs for flexible display features, like sending content to multiple displays via a network. (Courtesy: Samsung.)

But what about other x86 processors in these spaces? I’m thinking about various SKUs from Intel such as their recent Celeron and Pentium M offerings (which are legacy names but based on modern versions of Ivy Bridge and Haswell architectures) and various Atom flavors in both dual- and quad-core colors. According to AMD’s  published literature, G-Series SoC’s outperform dual-core Atoms by 2x (multi-display) or 3x (overall performance) running industry-standard benchmarks for standard and graphics computation.

And then there’s that on-board GPU. If AMD’s Jaguar-based CPU core isn’t enough muscle, the system can load-balance (in performance and power) to move algorithm-heavy loads to the GPU for General Purpose GPU (GPGPU) number crunching. This is the basis for AMD’s efforts to bring the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) spec to the world. Even companies like TI and ARM have jumped onto this one for their own heterogeneous processors.

G-Series: more software than hardware.

G-Series: more software than hardware.

In a nutshell, after two years of reading about (and writing about) AMD’s G-Series SoCs, I’m beginning to “get religion” that the market isn’t all about smartphone processors. Countless business-class embedded systems need Intel-compatible processing, multiple high-res displays, lots of I/O, myriad industry-standard software specs…and all for a price/Watt that doesn’t break the bank.

So the answer to the question posed in the title above is simply this: I’m a visually-oriented embedded system. And I’m everywhere.

This blog was sponsored by AMD.

 

 

Tizen OS for Smartphones – Intel’s Biggest Bet Yet

Tizen HTML5 from Intel and Linux Foundation to be used by Samsung handsets in 2013 mobile.

Figure 1: Intel and the Linux Foundation collaborated on Tizen, an open source HTML5-based platform for smartphones, IVI, and other embedded devices.

[Update on 27 February 2013: At the recent 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung demoed a development handset running Tizen. CNET editor Luke Westaway posted a video review of the device which showed snappy performance, Android-like features, but felt that the early version was "a bit rough around the edges". Still, to see Tizen running on actual consumer hardware gives it cred.  A larger review by CNET's Roger Cheng can be found here: http://cnet.co/15R8xs3 ]

[8 Jan 2013 Update: Added "Disclosure" below and fixed some typos.]

Disclosure: As of 8 Jan 2013, I became a paid blogger for Intel’s ‘Roving Reporter’ embedded Intelligent Systems Alliance (edc.intel.com). But my opinion here is my own, and I call it like I see it.

Samsung hedges Apple, Google bets with Intel’s HTML5-based Tizen

Just when you thought the smartphone OS market was down to a choice between iOS and Android, Intel-backed Tizen jumps into the fray (Figure 1).  Tizen is Intel’s next kick at the can for mobile, and it’s joining several OS wannabes:  Microsoft Windows Phone 8, RIM Blackberry’s whatever-they’re-going-to-announce on 31 January 2013, and eventually Ubuntu phone platform.

Figure 2: On 3 January 2013 Ubuntu announced a plan to offer a smartphone OS. Key feature: use the phone as a computing platform and even drive a desktop monitor.

Samsung  Prepares to “Date” Other Partners

Samsung Electronics announced on 3 January that it will start selling smartphones sometime this year using Tizen as the OS platform. Samsung’s spokesperson didn’t elaborate on timing or models, but said in an emailed statement ”We plan to release new, competitive Tizen devices…and keep expanding the lineup.”

Tizen is the third incarnation of Intel’s attempts at building an embedded ecosystem which included MeeGo and Moblin. Tizen, in collaboration with The Linux Foundation, was announced mid-2011 and has been quietly gestating in the background and is now on Release 2.0. One of the largest supporters of Tizen is Samsung, so the recent announcement is no surprise.

Samsung no doubt seeks a back-up plan as Google’s Android OS has flown past Apple’s iOS as the predominant operating system for mobile devices  plus tablets (75%; Figure 3).

Figure 3: Android is now the predominant smartphone OS in 2012, according to IDC. (Source: IDC; http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS23818212 ).

As Samsung is now the world’s largest smartphone supplier (Figure 4), the company might be following a play from Apple in seeking to control more of its own destiny through Tizen.

Figure 4: IC Insights – and most other analyst firms – rank Samsung as the world’s largest smartphone supplier. This data is from 28 November 2012.(Source: IC Insights; http://www.icinsights.com/news/bulletins/Samsung-And-Apple-Set-To-Dominate-2012-Smartphone-Market/)

And with Samsung and Apple’s patent dispute nastiness, along with rumblings over whether Samsung may or may not continue to supply processors for iPhones, Tizen represents one more way for Samsung to control their own destiny separate from Google and Apple.

Intel’s Mobile Imperative Needs HTML5

Intel, on the other hand, desperately needs more wins in the mobile space.  Last year I blogged how the company gained some traction by announcing several Atom (Medfield) SoC-based handset wins,  but the company has gone on record stating their real goal is to be inside mobile devices from Apple, Samsung or both. In fact, it’s a bet-the-farm play for Intel and it most likely pushed Intel CEO Paul Otellini into his future retirement plans.

The general embedded market is closely following what happens in mobile, adopting low-power ARM SoCs and Atom CPUs, using wireless Wi-Fi and NFC radios for M2M nodes, and deploying Android for both headed and headless systems such as POS and digital signage. If Tizen moves the needle in smartphones for Samsung, chances are it’ll be used by other players. With HTML5, it will be straightforward to port applications and data across hardware platforms – a goal that Intel’s EVP Renee James  touted at 2012′s Intel Developers Forum (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Intel’s Renee James is betting on HTML5 in Tizen to kickstart transparent computing. (Image taken by author at IDF 2012.)

 

Tizen is based upon HTML5 with plans to achieve the old Java “write once, run anywhere” promise.   For Intel, the Tizen SDK and API means that applications written for the most popular mobile processors – such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon or nVidia’s Tegra 3 – could easily run on Intel processors. In fact, at IDF Intel posited a demo of a user’s application running first on a home PC, then a smart phone, then a connected in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system, and then finally on an office platform. Intel’s Renee James explained that it matters not what underlying hardware runs the application – HTML5 allows seamless migration across any and all devices.

Tizen Stakes for Intel and Samsung

This pretty much sums up the Tizen vision, both for Intel and for Samsung. Tizen means freedom, as it abstracts the hardware from any application.

If successful, Tizen opens up processor sockets to Intel as mobile vendors swap CPUs. Tizen also allows Samsung to choose any processor, while relying on open source and open standards-based code supported by The Linux Foundation.