AMD’s “Beefy” APUs Bulk Up Thin Clients for HP, Samsung

There are times when a tablet is too light, and a full desktop too much. The answer? A thin client PC powered by an AMD APU.

Note: this blog is sponsored by AMD.

A desire to remotely access my Mac and Windows machines from somewhere else got me thinking about thin client architectures. A thin “client” machine has sufficient processing for local storage and display—plus keyboard, mouse and other I/O—and is remotely connected to a more beefy “host” elsewhere. The host may be in the cloud or merely somewhere else on a LAN, sometimes intentionally inaccessible for security reasons.

Thin client architectures—or just “thin clients”—find utility in call centers, kiosks, hospitals, “smart” monitors and TVs, military command posts and other multi-user, virtualized installations. At times they’ve been characterized as low performance or limited in functionality, but that’s changing quickly.

They’re getting additional processing and graphics capability thanks to AMD’s G-Series and A-Series Accelerated Processing Units (APUs). By some analysts, AMD is number one in thin clients and the company keeps winning designs with its highly integrated x86 plus Radeon graphics SoCs: most recently with HP and Samsung.

HP’s t420 and mt245 Thin Clients

HP’s ENERGY STAR certified t420 is a fanless thin client for call centers, Desktop-as-a-service and remote kiosk environments (Figure 1). Intended to mount on the back of a monitor such as the company’s ProDisplays (like you see at the doctor’s office), the unit runs HP’s ThinPro 32 or Smart Zero Core 32 operating system, has either 802.11n Wi-Fi or Gigabit Ethernet, 8 GB of Flash and 2 GB of DDR3L SDRAM.

Figure 1: HP’s t420 thin client is meant for call centers and kiosks, mounted to a smart LCD monitor. (Courtesy: HP.)

Figure 1: HP’s t420 thin client is meant for call centers and kiosks, mounted to a smart LCD monitor. (Courtesy: HP.)

USB ports for keyboard and mouse supplement the t420’s dual display capability (DVI-D  and VGA)—made possible by AMD’s dual-core GX-209JA running at 1 GHz.

Says AMD’s Scott Aylor, corporate vice president and general manager, AMD Embedded Solutions: “The AMD Embedded G-Series SoC couples high performance compute and graphics capability in a highly integrated low power design. We are excited to see innovative solutions like the HP t420 leverage our unique technologies to serve a broad range of markets which require the security, reliability and low total cost of ownership offered by thin clients.”

The whole HP thin client consumes a mere 45W and according to StorageReview.com, will retail for $239.

Along the lines of a lightweight mobile experience, HP has also chosen AMD for their mt245 Mobile Thin Client (Figure 2). The thin client “cloud computer” resembles a 14-inch (1366 x 768 resolution) laptop with up to 4GB of SDRAM and a 16 GB SSD, the unit runs Windows Embedded Standard 7P 64 on AMD’s quad core A6-6310 APU with Radeon R4 GPU. There are three USB ports, 1 VGA and 1 HDMI, plus Ethernet and optional Wi-Fi.

Figure 2: HP’s mt245 is a thin client mobile machine, targeting healthcare, education, and more. (Courtesy: HP.)

Figure 2: HP’s mt245 is a thin client mobile machine, targeting healthcare, education, and more. (Courtesy: HP.)

Like the t420, the mt245 consumes a mere 45W and is intended for employee mobility but is configured for a thin client environment. AMD’s director of thin client product management, Stephen Turnbull says the mt245 targets “a whole range of markets, including education and healthcare.”

At the core of this machine, pun intended, is the Radeon GPU that provides heavy-lifting graphics performance. The mt245 can not only take advantage of virtualized cloud computing, but has local moxie to perform graphics-intensive applications like 3D rendering. Healthcare workers might, for example, examine ultrasound images. Factory technicians could pull up assembly drawings, then rotate them in CAD-like software applications.

Samsung Cloud Displays

An important part of Samsung’s displays business involves “smart” displays, monitors and televisions. Connected to the cloud or operating autonomously as a panel PC, many Samsung displays need local processing such as that provided by AMD’s APUs.

Samsung’s recently announced (June 17, 2015) 21.5-inch TC222W and 23.6-inch TC242W also use AMD G-Series devices in thin client architectures. The dual core 2.2 GHz GX222 with Radeon HD6290 powers both displays at 1920 x 1080 (HD) and provides six USB ports, Ethernet, and runs Windows Embedded 7 out of 4GB of RAM and 32 GB of SSD.

Figure 3: Samsung’s Cloud Displays also rely on AMD G-Series APUs.

Figure 3: Samsung’s Cloud Displays also rely on AMD G-Series APUs.

Said Seog-Gi Kim, senior vice president, Visual Display Business, Samsung Electronics, “Samsung’s powerful Windows Thin Client Cloud displays combine professional, ergonomic design with advanced thin-client technology.” The displays rely on the company’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) through a centrally managed data center that increases data security and control (Figure 3). Applications include education, business, healthcare, hospitality or any environment that requires virtualized security with excellent local processing and graphics.

Key to the design wins is the performance density of the G-Series APUs, coupled with legacy x86 software interoperability. The APUs–for both HP and Samsung–add more beef to thin clients.

 

“Mirror, Mira” on the Car’s IVI Screen: Two Different Standards?

You might be hearing about a new technology called MirrorLink that mimics your smartphone’s screen on the larger nav screen in your “connected car”. Or, you might be following the news on Miracast, a more open standard now baked into Android that offers Apple AirPlay-like features to stream smartphone content to devices like connected TVs.

You’d be forgiven if you think the two similarly-named standards are trying to accomplish the same thing. I didn’t understand it either, so I did some digging. Here’s what I found out.

The Smart, Connected Car
When I attended the Paris Auto Show last Fall specifically to investigate in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) trends for the Barr Group under contract to Intel, I got spun up “right quick” on all manner of IVI. From BMW’s iDrive to Chevrolet’s MyLink, the connected car is here. In fact, it’s one of the biggest trends spotted at last week’s 2013 CES in Las Vegas. MirrorLink is being designed into lots of new cars.

BMW's iDrive IVI uses a native system and doesn't rely on smartphone mirroring.

BMW’s iDrive IVI uses a native system and doesn’t rely on smartphone mirroring. (Courtesy of BMW.)

The biggest question faced by every auto manufacturer is this: in-car native system, or rely on the apps in one’s smartphone? Ford’s industry breakthrough MyFord Touch with SYNC by Microsoft is native and based upon Microsoft Auto Platform (now called Windows Embedded Automotive 7). Elsewhere, premium brands like BMW, Lexus and Cadillac have designed self-contained systems from the ground up. Some, like BMW, include in-car cellular modems. Others rely on the smartphone only for music and Internet access, but that’s it.

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps. (Courtesy of Chevrolet.)

Still others, like Toyota and Chevrolet use a technology called MirrorLink to “mirror” the smartphone’s screen onto the car’s larger IVI. For all apps that make sense to be viewed on the IVI, the system will display them — usually identically to what the user sees on the smartphone (subject to safety and distraction caveats).

MirrorLink is now a trademarked standard owned by the Car Connectivity Consortium that’s designed specifically for cars and smartphones. That means the standard worries about driver distractions, apps that make sense for drivers (such as Google Maps) and those that don’t (such as a panoramic camera stitching application). Apps have to be qualified for use with MirrorLink.

As well, MirrorLink replaces the phone’s touch I/O with in-car I/O such as steering wheel controls, console joysticks, or the IVI head unit’s touchscreen or bezel buttons. Equally as important, audio input from microphones is routed from the car to the phone, while output uses the car’s speakers. The car’s antennae for radio and GPS will be given preference over the phone’s, improving the signal reception.  The protocols between smartphone and car also take input from the vehicle’s CANbus, including speed. This means that you can check your email when parked, but not while driving. A great resource for how it works and what the future holds is here.

MirrorLink started as a Nokia idea that was intended for smartphone-to-car connectivity. Now at version 1.1, it’s a client-server architecture where the IVI head unit is the USB host.  It uses industry-standard protocols such as Internet Protocol (IP), USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (BT HFP for telephony, BT A2DP for media), RTP, and UPnP. Recent additions use The Trusted Computing Group concepts of device attestation protocols with SKSD/PKSD keys via authentication. The actual screen sharing uses the VNC protocol.

MirrorLink and Trusted Computing Group authentication process for trusted content.

MirrorLink and Trusted Computing Group authentication process for trusted content. (Courtesy of Car Connectivity Consortium.)

What MirrorLink doesn’t yet support is video streaming, since drivers watching video is a no-no is cars (tell that to the Japanese who I’ve seen with TVs mounted in their cars!).

Android and Miracast
Miracast, on the other hand, is all about streaming. It’s a Wi-Fi Alliance spec recently demoed at CES 2013 that’s designed to stream video and photos from smartphones, tablets, and future embedded devices. Like Apple’s AirPlay, it moves stuff from a small screen onto a big TV screen. It’s based upon Wi-Fi’s not-new-but-rarely-used Wi-Fi Direct standard (WiDi 3.5) that avoids routers to establish peer-to-peer connectivity.

The Wi-Fi Alliance Miracast standard streams video from small to large screens, as shown in this excerpt from a YouTube video. (Courtesy of YouTube and Wi-Fi Alliance.)

The Wi-Fi Alliance Miracast standard streams video from small to large screens, as shown in this excerpt from a YouTube video. (Courtesy of YouTube and Wi-Fi Alliance.)

Miracast supports 1080p HD video, 5.1 surround, and CPUs from nVidia, TI, Qualcomm, Marvell and others have announced plans to support it. Built into the spec is the ability to stream DRM and HDCP protected content using already established HDMI and DisplayPort style copy protection schemes. I guess they figure if you’ve got the rights to play it on your phone, might as well play it on your TV too.

Last Fall, Google updated Android Jelly Bean to 4.2 and included Miracast as part of the update, and I’m thrilled that my Nexus 7 tablet can now, in theory, stream content to my Samsung Smart TV. As Android proliferates throughout the embedded market, I can envision commercial applications where a user might do more than stream a video to another embedded device. Sharing the entire smartphone’s screen can be useful for PowerPoint presentations or demoing just about any Android app in existence. If it’s on the phone’s screen, it can get mirrored via Wi-Fi to another screen.

Will MirrorLink and Miracast Converge?
I doubt the two standards will merge. MirrorLink is exclusively aimed at IVI systems in cars, and the closely curated standard is intended to vet applications to assure safe operation in a vehicle. Miracast is similar in that it mirrors a smartphone’s screen, but there are no limitations on moving between screens, so Miracast is clearly the superset standard to a broader market.

Ironically, as the Car Connectivity Consortium looks to release MirrorLink Version 2.0, they’re examining Miracast as a way to provide an “alternative video link” for streaming H.264 1080p@30 FPS into the car cabin.

Why? For passenger entertainment. Think about minivans (shudder) and Suburbans loaded with kids.