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Intel details embedded, SoC moves

September 16, 2010 // Rick Merritt

Intel details embedded, SoC moves

Intel has provided more details about its latest set-top box and embedded processors and the system-on-chip program behind them in a technical session at the Intel Developer Forum.

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The PC giant now has a base architecture for spinning out SoC variations based on Atom cores, and it plans to roll an increasing number of integrated chips with each new process generation. Intel has plans for multiple SoCs in 2011 using the 32nm Atom core called Medfield and even more for a follow on 22nm core in 2012, said Raj Yavatkar, director of SoC architecture at Intel.

Intel has defined a number of proprietary on-chip interconnects for its SoCs. They include an internal I/O fabric and memory fabrics geared to maintain software compatibility with Windows, PC Linux and the x86 coherency model for media and graphics, he said.

The E6xx series, formerly Tunnel Creek, officially announced this week integrates a memory controller derived from Intel's Lincroft PC chip set supporting up to a Gbyte of main memory on a 667-800 MHz DDR2 link. It supports Intel's SSE3 media extensions, includes a 400 MHz graphics block with 2-D and 3-D hardware acceleration and can handle H.264 baseline encoding and high-profile decoding.

Intel already has 60 early access partners working with versions of the chip, about 80 percent of them system or board-level customers for the part, said Jonathan Luse, director of marketing for low-power embedded products at Intel. Five companion hub chips are in development for the E6xx, three from Oki and one each from Intel, Realtek and STMicroelectronics.

"I welcome as many hubs as the market would bear," said Luse in an interview with EE Times.

Yavatkar also provided more details about the Intel CE 4200, formerly Groveland, an SoC primarily aimed at cable-TV set-top boxes. It integrates support for MoCA home networking, stereo 3-D display, the HDMI 1.4a interconnect and video transcoding.

The CE 4200 includes a 1.2 GHz Atom core, an SGX535 graphics block from Imagination Technologies and a memory controller supporting two DDR3 channels. The part sports upgraded power management to support Energy Star branded systems and supports conditional access and ad insertion.

Little new information was released in technical sessions and interviews about Stellerton, a combination of Atom and Altera FPGA cores on a single package and one of the most intrigueing of Intel's new embedded products.

In a separate session with Intel fellows, Yavatkar said Stellerton opens a door for Intel to more flexibility in designing integrated embedded components. James Held, a fellow who directs Intel's terascale computing program said the device could eliminate the need for ASICs in many systems.

Luse said one of the uses for the FPGA die would be in industrial applications where engineers need to support a wide variety of interfaces such as Profibus or FieldBus. That suggests the size of the FPGAs in Stellerton might be relatively small.

Neither Intel nor Altera would give any details about what FPGAs will be used. Altera did confirm it will supply die to Intel and only Intel will sell the chips. Luse said the deal with Altera was not exclusive and Intel could strike similar deals with other FPGA makers or other kinds of chip designers.

The Stellerton device in part fills a gap left open when Intel's deal to work with TSMC on an Atom SoC service was put on hiatus. The two companies planned to design and build custom Atom-based SoCs using a 45nm TSMC process.

One analyst speculated the duo found no takers for the service, perhaps because of fears of sharing custom design ideas with Intel or concerns the 45nm Atom part was too power hungry for battery-operated systems. Luse suggested the downturn played a role in the failure of the service to gain traction.

After "they ported the [Atom] core the business environment changed, and relative to all the other things we had to do we prioritized Tunnel Creek and put our efforts behind that," Luse said.


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