Dual-core computer-on-modules offer enhanced performance

Paul Boughton

Zeljko Loncaric looks at a dual-core processor which offers 2GHz dual clock speed at 31W667FSB and 2MB L2 cache.

Dual-core processors offer enhanced performance and use less power to give the same performance. This was the crucial argument for Pentium M and therefore also for dual-core.

To get this new technology implemented most efficiently in custom designscomputer-on-modules are first choice. The first available computer-on-modules based on the ETXexpress/COM Express standard initiated by Kontron and officially launched by PICMG (eg the Kontron ETXexpress-CD) are equipped with the Intel Core Duo processor introduced in January for the notebook sector and with a 945GM chipset. They offer 2GHz dual clock speed at 31W667FSB and 2MB L2 cache.

Howeverto understand the full implications of 2GHz on a dual-core processorwe need to compare it with single-core Pentium M and desktop processors. The single-core 2GHz Pentium M has approximately the same speed as the 3.2GHz Pentium4. This means that the new 2GHz dual-core processors are theoretically equivalent to a desktop performance of 6.4GHz. Kontron’s initial tests have confirmed this theory as far as possible.

If we compare the Intel PentiumM756 processor (2.1GHz) with the Intel Core Duo processor (2.16GHz)we can see that productivity increases at the same clock frequency and with standard Office applications:

  • Floating-point performance +96.5percent.
  • Integer performance +89.3percent.
  • 3DMark +100percent.

In other wordsperformance is almost doubled at the same clock speed and with single-threaded software. In the futureperformance can be expected to increase exponentially with multi-threaded software with VT. Soif you are wondering which processor to embed in your next systemthe answer is most definitely a dual-core.

A longer battery life

In addition to the enhanced performancedual-core also offers a longer battery life than single-core Pentium M processors. This is largely due to the dual-core principle itselfwherebyonce a core has completed a taskit can switch to idle mode to save power. This option is not available with single-core processorswhere the processor continues to work until all tasks have been completed. With dual-corethe battery life is increased by approximately 25percentdepending on the application(s) runningand is therefore equal to five rather than four hours.

Virtualisation technology

Howeverin addition to the purely performance-related (per Watt) improvementthe emerging virtualisation technologywhich will become a standard component of all Intel platformsis also of interest for embedded systems. Virtualisation technology makes hardware management even simpler because multiple operating systems and applications can run as ‘virtual machines’ within independent partitions. This makes the entire system more stable because processes that could potentially collide on single-core systems can be kept apartwhich means that previously standalone systemssuch as control programsfirewalls or data servers can be integrated into a single system butat the same timeare completely isolated from the other solutions in that system. This reduces costs dramatically. The various operating system manufacturers will play their part in supporting virtualisation technology.

For exampleRedHatSuse and Montavista will offer the Public Domain XAN Virtual Machine Monitor together with their software in a bundle.

Extensive expertise has to be offered to OEMs to help them implement the new technology into their application in order to minimise their time to market. So starter kits for ETXexpress/COM Express based modules have been bundled and are ready to order. With starter kitsdevelopers have all the tools they need to quickly analyse the possibilities of applying COM Express for their purposes and rapidly implement them as marketable applications with ETXexpress. With components such as an evaluation boarda power supplya DVD drive and documentationthe ETXexpress starter kit supplies all of the hardware and software needed for development work with COM Express.

An ATX baseboard serves as the evaluation boardwith PCI ExpressPCI Express Graphicsserial ATA and USB2.0 – all of the interfaces defined in the COM Express specification. Classic interfaces such as VGAPS2 and Ethernet RJ45 as well as parallel and serial ports round out the communications possibilities. The ETXexpress-PM module can be freely configured in terms of processor and DDR2 SODIMM.

Customer-specific designs are in addition implemented by the ‘boards & MORE’ development centre established some years ago by Kontron Embedded Modules in Kaufbeuren.

Beside the brand new technologies based on ETXexpress and Dual Core the established Computer-on-Modules standard ETX has become a facelift. The result: no other competitive form factor between ETX and ETXexpress (including mircoTEXTexpress) will have a real chance to get established. The release of the ETX3.0 specification for computer-on-modules brings in 2x Serial ATA without changing any of the ETX pinsmaking new modules 100percent pin-to-pin compatible with previous versions and ensuring long-term support for the vast number of embedded application solutions based on these already highly integrated COMs including medicalgaming and entertainmentmilitary and aerospaceetc.

ETX3.0 modulessuch as the Kontron’s ETX-LXintegrate 2x Serial ATA via two slim line connectors that are designed onto the top-side of the CPU module itself rather than requiring the ETX-connectors of the module and carrier board to be redefined. As a resultexisting carrier board designs can remain unmodified in order for the solution to take advantage of faster Serial ATA hard drives. ETX3.0 also defines USB2.0 to be used via the existing ETX connectors.

Kontron along with ADLINKEvalueMSC and other supporting members of the ETX Industrial Group (www.etx-ig.org) have adopted ETX3.0 with the intention of keeping the standard viable until at least 2010. Additional modules built around dual-core processors and others from IntelAMDand VIA are planned for release over the course of the year with more to follow. 

Zeljko Loncaric is Junior Product Marketing Manager for Modules at KontronEchingGermany. www.kontron-emea.com