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Atom(ic) power, no its not 50's/60's retro !

I got to look at a new processor today (in fact, just a few hours ago) that I first heard about months ago and I started calling Intel CPU vendors about it. What really got my interest is that a lot of them were ready with WORKING prototypes and could come talk to me about them ( but unfortunately would not leave them with me!
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Written by Xwindowsjunkie on

I got to look at a new processor today (in fact, just a few hours ago) that I first heard about months ago and I started calling Intel CPU vendors about it. What really got my interest is that a lot of them were ready with WORKING prototypes and could come talk to me about them ( but unfortunately would not leave them with me!). Since I'm always looking for something new and loooooow powered, I couldn't believe it when they also told me that it would be available in Industrial temperature range, -40 to 85C, Real Soon Now! My engineering soul was in momentary bliss! Then my skeptical/practical side said; "Wait a minute! What is RSN defined as?" Last Q 2008. "Yeah. If TinkerBell comes and sprinkles fairy dust on the freaking IC lithos!", says I to myself.

Well today the Monks of St. Moore (in the video and live presentations his blessed name was mentioned with reference at least once if not a dozen times) confirmed that 4Q2008. Yeah! X86-mas presents! (the Ebeneezer Scrooge in me says, "We'll see Tiny Tim!")

Loooooow powered in the Industrial market is defined as something that is less than 5 watts, if you had to, you could run it off a small battery. 5 Watts of power is low enough that you can feel it and you know its on, no LED needed. 1 or 2 watts though is better and (an LED helps to tell you its on) the afore-not-mentioned device is much closer to 2 watts than 5 watts when running at 1.3 Ghz. (remember we're talking Industrial here not Gaming)

It will address 1 GBytes of DDR2 RAM. It has all the PC I/O goodies we've all come to expect on a full SBC. But outside of the IO interface chips or Ethernet Phys, everything fits into 2 parts! Yes that includes 2 XVGA interfaces! The only thing missing is a SATA interface but you don't really need that when it will talk directly to on-board Flash memory 2GB to 16GB configured as a PATA/IDE drive.

So, here's the "quickie" take-away for the engineering types-

NO FANS ever. None, Nada, Nyet, Nien.

It will run on D cells if necessary. It has a new power-down mode that literally turns the CPU core completely off. Register contents are dumped into flash space. Wake-up-and-resume time was not typified exactly but it was described as mere milliseconds. We're talking Rip Van Winkle hibernation mode here. OS and Embedded Geek Nirvana!

It has the complete PC on a 2 chip chipset that takes up less than a couple of square inches of pcb. A COM Express form factor board is 7 by 10 CM and that includes 2 100 pin connectors, 1 GB of RAM, a 2GB flash drive and a few power regulators and an LVDS interface for video. More than one manufacturer had the COM board configuration. My guess is that the COM Express board was the Reference design from the hardware monks.

If you want less than Industrial temp range, ie Commercial 0-50C, you can get them in a few weeks.

It has 2 XVGA interfaces that have a couple of output options. But you aren't limited strictly to the landscape VGA layouts. They are layout programmable!

USB2, PCI-Express, Ethernet, SPI, SD RAM, Serial COM ports, and other bits and pieces including some digital I/O pins are all there. Actually the I/O "Southbridge" and the Flash packages are much larger than the CPU chip.

Support from the driver coding monks include everything except MAC OS-X. That includes all the major protestant schism faiths of Linux.

This chip can be used in lots of different devices but personally it looks like it can make my "Dream Machine" come true. A computer that turns on so fast I don't perceive it doing so and is RUNNING EXACTLY where I left it the last time when I open the display from the keyboard. That it will fit into my plastic pocket protector perfectly! ( I couldn't resist!) And that when I shut it, it turns "off" without requiring the hibernation idiocy of Windows XP or pushing the Start button to Shut it down.

More tomorrow when I've had a chance to verify some of the spec sheets and can do a better job of describing the product.

Update -- I just got a quick look at Rupert's post. A good one. I'll focus tomorrow on what I liked and didn't in the Atom. Obviously Temperature is one of the issues I liked. I can count on one hand the number of x86 CPUs that can operate at 85C without a FAN and heatsink.

Also tomorrow--Microsoft has announced Windows XP Embedded Standard today. To tell you the truth I skipped that to go to Dallas and get the gospel from the Monks of St. Moore. I will view the canned video message from Redmond and try to discern what the blazes they have been e-frothing* about for the last month. *(emails touting a new announcement that will be made)

Special Note--Why I obsess about Operating Temperature Ranges

The point of having low power consumption in the CPU combined with the Industrial temperature range capability is because when you are running your equipment outside in sunny Bahrain or icing up in the North Sea, you want it and the TFT-LCD display with it to work properly.

In Bahrain, sunlight readable displays have to use HOT fluorescent backlights just to be readable in sunlight. If they get too hot, they go black, sometimes the added 5 watts is just enough extra to blacken the screen. In the North Sea, the added heat would be fine but you need to add MORE heat just to get the faceplate up to the low operating range of the TFTs! They freeze up at 0C but the CPU also needs to be running. And both temperature extremes cause your product to require more power sometimes than is possible to deliver to the product in those situations, hence my thermal obsession. (I just thank my lucky stars I don't have to deal with Automotive temp ranges!)

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