I just got my hands on the $199 GizmoSphere kit (Fig. 1) developed by Sage Electronic Engineering. The GizmoSphere is a small, 4-in by 4-in (10.16 cm x 10.16 cm) motherboard with an amd 40nm G-Series APU (see APU Targets Embedded Applications).
AMD's G-Series (Fig. 2) combines the well known AMD Radeon GPU architecture with an x86 CPU. This is the same AMD Fusion architecture used in the higher end R-Series APU (see APU Blends Quad Core x86 With 384 Core GPU). The trick with the G-Series is keeping the power low. The chip on the GizmoSphere has a 6.5W TDP and the entire board uses under 10W.
The 64-bit Bobcat x86 core (Fig. 3) is designed for low power applications. It uses out-of-order execution with dual decode and has an advanced branch predictor unit. The 64-bit integer unit has two ALUs while the single floating-point unit uses two 64-bit data pipes. The core's' instruction and data caches are 32 Kbyte and there is a 512 Kbyte L2 cache.
While the CPU is powerful, the GPU is where the system gets its 52 GFLOP rating. The GPU has 80 floating point cores. The system also has hardware video streaming support as well so video playback does not have to eat power as on some systems. This is very handy for advanced digital signage applications.
The motherboard has 1 Gbyte of DDR3 SDRAM. It uses the A55E Controller Hub (Fig. 4) that adds a x1/x4 PCI Express link to the one on the APU. The motherboard provides access to two x1 PCI Express links. There is also support for GPIO, PWM, I2C, SPI, USB, SATA and Ethernet.
The back panel (Fig. 5) provides a standard set of connectors. These include gigabit Ethernet, 2 USB, audio (line in/out/mic), VGA and power. A header provides access to two more USB ports. There is one SATA connector on-board and an additional SATA connection via the high speed connector. The on-board SATA connector is paired with a 4-pin power header so an external supply is not required. On the other hand, I had to find a SATA power cable that would plug into the header. That was relatively easy in the lab here but might be a bit harder to find elsewhere. The Internet tends to be a good place to look.
The motherboard has a low speed and high speed edge connector with the following interfaces:
High speed 64-pin connector
- Two x1 PCI Express links
- USB 2.0
Low speed 36-pin connector
- USB 2.0
- ADC, DAC
The system comes with the SageBIOS that is based on open source coreboot project. This is written in C and you get the full source code. If you have a small application it could all fit into the BIOS although that is unlikely for processors of this class. The BIOS will boot all major operating systems and I tried out a couple Linux distributions using USB flash drive. Windows 8 will have to wait until I get the system hooked up to a hard drive.
The kit comes with the GizmoSphere Explorer board that plugs into the low speed connector. It has an LCD display and a header for an accompanying touch pad. The BIOS has a sample application that drives the LCD and echoes the keypress on the touch pad. There is a small patch area where the I/O pins are available. There is some motor control support on this board but not high voltage drivers.
The kit comes with Sage's SmartProbe JTAG unit (Fig. 6) but don't plug it in right away. It has a 20 hour use limit. I am not fond of expirationware but it is one way to get your hands on the hardware at a low cost. The time limit is based on debugging time but this only gives you a day or so to evaluate it. Of course, the system still works after that. Only the JTAG unit expires and a quick trip to the Internet with a credit card will fix that.
The other piece to the puzzle is Sage's EDK (embedded development kit). Like most vendors these days it is a customized version of Eclipse. Actually, I should say that it is a custom extended version since the stock Eclipse is the starting point and plug-ins are included. The EDK has a 30-day trial period but it is essentially needed to handle the SmartProbe so the timing is actually about right. The EDK and SmartProbe are what will be needed for heavy duty, low level debugging since you have full access to the underlying hardware. This is not the case when doing higher level debugging. If you are doing application programming or device drivers you can probably get away with the standard version of Eclipse or similar tools and work well with the GizmoSphere hardware. On the other hand, if low level device drivers or other hardware work is being done then the JTAG and EDK support will be invaluable. The kit lets you figure out what is needed and how well it works for you.
The GizmoSphere worked right out of the box. Even without the Explorer board, the process was simply a matter of plugging a VGA display, keyboard and power. Of course, the price would not be great if it where just the motherboard. The key is the JTAG and EDK support. That makes the price a bargain for evaluation but you will have to sign up for the JTAG and EDK support to get any work done with it. Overall a very nice solution.
Here are a few videos about the AMD G-Series on EngineeringTV.
Kelly Gillilan from AMD explains some of the differences between their G-Series and new R-Series APUs, including a completely new core design, significant performance improvements and more.
The AMD Embedded G-Series, based on AMD Fusion technology, delivers a complete, full-featured embedded platform and incorporates the new low-power, x86 CPU based on the "Bobcat" core with a world-class DirectX 11-capable GPU and parallel processing engine on a single piece of silicon.
Cameron Swen from AMD showcases the capabilities of their G-Series embedded platform which is ideal for applications where designers need a combination of low power and high-end graphics, such as digital signage.