Tunnel Creek, Intel’s latest Atom processor, is now known as the E6xx series (Fig. 1). This system-on-a-chip (SoC) also diverges from previous generations by utilizing PCI Express (Fig. 2) as its primary peripheral interconnect. PCI Express can link the processor to typical peripheral hubs like the matching EG20T, but it works as well with any type of device with a PCI Express interface.
Having multiple PCI Express links on the SoC makes it possible to tack on multiple hubs. But it also means that less substantial, lower-power devices can be connected to the chip as well.
For example, a two-port Ethernet gateway is easily constructed using a pair of PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet chips. Connecting an FPGA to the system is now a relatively trivial, glueless process given FPGAs with built-in PCI Express links or a soft-core PCI Express block.
The E6xx incorporates video, audio, and memory support, enabling it to be a standalone though somewhat limited device in terms of peripheral support. It is possible, though, to boot from a serial peripheral interface (SPI) serial flash memory chip in addition to PCI Express devices including PCI Express flash memory modules.
The impressive audio and video support makes the family ideal for multimedia applications. The video hardware includes 2D and 3D acceleration with a unified pixel/vertex shader in addition to video MPEG4, H.264, and H.263 decode and encode support. It can drive one low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) and one serial digital video output (SDVO) display.
The E6xx series isn’t the fastest Atom around, but it will be one of the most long-lived platforms. Intel will provide these chips for at least seven years. The family starts up at 600 MHz and currently tops out at 1.6 GHz. These low-power processors are likely to show up in conduction-cooled platforms. The 600-MHz E620 starts under $20.
Tunnel Creek Overflows the Banks
The combination of low cost, low power, and long life is making the E6xx very popular even at its initial release. Just about every module and board form factor is cropping up with an E6xx processor onboard.
Kontron’s nanoETXexpress-TT (Fig. 3) uses the new PICMG COM Express Type 10 connection and Intel’s EG20T hub. The module has a microSD socket and up to 2 Gbytes of soldered DDR2 memory.
Emerson Network Power’s NITX-300 (Fig. 4) series Nano-ITX (120 by 120 mm) motherboards use the EG20T hub and have up to 1 Gbyte of soldered DDR2 memory. They expose the range of peripheral interfaces, including serial advanced technology attachment (SATA) and controller area network (CAN).
Intel’s E6xx is already having a significant impact for embedded designers. It will be interesting to see designs that do not take advantage of the EG20T.