Electronic Design
Netbook Atom For Embedded Apps?

Netbook Atom For Embedded Apps?

Intel's 64-bit N2600 and N2800 dual core Atoms (Fig. 1) are built using the latest 32nm technology. They are designed for the tablet and netbook market featuring low power requirements and wireless support including Intel WiDi that can provide HD connections to displays and HDTVs. Small set top boxes supporting WiDi are already available from a number of vendors like Belkin's Belkin ScreenCast TV Adapter. These network boxes also support streaming services like Netflix.

Of course, if you are developing tablets or netbooks these chips have been in the labs for awhile. On the other hand, the feature set is amenable to other embedded applications as well including purpose built tablets or even non-battery powered devices. Power is a major issue in almost all designs these days so the fanless, low power products like these are desirable. These new chips support the C6 C-State power management interface providing a wider range of power management options.

Looking at the details is what will make or break the choice of chips for most designers. On the plus side, these are low power chips with a 3.5W TDP for the 1.6 GHz N2600 and 6.5W for the 1.86 GHz N2800. The trade off is the 400MHz graphics support in the N2600 versus the 800 MHz support of the N2800. Both include hardware support for HD video decoding allowing them to be used in multimedia digital signage applications. The 1 Mbyte of L2 cache is split between cores.

Each core supports 2 threads via Intel's Hyper-Threading support. The downside is the lack of virtualization (VT-x) support. This is not much of an issue for many embedded applications but virtualization is becoming more prevelant in embedded designs for reasons such as security.

These two new chips are only part of the Cedar Trail family that is in turn part of the Atom family. Developers have a choice of a wide range of chips with many different options. For example, there are 32-bit Atom processors and the E6xx family includes VT-x support. Just to mix up the waters, the E6xx has 32-bit and 64-bit variants.

The NM10 Express Chipset is the twin for the N2600 and N2800 as it is for most of the Atom chips. The NM10 has the usual mobile peripheral complement including HD audio support, 8 USB 2.0 ports, 2 PCI ports, 4 PCIe x1 ports, a 10/100 Ethernet MAC, and two 3 Gbit/s SATA ports. PCI support will be key to support many legacy peripherals while PCI Express support addresses new devices.

Many of the comments on the web regarding these new chips were more about the netbook market and its declining consumer status in many regions. This should not deter developers from choosing the chips for embedded applications though. These chip families also have embedded options available from Intel.

Forecasting what chips will wind up in the embedded market is tough since the choices are very application dependent. For example, the HD qualities may not be useful in some applications while a requirement in others. In any case, these chips are likely to find homes in some unlikely places.

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