Another year is upon us, and anyone familiar with the tech industry knows that a new year brings plenty of new advances. Since we spend so much of our time helping our customers get the right product for their application, this is a good time for us to share what we’re excited about getting our hands on, as well as emerging trends in the overall industry.
Ivy Bridge, the next big … er, small thing.
The 32-nm Sandy Bridge was the most recent “Tock” on Intel’s Tick-Tock development cycle—a new architecture that leveraged improved processing. Next up is the “Tick,” the much-anticipated 22-nm die-shrink of the Sandy Bridge architecture, known as Ivy Bridge. We expect Ivy Bridge processors to hit mid-Q2. The big sell for these processors are improved graphics processing including native DirectX11 support for media-intensive applications, as well as lower power consumption thanks to new Tri-Gate Transistors. To facilitate the higher performance, the processors are equipped with more powerful integrated graphics chips and higher Turbo Boost frequencies—even the ULV processors get Turbo Boost.
So … what are these Tri-Gate Transistors? Crucial to semiconductor design are MOSFETS (metal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors), which are used to conduct and channel electrons between sources and drains by way of gates. Traditionally, transistors have been planar, and those familiar with Moore’s Law will know that miniaturization is both essential to improving manufacturing methods, and a constant challenge for engineers. By growing transistors vertically, Intel can continue to shrink the footprint of a chip while allowing more surface area for electron travel. Additional benefits include reduced leakage and substantial improvements in efficiency and power, with Intel claiming up to a 37% performance increase. Of particular interest to the IPC field is the note that the new transistor architecture cuts energy consumption in half at comparable performance levels.
The overarching message is that Ivy Bridge, while built upon the Sandy Bridge foundation, will be a massive paradigm shift. However, the newer processors are designed to be compatible with LGA 1155 and Socket G2 in embedded boards, allowing customers who have already made the jump to Sandy Bridge to realize additional gains without having to swap their whole platform. Additionally, the lower TDP means we can look forward to fanless systems adopting more powerful processors without concerns for overheating.
Cedar Trail Platform
The next generation of Intel Atom processors is perhaps a little less glamorous than the Ivy Bridge advances, but we’re not into glamor, we’re into efficiency and efficacy. The new Cedar View Atom processors look to deliver in spades. We’ve teased the upcoming releases before, and now Intel has finally blown the lid off the successors to the venerable Pineview Atoms.
The good folks at Windows For Devices have broken the news that Intel has shipped the first batches of Cedar Trail platform chips to manufacturers, and we should start seeing motherboards sporting these Cedar View CPUs toward the middle of this quarter. We already have one available from Jetway: the NC9KDL-2700.
So what makes the Cedar Trail platform so special? Like Ivy Bridge, power consumption is down and performance is up. Boards featuring these processors will be able to tackle 1080p video (something that the previous generation struggled with until the NVIDIA ION chipset came along) while boasting improved energy efficiency.
The new N2800 clocks in at 1.86 GHz and a 6.5 watt TDP, and is mightily impressive when stacked up against the current D525 processor. Also available are the N2600 at 1.6 GHz and an impressive 3.5 watts, the D2500 (1.86 watts), and the D2700 (2.13 GHz). New boards featuring these chips are already on the way—stay tuned for the DN2800MT and D2500CC from Intel, and the NF9D-2700 and NF9C-2600 from Jetway.
Is Now the Time to Upgrade to an SSD?
Not all news is good news, unfortunately: the tragic flooding in Thailand continues to affect hard disk drive suppliers, constricting availability and causing pricing to rise unpredictably. There’s no end to the shortage in sight; the supply chain issues should not come as a surprise, but Seagate and Western Digital also recently slashed their warranties, causing many in the industry to speculate whether this is a sign of the end times for the traditional platter drive.
The silver lining is that there is an alternative: the rising costs, in particular, are making entry-level SSDs much more attractive. Previously, a major deterrent for cost-sensitive customers was an SSD’s higher cost per gigabyte, but flash storage and HDDs are converging rapidly. Combined with SSDs’ significantly higher read-write speeds, far better resistance to shock and vibration, and much-improved reliability (most industrial SSD suppliers continue to offer 5-year warranties), an already-compelling option starts to become a practical option for many more system integrators. Industrial and mobile applications in particular can benefit from the increased shock and vibration tolerance of SSDs.
Wave your ARMs
ARM continues to provide a tantalizing beacon on the horizon to IPC retailers. On paper, ARM-based systems are perfect for discreet, application-tailored, energy-efficient human interface devices. So far, however, most of the tech we’ve seen available in the IPC industry is woefully outdated, much of it running on pre-Cortex hardware. Those that are fairly current tend to be priced far too high to compete with Intel Atom options, which still provide adequate performance in an energy-efficient package at a far lower price.
Lately, Android, one of the chief drivers behind ARM adoption for application development, is being made available for x86 platforms by open-source developers. The continued success of community projects like Pandaboard means that there’s room in the computer community for ARM-based solutions. Will 2012 be the year that a major manufacturer finally steps up and offers an ARM-based Mini-ITX board to compete with the Intel Atom? Let’s hope so!
Industrial Systems Featuring Power over Ethernet
You know what’s exciting? Reducing the number of cables needed to install a system. I remember my first HDMI hookup, and the joy I experienced as I got rid of the pesky VGA and 3.5 mm audio cable combo. Power Over Ethernet (POE) allows you to bring that joy to industrial automation and surveillance.
The Nuvo-1003B and Nuvo-1005B from our friends at Neousys have been a big hit with our customers seeking machine vision-capable systems. The Nuvo-1003B offers 3 GbE ports, and the Nuvo-1005B offers a whopping 5 GbE ports, all without needing costly and bulky network adapters. Well the hits just keep on coming, as Neousys is gearing up to unleash the Nuvo-1300 series, which offer first-gen Intel Core i-series processing power combined with four GbE POE ports adhering to IEEE 802.3af and providing 15.4 watts of DC power over each cable.
This allows users to power IP cameras or other compatible peripherals without needing to worry about the extra cabling associated with adapters and separate power supplies.
Caught in a WEBS
Compact fanless systems are an indelible part of our industry: they’re quiet, efficient, and easy to mount securely and out of the way. What they often lack, however, is processing power; to effectively use the smaller cooling surface offered by a compact enclosure, TDP must be kept as low as possible, and the bulk of fanless compact systems therefore rely on the Intel Atom N270.
The Portwell WEBS-1341 hits all the right notes, while running on a much more capable Intel Atom D525 processor. Its I/O is something to get worked up over, too: in addition to the standard VGA and four USB 2.0 ports, it offers dual Gb LAN ports and four RS-232 COM ports, making this a uniquely industrial platform for its size (which is just under 8″ x 2″ x 5.9″)
There’s so much more to look forward to this year—keep checking our blog as we bring you news throughout 2012, and thanks to our continued readers. Happy New Year!