Congatec AG
We simplify the use of embedded technology

congatec presents Qseven for industrial use

Powerful space saver

For the industrial automation industry , German module specialist congatec has launched an ultra-compact COM (Computer-on-Module) in the proven Qseven form factor equipped with the single-chip E3800 Intel® Atom™ processor family (codenamed Bay Trail). Thanks to its low power draw, the module is ideal for enclosed x86-based industrial applications demanding small footprints and low power consumption.

For a long time the use of embedded computers in industrial automation was limited to singular control systems and large, backplane-based modular computer systems. In recent years, however, a shift has taken place towards compact yet powerful computer systems based on COMs. The benefits are compelling: System manufacturers no longer need to worry about developing the latest computer systems because they can now buy pre-integrated mature and turnkey systems from their module suppliers. This allows them to concentrate on their core competence as mechanical engineers, building optimized interface connections on a separate carrier board for specific tasks, and developing the necessary software.

 

Currently, the most commonly used COM standards for new developments are COM Express and Qseven. The older ETX standard and its update XTX are gradually losing relevance. This is of little wonder since these older standards are still based exclusively on the parallel bus architectures of the late 90s. While COM Express is currently migrating from the older Type 2 to the Type 6 pinout to accommodate the latest serial bus variants, the Qseven standard is completely legacy-free. Now with version 2.0 this standard also supports ARM processors. Qseven is designed as a compact, small footprint standard with strictly defined thermal and mechanical interfaces that limit heat dissipation (Thermal Design Power, TDP) to a maximum of 12 Watts. For this reason, only processors from the AMD G-Series and Intel's Atom family have been used to date.

 

While previous Atom processors were known for their low power draw, their performance was fairly limited. This was due to several reasons: the microarchitecture changed little since the introduction of the Atom family, based on the Silverthorne microarchitecture, more than five years ago and there were no tick-tock cycles (annually alternating updates of microarchitecture and manufacturing technology) as with Core i-Series processors. Developments included only a few extensions (Intel64 instruction set, dual core, hyperthreading, HD capable graphics) and adjustments to the manufacturing process. The graphics performance of the previous graphics processor, missing out-of-order execution (a more efficient way of processing internal data flow) and the absence of a turbo mode led to a growing gap to the more powerful models of the Core i-Series and a decline in competitiveness against the growing competition of AMD processors. Moreover, since large parts of the existing x86 software are optimized for out-of-order execution, this frequently caused incompatibilities that meant additional programming and debugging effort.

Redesign gives new Atom processor more power

The migration to the new Silvermont microarchitecture with many useful, well-known Core i-Series processor extensions, the introduction of out-of-order execution to accelerate data flow computation and more competitive graphics with DirectX 11 and OpenGL 3.2 support bring the new Atom processors technologically back to the leading edge. The performance gap between previous Atom processors and Core i processors filled by AMD in the past can now be closed by Intel itself with the new Bay Trail-I family of Atom processors. Their features and capabilities offer an ideal progression from the lower performance end of the current Ivy Bridge generation. Thanks to leading-edge 22 nm tri-gate manufacturing technology, it is possible to offer low power consumption with competitive performance at attractive prices. Intel claims to achieve triple performance for equal power consumption or five times less power consumption for equal performance compared to previous Atom processors. For the first time, Atom processors are now also available as quad-core processors. These extend the range of current dual-core processors with hyperthreading, which is no longer available for new Atom processors. The newly introduced Burst Technology allows individual cores within the thermal budget and the graphics to be clocked much higher dependent on the load, which leads to further increases in achievable peak performance.

 

The graphics is based on the Intel Gen7 graphics, as used in the HD3000 of the Ivy Bridge generation. It supports current DirectX version 11 and OpenGL in version 3.2, as well as hardware encoding and decoding of HD video. However, it provides only 4, instead of 16, execution units resulting in a corresponding performance drop at approximately the same clock frequencies. Despite the marked difference to the i-Series processors, the performance is still an order of magnitude better than previous models and sufficient for most industrial applications.

 

With AES-NI, Atom processors for the first time are offering hardware support for the widely used AES encryption algorithm. It is now also possible with an Atom processor to encrypt or decrypt data stored or to be transmitted in real-time without significantly burdening the CPU. This is particularly important when using semiconductor mass storage devices (SSDs), since it is virtually impossible to erase data completely on these devices.

 

Intel® VT-x virtualization technology and thermal monitoring are also supported. The new and improved power management supports power saving modes up to C6 plus Intel SpeedStep® technology. The latter was supported by some previous models as well. For added security, a Secure Boot option enables the designation of specific boot loaders in the active UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) to prevent the loading of malfunctioning software or other unwanted or unauthorized programs.

 

With USB3.0, embedded DisplayPort (eDP), SATA Gen2 and PCI Express Gen2, the new Atom processors are now equipped with all modern interfaces on-chip, thereby providing a true System-on-Chip (SoC).

Perfect for small footprint industrial uses and passive cooling: The new conga-QA3 module in an ultra compact Qseven format

As a long-standing Intel partner and founder of the well-established worldwide Qseven standard, German computer module specialist congatec is in a position to offer the new conga-QA3 Qseven COM at the time of Intel’s new processor generation launch. Customers receive not only a high-performance module measuring only 70x70 mm², but also all related carrier boards and development systems including software and support for the development of their own systems.

 

The features of the conga-QA3 in detail:

 

The conga-QA3 is currently available with single-core to quad-core embedded processor versions of the Intel Atom E3800 family, as well as matching embedded Celeron processors. In the future, the embedded Celeron will also include affordable volume models of Intel’s Bay Trail family. What all these processors have in common is that they are all executed as single-chip processors, with graphics and appropriate chipsets pre-integrated in the housing. Another important advantage for embedded users is the long-term availability of processors and modules of at least seven years.

 

The module supports fast dual-channel DDR3L memory up to 8GB and up to 4GB in single-channel mode for the low-end versions. Current modules are shipped with 2GB dual-channel DDR3L memory with a capacity of 1,333 MT/sec. 4GB of eMMC Flash are available as standard mass storage which can be used as an SSD and boot device.

 

The integrated graphics, which is considerably more powerful than earlier models, supports DirectX 11.0, OpenGL 3.2, hardware encoding/decoding of different standards in full HD, including H.264, and two independent, high-resolution display interfaces with resolutions of 1920x1200 pixels (eDP/LVDS/HDMI) and 2560x1600 pixels (DisplayPort).

Thanks to native USB 3.0 support, the module provides fast data transmission with low power consumption. A total of six USB 2.0 ports plus one USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port are provided. Two SATA 3G ports with up to 3 Gb/s and a Gigabit Ethernet interface enable fast and flexible system extensions. Active fan control, LPC bus for easy integration of legacy I/O interfaces, I²C bus, Intel® High Definition Audio and UART and SPI interfaces round off the feature set. An onboard integrated Feature Connector provides an additional MIPI-compatible (Mobile Industry Processor Interface) camera interface. Supported operating systems include Windows 8, Windows 7, and embedded Linux.

Markets and applications

Thanks to its compact size and high performance with low power consumption, the conga-QA3 is particularly well suited for applications that require a small footprint and passive cooling. For instance, highly compatible, high-performance x86-based embedded systems for harsh industrial applications can be hermetically sealed in pocket book size. The small footprint and powerful serial communication architecture enable easy and cost effective implementation of high-performance systems. Long-term availability of chip and COM of at least 7 years, combined with high reliability due to the exclusive use of ceramic capacitors, make the conga-QA3 the perfect solution for safe and reliable operation over an extended temperature range and in harsh industrial environments. Full x86 code compatibility and minimum power consumption present a definite advantage over comparable ARM-based systems. Existing x86 applications can continue to be used without the need  to laboriously port them to a new platform. The integrated HD and touch-sensitive graphics which supports two independent, high-resolution displays further enables typical applications such as display PCs and touch screen machine controllers. For safety-critical applications, the increased performance now allows the use of modern virtualization technologies, such as a hypervisor, while built-in AES-NI hardware support guarantees secure data encryption without overloading the CPU.

A look into the future

The new Atom generation finally closes the performance gap between previous Atom processors and the high-performance but power-hungry processors of the Core i-Series. It considerably widens the range of applications in which the Qseven standard can be used and comes at an extremely attractive price. For industrial users, it opens up new application areas for which there was simply not enough power in the past because of the TDP limit of 12 Watts. For customers who wish to scale up their product portfolio further or who are already using COMs, congatec also offers modules based on the new Atom processors in the proven COM Express Compact form factor. In the future, Qseven will be the first choice for newcomers to modular technology when it comes to designing energy-saving, ultra-compact applications with passive cooling. As an expert in modular technology, congatec supports both standards and can give unbiased advice to clients.