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COMs with AMD G-Series SoC processors: Less space, more power

With the introduction of the SoC version of its G-Series processors, AMD has set a new milestone in the integration of x86 processor technology. Designed for embedded applications, they offer long-term availability of five plus two years. Users benefit from high graphics performance and open programmability in a small footprint. congatec has integrated these processors on Computer-on-Modules (COMs) in a move to round off the company’s range of high-graphics, low-power modules for compact form factors.

Combining graphics and processor technology in a single package has given AMD an excellent basis from which to offer extremely efficient x86-based SoC solutions which combine CPU, GPU and chipset on a single chip. Typical application areas for such highly integrated solutions are found mainly in small form factor (SFF) designs versus the desktop PC and notebook markets. The focus is on the multitude of embedded applications, such as medical imaging, where high graphics performance and open x86 programmability are required in a small form factor.

A long-term embedded success 

The company has been very successful with this product strategy. AMD CEO Rory Read recently announced that over the next three years the company plans to shed about 40-50% of its portfolio in markets growing faster than legacy PCs in which the company’s IP plays a significant role. According to Read, AMD also plans to make about 20% of its quarterly sales from the embedded business by the fourth quarter of 2013 and therefore invests strongly in this market. The company has, for example, invested in FAEs dedicated 100% to looking after embedded customers in Europe.

With such a clear roadmap and proven success with semi-custom designs, such as in the console market, where seven years between generations defines long term availability,  AMD has proven it can offer a sound solution for the medical sector.  But why do developers of medical devices need such a powerful integrated embedded SoC and a clear embedded roadmap?

More power, less watts and space

Medical devices and medical PCs need to become ever more powerful, faster, and smarter, ultimately to save money and improve patient care. This is possible thanks to smaller, more powerful processors that enable an increasingly wider use of computer technology, for example in the home care sector. Many medical applications require particularly fast data processing and visualisation, for example in emergency service vehicles, during hospital consultations, at the bedside or in the operating theatre. This applies both to stationary and mobile medical devices - such as extremely compact ultrasound devices the size of traditional notebooks - as well as medical Tablet PCs and patient data monitoring systems (PDMS). Thanks to ever higher display resolutions, increasing amounts of data from diagnostic imaging and higher information density in visualisation applications, embedded processors must be capable of processing and presenting more and more graphical source data. At the same time, devices need to become more compact, energy-efficient and cost-effective in order to succeed in an increasingly mobile and wider field of application.

More performance for classic tasks

This requires more computing power in a smaller footprint. The classic PC processor cores, of which the AMD G-Series SoC platform integrates two or four, are well suited for traditional IT tasks, in particular the rapid execution of applications such as RIS (Radiology Information System), HIS (Hospital Information System), PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) and MS office programs. Here, the AMD G-Series SoCs offer up to 113 percent greater CPU performance compared to the AMD Embedded G-Series APUs. Compared to the Intel Atom CPU performance improvements are as high as 125 percent.

Dedicated computing power is key

Overall computing power is important, but when it comes to processing and displaying two- and three-dimensional image and video data, there are more efficient cores, such as those provided by the integrated AMD Radeon graphics processors. Despite its compact size the new AMD G-Series SoC platform features powerful graphics processing: Up to 20% higher performance compared to AMD G-Series APUs and a five-fold improvement over the Intel Atom. In addition, AMD has designed it as a programmable, high-performance processing unit for parallel data processing. Typical applications include image processing tasks in diagnostic workstations and image generation from sensor data in ultrasound devices and radiology systems. For such applications, the integrated GPU provides a computing power of up to 256 GFLOPs via OpenCL APIs. On the mechanical side, the highly integrated SoCs have an extremely small footprint in 28 nm technology: They require only 600.25 mm² on the PCB, despite the fact that they already integrate the I/O controller. The processor also implements all the standard interfaces such as PCIe®, SATA and USB in a small space - even including super-fast USB 3.0.

GPUGPU programming

The integrated AMD Radeon graphics processors have significantly more processing cores than traditional x86 CPUs and can achieve several GFLOPS of computing power. For the programming of the graphics units, AMD relies on proven standards such as DirectCompute (Microsoft) and OpenCL™. Thanks to the portability of OpenCL, programmers can reuse costly source investments not only across several product generations, but also across the entire spectrum of AMD APUs and the new G-Series SoC platforms. This is crucial in customer applications that need to execute a variety of workloads in the most cost and energy-efficient way. For example, there are complex ultrasound solutions that work with multiple graphics cards in parallel in a rack system. In this scenario, the CPU load is small while the graphics cores are working hard processing parallel threads.


Advantages of COMs 

The benefits of the latest processors, however, present medical device developers with a number of practical challenges: High integration density with barely resolvable pin grid array interfaces on the one hand, and extremely high clock frequencies and a higher slope on the other. Proper implementation and functioning requires specialist know-how that rarely is a core competency of a medical device manufacturer. It therefore makes practical and economic sense to buy the critical "core module" as a pre-integrated computer-on-module (COM). The experience of the module supplier and the effects of consolidation translate into a number of benefits for the device manufacturer:

  • Scalability thanks to module interchangeability as necessary.
  • Pre-integrated platform (no problems with the often very specialized hardware around the processor; drivers and board support packages are readily available for several operating systems).
  • Shorter development times and reduced time-to-market as much development, testing and debugging effort is eliminated.
  • Highest quality thanks to the special know-how of the module supplier and qualitative consolidation effects at the supplier thanks to feedback from many different customers.

It is also useful and practical for other important system components to be pre-integrated on the COM or to have the option to configure them. This applies in particular to battery management systems in battery-powered or battery-backed units.

AMD G-Series SoC on COM Express Compact

An ideal solution for new mobile low-power designs and stationary systems in the medium performance range comes in the shape of the Type 6 COM Express Compact module conga-TCG. It is based on the highly integrated AMD Embedded G-Series SoC and its benefits include compact design with optimized graphics and performance per watt. High integration on a single chip also makes it ideal for cost-sensitive applications. It is currently available in four performance variants, starting with a dual-core version with a TDP of only 9 watts, up to a quad-core version with 2.0 GHz and 25 watts TDP. It also supports the latest interfaces such as USB 3.0 and can control up to two displays simultaneously. Four PCI Express x1 Gen 2 lanes, two USB 3.0 ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, two SATA 3 Gb/s ports and a Gigabit Ethernet interface allow flexible system expansion at high data bandwidths.

If the bandwidth of these new modules is not enough, developers can choose from a broad range of other high-performance embedded computer-on-modules with long-term available AMD processor technology. Flagship in the highest performance category is the AMD R-Series.

AMD R-Series on COM Express Basic

For applications in the top performance range requiring ultimate graphics a COM Express Type 6 Basic module best utilizes the advantages of the AMD Embedded R-Series APUs. These modules provide powerful graphics and excellent performance/watt values for demanding applications. The conga-TFS, for instance, offers ultimate graphics representation for a wide range of medical applications.

Since it connects seamlessly to the performance of the conga-TCG, developers benefit from massive scalability when designing low-power mobile devices to stationary high-performance systems based on COM Express. The integrated graphics core supports DirectX® 11 and OpenGL 4.2 for fast 2D and 3D image display up to 4k (3940 x 2160 pixels). This allows use in sophisticated diagnostics workstations or systems for pre-operative preparation, which show no pixels even when viewed up close. For the direct control of up to three independent displays the module features three DisplayPort 1.2, two single-link DVI as well as VGA or 18/24Bit single/dual channel LVDS graphics interfaces.

AMD G-Series on ETX/XTX modules for legacy applications

ETX with ISA bus and XTX without ISA bus are implemented as proven standards in many existing medical applications. To upgrade these with modern graphics and computing power, congatec offers the ETX COM conga-EAF and the XTX COM conga-XAF. Both modules are based on AMD G-Series APUs and are available with single core or dual core processors and thermal dissipation of 9-18 watts. While the conga-EAF provides full ISA bus support via ITE8888G, the conga-XAF provides 4 external PCI Express lanes to the base board.