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Intel Atom x6000E processor series - Combining the best of many worlds

  Knowledge

The Intel Atom x6000E processor series, codenamed “Elkhart Lake” (EHL), is the latest member of the processor family and features capabilities for a wide range of industrial applications. As a system-on-a-chip (SoC), it contains numerous I/Os that have never before been available on an Intel SoC.

The core of the Intel Atom x6000E series processor is a dual chip solution integrated into a 35×24mm BGA package. The CPU complex is based on Intel's 10nm process technology with up to four (Tremont) cores with 1.5MB L2 and 4MB LLC cache. This results in up to a 1.7x improvement in single-thread performance and up to a 1.5x improvement in multi-thread performance compared to Intel's Apollo Lake architecture, with the same power dissipation. Intel's Ultra High Definition (UHD) graphics engine with twice the graphics performance has the ability to drive a maximum resolution of 4kp60 on up to three simultaneous displays. The memory controller sup-ports DDR4/LPDDR4 with up to 32GB and 4267MTs. The Platform Controller Hub (PCH), which is based on 14nm process technology, is connected to 4 GTs via a powerful On Package Interface (OPI). In addition to the usual I/Os for PC compatibility, the PCH offers a wealth of I/Os that have never before been available in an Intel SoC like this: UARTs, SPI, I2C, CAN FD, PWM, Quadrature Encoder Peripheral (QEP), and ADCs. Figure 1 shows the block diagram.

In-band ECC

One extremely interesting feature is the inband error correction code (IBECC), which improves security and reliability without the need for additional external EEC memory. The IBECC stores EEC correction bits in internal caches and external reserved memory blocks. The ECC check itself is completely transparent for the user. It can be enabled for memory areas of DDR external memory with high security and reliability requirements and disabled for others. Activated IBECC memory areas are subject to a reduction in bandwidth, but in most cases the overall increase in memory bandwidth balances out compared to Apollo Lake.

Programmable Services Engine

The Programmable Services Engine (PSE) is a dedicated offload engine powered by an ARM Cortex-M7 with 384kB of Tightly Coupled Memory (TCM) and 1MB L2 cache that is located on the Platform Controller Hub. The PSE is fully user programmable, with Intel offering numerous reference designs in both source code and/or binary:

Embedded Controller (EC) Light: Relocation of some EC functions from the platform to the PCH, battery management, thermal management

  • Out-Of-band management (OOB): remote restart, startup/shutdown management
  • Network proxy: network response, system wake
  • General purpose lowpower computing: support for real-time functionality, low DMIPs computing, low-speed I/O for IoT applications (as an alternative to support by an additional external microcontroller)
  • Sensor hub: Reduced load on the sensor application and data fusion at low power consumption

Customers with existing ARM-optimized software can use the Zephyr Software Development Kit (SDK) to generate, compile, and port their own code to the PSE.

Real-time functionality

The Intel Atom x6000E series processor has three integrated 2.5Gb E MACs (media access control), all with time-sensitive networking (TSN) capability. Additionally, the processor supports Intel's Time Coordinated Computing (TCC) Technology (see Figure 2). Intel TCC Time Synchronization provides a hardware mechanism to coordinate the different clocks in each IP block. Intel TCC Time liness also provides a hardware mechanism to specify the latency of data packets between IP blocks. TSN refers to a set of standards/specifications and features based on standard Ethernet networks that support time critical applications.Function.

Functional safety

Intel provides a comprehensive software solution for the Intel Safety Island (SI) engines within the PCH to implement functional safety applications in a timely manner (TTM) with few additional components:

  • Performance: Security features for high-performance, multicore systems with low power consumption, a high level of integration, and high performance

  • Certification: SIL2/Cat.3 PL d certified, SIL3/Cat.4 PL e capable
  • Security package: Complete technical documentation to assist customers with system certification
  • Safety Island: Integrated Intel Safety Island controllers to reduce the customer's effort in implementing security mechanisms
  • Functional safety software: A range of safety software components to detect hardware failures
  • Mixed criticality: Consolidation of both safety critical and non-safety workloads with mixed criticality on a central computing platform

Boot solutions

One of the challenges of developing a proprietary Intel processor-based system has been the need for a BIOS. This usually meant the use of a standard BIOS solution and a corresponding hardware customization, which resulted in additional costs and licensing fees.

Intel now offers the Slim Bootloader for selected Intel platforms, including the Atom x6000E series. The Slim Bootloader is a Linux-based basic software package with a BSD licensing model, which means that, unlike with GPL, customizations do not need to be recopied.

Fully integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) for simplified design: The Intel Atom x6000E series processor is suitable for a variety of applications beyond the use of the standard SMARC, Qseven, and COMExpress modules. The SoC has numerous I/O functions that can not be covered by standard form factors. In order to use all of these new functions, customized designs are often required.

Support for functional safety: Industrial automation is increasing the complexity of hardware and software systems and the question of liability in the event of failures is becoming increasingly important.

Security for high performance computing: Provision of security features for high performance, multicore modules with low power consumption, a high level of integration, and high performance. Integrated ISI for less effort in implementing security mecha-nisms.

Shorter certification period: Reduction in total operating costs for the customer and reduction in certification time in accordance with international standards (IEC 61508).

Consolidation and cost reduction: Consolidation of both safety-critical and non-safety workloads with mixed criticality on a central computing platform to reduce costs.

Operating conditions and reliability for industrial use: Intel products are designed for maximum reliability and a long service life. Intel offers a guaranteed availability of 15 years for EHL processors. For IoT devices used in harsh industrial environments, EHL offers an extended temperature range from -40 to +85°C. Furthermore, IBECC serves to protect against system failures for increased reliability.

Security and controllability: The integrated basic security features are available in all Intel processor series. They help technology ven-dors protect the platform and data and build standardized trusted applications. From Intel's perspective, most IoT implementations require a combination of intelligent features, excellent performance, and comprehensive, built-in security features. EHL provides a complete IoT security reference architecture that demon-strates how built-in security features can pro-tect intelligent devices based on Intel technology.

AI, DL, and machine vision: Artificial intelligence (AI) opens up a world of new possibilities for manufacturing and industrial com-panies. AI allows manufacturers to predict yield, quality, energy consumption, and other critical factors. AI can also help to repair systems before they fail, locate oil pockets, prevent crop damage at an early stage, and create safer working environments.

Intel has a complete portfolio of AI products and optimizations for common neural net-work frameworks that enable technology providers to move into entirely new areas of application. Intel offers a comprehensive range of imaging products and software tools that help OEMs, ODMs, and system in-tegrators scale imaging technologies across the entire infrastructure to meet individual needs at any point in an AI architecture with the right balance of performance, cost, and efficiency.

Conclusion

n addition to standard compatibility with Windows 10, Linux, and many realtime operating systems, the Intel Atom x6000E series offers familiar workload consolidation and virtualization features. The PSE on the PCH, which features numerous industrial I/Os, can perform a variety of functions that in the past required a separate microcontroller. Select SKUs offer functional safety. Together with TCC, TSN precisely controls programmable logic controllers, PLCs, and other time-sensitive tasks that could not be handled by Windows-based systems alone. Due to the large number of industrial I/Os, this SoC is suitable for price-optimized and feature-optimized solutions beyond the standard form factor.

 

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Figure 1: The Intel Atom x6000E series processor combines a powerful CPU with a Platform Controller Hub (PCH) with numerous interfaces.
Figure 1: The Intel Atom x6000E series processor combines a powerful CPU with a Platform Controller Hub (PCH) with numerous interfaces.