Intel, AMD Plan New Embedded Chips for 2011

Intel and AMD will offer new x86-based processor platforms for the embedded market in the first quarter of 2011. Intel plans configurable Atom chips; AMD will release embedded Fusion APUs.

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are planning new processor offerings aimed at giving their x86-based products greater traction in the growing embedded devices market.

Intel's new portfolio of Atom processors, the E600C series, and AMD's upcoming G series of APUs (accelerated processing units) will both hit the market in the first quarter of 2011, giving each company new offerings that they hope will help them expand the reach of their products.

The market for embedded chips-which are used in such devices as gasoline pumps, ATM machines, point-of-sale machines, digital signs, automobiles and industrial equipment-is considered as high as $10 billion, and it's growing.

"It's a big market, it's growing and it's worthwhile for us to pay attention to," Cameron Swen, senior product marketing manager at AMD, said in an interview with eWEEK.

Both Intel and AMD have participated in the embedded space for years. However, other chip vendors-particularly those such as Qualcomm, Samsung and Texas Instruments, which use processor designs from ARM to build their products-are major players. With the market growing as quickly as it is, the embedded space is an attractive area for Intel and AMD, which are looking to grow their businesses beyond their core PC and server chip areas.

Driving the market growth are changes in the embedded devices themselves, according to Jonathan Luse, director of marketing for Intel's Embedded and Communications Group.

"They're becoming connected, and they're becoming more intelligent," Luse said Nov. 22 during a Webcast.

For Intel, that was a key driver behind the development of the E600C series Atom processors, formerly code-named "Tunnel Creek." Intel is integrating Altera FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays), which enable device makers to program the chips for the specific requirements of their customers for applications in such areas as the military, industrial businesses and transportation. In addition, the chips can be updated or reprogrammed after they're sold, Luse said.

That capability gives device makers and their customers greater flexibility in how they program and use their processors, he said. "A lot of embedded devices have very customer-specific [applications]," Luse said.

In addition, integrating the Atom and Altera technology lets Intel engineers put more capabilities onto a single processor, reducing the number of chips needed to perform various functions and enabling device makers to build smaller products, he said. The E600C is created by linking an Atom E600 and the Altera FPGA by a PCI-Express connection.

In the first quarter of 2011, Intel will start selling 1.3GHz and 1GHz versions of the E600C with various temperature ranges for both commercial and industrial applications, starting at $72 per 1,000 sold. Later in the quarter, Intel will start selling lower-power versions-at 600MHz-also aimed at commercial and industrial applications, starting at $61.

AMD's G series marks the introduction into the embedded market of the company's Fusion strategy of putting the low-power x86 CPU and high-end graphics technology on a single piece of silicon. AMD officials spoke of its upcoming "eBrazos" platform during the company's annual Financial Analyst Day earlier this month.

The inclusion of the integrated graphics engine in the vendor's APU design is a key differentiator from other offerings in the embedded market, AMD's Swen said. It gives device makers greater flexibility in their designs, and customers greater capabilities in the technologies they buy. For those embedded systems that don't need a lot of graphics capabilities but want high computer performance, the G series can support Open CL and other software, he said.

"They want complete embedded platforms," Swen said, adding that the G series offers "exceptional graphics performance in a very small footprint."

AMD is planning to expand its embedded capabilities even more as 2011 wears on, he said. The upcoming R series will leverage AMD's "Llano" APU, Swen said.