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CPU/GPU combination set to meet demand for more complex graphics

CPU/GPU combination set to meet demand for more complex graphics

The days of embedded systems interfacing through a small segmented display are gone. Today, many embedded systems feature large, high resolution – even multiple – displays.

One way in which designers have incorporated these higher quality interfaces in their systems is through the use of the graphics processor (gpu). Alongside boosting graphics performance, they can also handle signal processing tasks because of their inherent parallelism.

AMD took the plunge into the embedded world in 2011, when it launched the Fusion G series. The aim of the chip, which AMD terms an 'accelerated processing unit', or apu, was to combine more computing capabilities on one piece of silicon. The x86 based device features a DirectX 11 capable gpu and a parallel processing engine.

Board manufacturers – particularly those making small format systems – found the device of interest. Paul Caston, product manager with Acal BFi, said: "The Qseven computer on module format has a thermal design power (TDP) limit of 12W. G series devices fall within that level and give a bit more performance within the Qseven envelope."

The benefit of something like the G series is that component count is reduced. "Because the cpu/gpu is on the same chip, manufacturers can use two chips, instead of three, which simplifies design; there aren't so many board layers and there is less interconnect. This translates into lower cost products which consume less power," Carston pointed out.

One of the latest products from Swedish company Hectronic – acquired by Acal earlier in 2012 – is the H6059, a Qseven format board available with either the single core T40E or the dual core T40R apus from the G series. The H6059 is aimed at applications such as digital signage, high end human/machine interfaces and portable applications. "It will clearly create opportunities to develop new products that otherwise would have been difficult or even impossible to develop," said Patrik Björklund, Hectronic's director of sales and marketing.

AMD has now targeted more complex graphics with the launch of the Fusion R series, which expands the range into the realms of quad core computing. Cameron Swen, AMD's worldwide marketing manager for the R series, said the family is an embedded version of the company's recently announced Trinity range, aimed at notebook and desktop computing applications. "We've taken leading edge x86 and graphics technology to create an apu on a single piece of silicon," he said. "It's an accelerated processor because it's more than the sum of a cpu and graphics; its ability to parallel process will help to accelerate applications."

With availability planned for five years and dedicated support for embedded applications, the R series is based on Piledriver; the second generation of AMD's Bulldozer core. The device blends x86 computing with Turbo Core technology to provide what the company calls 'powerful and efficient high performance processing'.

Designed for mid to high end processing and graphics, the R series will be available in dual and quad core options and with up to 384 graphics cores, depending on the device selected. Clock rates range from 1.7 to 3GHz.

Compared to the G series, the R series integrates Radeon HD7000 graphics, rather than the HD6000. This underpins the decision to aim the family at higher end graphics and to support up to four displays.

Swen noted: "Embedded system designers are pushing us to provide as much performance as possible for the lowest cost, while providing the best graphical performance through discrete class graphics. On top of that, the R series supports parallel processing and does so with a high performance/W figure." According to AMD, the R series has a TDP 'as low as 17W'. But Swen said TDP will range up to 35W. "But TDP is the high point of device power consumption," he noted. "Average power dissipation is likely to be around 13W."

Graphics performance has been one of the design targets with the R series. "It offers three times the performance of the G series," Swen pointed out. Using the 3DMark Vantage E benchmark, the top of the range R-464L clocks 13066, while the top of the G series – the G-T56N – returned a score of 4012.

"OEMs want to design a single platform for multiple applications," Swen said. "With dual and quad core x86 cpus and gpu options, we're offering them scalability."

With its sights on more complex graphics applications, AMD has beefed up the R series' video capabilities. "We've added a video compression engine," Swen said. "This offers efficient encoding and faster video conversion." AMD says 1080p video can be encoded to H.264 at 60frame/s. Also new to the R series is a secure asset management unit, which boosts encryption/decryption performance.

R series devices provide three display interfaces, supporting PCI-Express, HDMI and DVI. Support for a fourth display is possible, but this needs to be through DisplayPort 1.2 technology.

"The more graphics performance, the better the board will be for applications such as point of sale, IPTV, industrial vision and similar markets," said Acal's Carston. "But it does depend on the application. Imaging and machine vision will certainly need graphics performance."

The R series has had a good reception from board manufacturers. Board developer congatec has launched the COM Express format conga-TFS range, which features three variants of the R series – the dual core R-272F and the quad core R-460H and R-464L.

"We expect R series apus to be a great addition to our computer on module family, which will be suited for demanding graphics applications that require lower power consumption," explained congatec's ceo Gerhard Edi.

Meanwhile, Kontron's chief technology officer Dirk Finstel noted: "AMD's embedded technologies are an important part of our strategy in developing a broad range of powerful solutions across a variety of industries, including infotainment, medical imaging and more. We are excited about taking full advantage of R series apus in our designs."

One potential application for the R series is in medical imaging. "Medical imaging systems have used parallel processing to accelerate performance," Swen noted. "Now, developers are looking to apply the same approach to ultrasound systems."

AMD is also looking at real time applications for the G series. It recently announced a collaboration with Green Hills Software to bring INTEGRITY to G series. According to the partners, the combination the two products will create a high performance, reliable and secure embedded computing solution for use across a range of applications, including industrial control systems and medical.

Green Hill's INTEGRITY board support package for AMD's G series apus works with AMD's DB-FT1 development board. Meanwhile, INTEGRITY's v10.0.2 symmetric multiprocessor release supports the multicore x86 cpus in AMD's G series. These devices also feature a DirectX 11 capable graphics processor on the chip.

It may be the R series finds a home in graphics intensive applications, such as medical. "Medical applications have used parallel processing to accelerate performance," Swen concluded. "Now, developers are looking to apply the same approach to ultrasound."

Graham Pitcher

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