High Performance on a Small Form Factor

Written by Jürgen Jungbauer

Core-Driven and Compact

The 8th generation Intel Core Mobile processors deliver up to 40% more performance than the predecessor generation. congatec now offers the new cores on extremely compact 3.5-inch single-board computers (SBCs).

New boards are measured first and foremost by the performance boost their processors offer. The new congatec 3.5-inch board with 8th generation Intel Core Mobile processors (code name “Whiskey Lake”) is no different in that aspect. This time, however, it achieves levels that haven’t been seen for a long time. Thanks to an improved microarchitecture—and especially thanks to twice as many cores—the new high-end Intel Core i7, Core i5, Core i3 and Celeron Embedded processor boards offer up to 40% more performance compared to previous boards with U-series processors (code named “Kaby Lake”) (Figure 1). The memory has also been designed to match the performance boost: two DDR4 SODIMM slots provide up to 2400MT/s with up to 64GB.

Maximum performance with a minimal embedded single board footprint: The high-end Intel Core i7, Core i5, Core i3 and Celeron Embedded processors give the 3.5-inch SBC form factor a mighty performance boost in every performance class.

It’s a well-known fact that even the greatest performance improvements of a processor can get lost if the final board design cannot render the power loss-free to the industrial fields., The tested version of the new congatec 3.5 inch SBCs featuring the Intel Core i5-8365UE reached the 85th percentile in the overall UserBenchmark comparison using only 4GB out of a possible 64GB of RAM and running Windows 10 Pro. This means it came 15th out of 100, averaged over the results of thousands of other computers—including those with much more power-hungry processors. The key indicator for the excellent board design is the fact that the CPU itself obtained only a score of 73.1%. This confirms that the better overall score derives from excellent implementation, including all components such as chipset and external controllers.

The test further shows that the CPU also does very well with its TDP of 15W when power consumption is taken into account. Consequently, the conga-JC370 was found to offer an extremely good power-per-watt ratio as well as excellent thermal behavior. When running a stress test on the SBC for almost an hour under standard industrial temperature conditions with an overall CPU utilization of 98.7%, the conga-JC370 used no throttling for cooling down the CPU (Figure 2). This is important for all applications that depend on getting full performance at all times. Still, the overall power consumption remained below 15W and the average temperature was as low as 39.2°C, with a maximum of only 61°C. One reason for these exceptional results, beside the processor’s microarchitecture, is the advanced and tailored cooling that congatec provides for the conga-JC370 3.5-inch SBC. Cooling solutions for the new 3.5-inch SBC reach from passive designs without moving parts for rugged applications, to active coolers for high-performance use cases (Figure 3). Application-ready cooling solutions are a huge benefit for all OEMs looking for an easy-to-use, application-ready platform off-the-shelf.

The results of the hour-long stress test clearly document the excellent thermal design and cooling solutions offered by the conga-JC370.

The optional active cooling solution from congatec is specifically tailored to the new conga-JC370 and provides ideal heat dissipation – an important requirement for leveraging the full performance of 8th Gen Intel Core processors.

With the performance and thermal design questions answered, you may want to take an in depth look at the board’s interfaces next. But before we come to that, let’s delve for a moment on the fact that the conga-JC370 also offers extensive support for industrial edges, namely Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), real-time, virtual machines and Active Management Technology (AMT).

In conjunction with OPC UA, TSN support is predestined to replace proprietary real-time Ethernet with a genuine open source solution [1]. Accordingly, the SBC is interesting for many embedded devices that are expected to be used in IIoT and Industry 4.0 environments and that will need to exchange data with neighboring machines and higher-level plant management systems under real-time constraints. OEMs and users impose the same requirement on data recorders for wireless network monitoring and on automotive test systems or data loggers for test vehicles, respectively, to store high-speed data streams from external sensors to solid-state or hard drives and analyze them and to capture and log high-speed data streams to detect 3D objects and perform lidar imaging and mobile mapping.

In keeping with these scenarios, the conga-JC370 also supports the use of RTS hypervisor software, which multiple virtual machines can be consolidated in a single system, for example, to control two or four robots coordinated via TSN on a single hardware platform. With virtualization, OEMs can also integrate diverse additional functions such as Industry 4.0 gateways or artificial intelligence into suitable virtual machines, thereby making the application programming easier, more flexible and even more portable. For this, the board memory is designed to meet the requirements of consolidating multiple operating system applications on a single platform. Via two DDR4 SODIMM slots with up to 2400MT/s, it provides up to 64GB in total, which is impressive.

AMT is a technology to remotely manage a computer out of band. This means it can be managed even when there isn’t an operating system (OS) running on the target system. This is important for distributed installations and control systems in the field, for example wind parks or globally installed Industry 4.0 applications, where the systems in the fields have to be monitored and managed from the OEM’s central control room.

Let’s take a look at the conga-JC370’s feature set in detail. As SBCs are ready-to-use products, it is important that they offer all interfaces that users could ever possibly need off-the-shelf (Figure 4). The motto being the more, the better. Here, the new 3.5-inch boards impress with interesting features never offered before. For the first time ever, an Intel U-series processor now features native USB 3.1 Gen 2 support. This USB SuperSpeed+ interface can transfer up to 10Gbps or 1.25GB/s so that even uncompressed UHD video can be rendered from a camera to a monitor.

A comprehensive interface selection and numerous extension options make the ultra-compact 3.5-inch SBC a universally suitable, application-ready embedded computing platform for a wide range of applications.

For this, the high-performance Intel UHD Graphics 620 is integrated into the processor to enable brilliant high-performance graphics on up to three 60-Hz UHD displays with a resolution of up to 4096 x 2304 pixels. With the 8th generation offering faster memory connection, it performs much better in high-end graphics applications than the graphics of the predecessor. Thanks to further functions such as the optional Intel Optane Memory 2 support, everyday tasks can also be completed faster. Beyond that, the processor cores enable efficient task scheduling for optimizing the I/O throughput of the input channels to the processor cores even better.

When it comes to physical interfaces, the board impresses with its USB-C port with integrated DisplayPort channel to enable monitor connections with a single cable. On the back, the board also implements a separate DP++, whereby HDMI can optionally be selected. There is also an onboard option of using either one LVDS or one (or optionally two) eDP (1.2 and 1.4) for connecting displays via embedded connectors. Altogether, the board thus implements all three video outputs supported by the processor. The power supply for display backlights is also implemented on the back. It can be adjusted via jumper to 3.3V, 5V or 12V according to requirements.

For fast peripheral connectivity, the conga-JC370 provides three USB 3.1 Gen. 2 ports, two of which are implemented as dual Type A connectors and the third one as the already mentioned Type C. These ports all support USB 3.1 Gen 2 (SuperSpeed+ 10 Gbit/s). Two further USB 2.0 interfaces can be used, for example to connect a keyboard and mouse.

For industrial connectivity, congatec’s 3.5-inch SBC provides four UART interfaces. One of these RS-232/422/485 ports at the front bezel is executed via a DE-9 sub-D connector and three more via pin-headers on the board. A dedicated CAN interface can be integrated as option. Additionally, diverse system functions can be controlled via one I2C, one SM bus and two other integrated feature connectors with 8 GPIOs each – with one connector already preconfigured and ready for application. An additional case open intrusion detector provides further system protection.

Controlling these pins and busses has been made quite easy by the congatec’s operating system API. After installing a driver or library, the congatec-specific board features are accessible by means of CLR (Common Language Runtime) .NET Framework languages like C#, Visual Basic, J# and managed C++. In addition, the Python package CgosPy provides ctypes wrapper functions for using the CGOS API with Python. Not only does the API give access to pins and ports, it can also be queried to obtain information, for instance about video and storage peripherals.

For customer-specific extensions, there is one miniPCIe slot and one M.2 slot of type B (2242/3042) for two PCIe and one USB2.0 and of type M (2280) for one SATA and four PCIe, also conforming to Intel Optane technology. Optional WLAN can be connected via an M.2 type E (2230) slot, which also supports one PCIe, CNVi and USB 2.0. In addition, a SIM card slot is connected to the M.2 type B slot (optionally also on mPCIe) for connecting the system to cellular networks. SSDs can of course also be connected via the SATA port. Optional license and data protection is supported via a TPM. The power supply is provided via a 12V – 24V wide-range input. The new conga-JC370 offers all this with an economical 15W TDP, which is scalable from 12.5W/800MHz to 25W/4.6GHz in Turbo Boost mode.

But all these features make no sense for embedded and industrial engineers if the board doesn’t offer long-term availability. Here too, the new congatec board sets a new milestone for 3.5-inch SBCs as it can be ordered with a 10+ year long-term availability. Such a high availability promise is a first for the entire embedded computing sector since the introduction of new 8th generation Intel Core Mobile processor that has a long-term availability of 15 years. It caters to the increased life cycle needs of the transportation and mobility sector, but they are also perfect for medical devices and industrial controllers, embedded edge clients and HMIs because they enable extended life cycles at no additional cost to customers. Ultimately, however, the entire market profits from this high availability because naturally no one is excluded from it.

However, not all component manufacturers have managed to follow this remarkable leap from 7 to 15 years, which is why only a few embedded board and module manufacturers have been able to support this extended long-term availability up to now. congatec is one of the few companies to have put a lot of effort into matching this long-term availability promise and has come up with a pragmatic solution: The company now offers boards and modules with a standard availability of 10+ years. On the basis of a special long-time purchase contract, this availability can be extended to 15 years. congatec offers its customers standard arrangements for this. With the corresponding contract, any components that have already been discontinued in part at the end of the life cycle are stocked by congatec and financed within the scope of the agreed coverage volume.

Additional materials from the author are available at:
Reference [1] as marked in the article can be found there.

congatec | www.congatec.com

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High Performance on a Small Form Factor

by Jürgen Jungbauer time to read: 8 min