COMs Insider: Graphics the key to innovation in embedded apps
Time-to-market and total-cost-of-ownership (TOC) are critical for success even in relatively long-lived market segments. This has enabled computer modules to establish a strong foothold since they allow device developers to focus on their core competencies.
Processor and RAM memory technology solutions, which require a lot of costly know-how and expertise, are cheaper to buy-in as pre-integrated solutions. They can also be exchanged easily and with little integration effort on the module level as demands evolve. As a result, the scalability of systems becomes almost unlimited and long-term availability at the module level increases because it no longer matters which processor is implemented.
Currently available processors for embedded applications in most cases have four physical processor cores. For multi-processing, which requires more separate processors, a logical division into a maximum of eight physical cores is possible.
Real-time critical applications meanwhile continue to run stably on existing real-time operating system platforms on a second processor core. This makes it easy to combine “the best of both worlds” safely, quickly, cost-effectively and without much integration and porting effort on a common platform.
Virtualization and faster clock speeds, however, are not enough to meet the desired requirements. The focus is shifting more and more towards better graphics performance for applications with multi-touch screens, sophisticated user interfaces and larger displays with higher resolutions.
They call for high performance 3D graphics to yield attractive animations and visualizations as well as smooth playback of HD content. However, high-performance 3D graphics is not only key for the seamless display of images and animation; it also improves the ease of use and operational reliability of touch-based applications. Last but not least, the graphics core helps the CPU decode HD video which, for example, is very important in medical (4D ultrasound or endoscopic devices) and infotainment applications.
The closer the embedded application is to the consumer market, the higher the user expectations. Examples are gaming applications, POS / POI terminals and the most recent new segment of digital signage. As a consequence, many embedded applications are becoming more demanding in terms of graphics performance. Users now have access to extremely powerful graphics units providing highly scalable processor performance.
Thanks to the growing performance and direct support by chip makers, the digital graphics interface DisplayPort is also growing in popularity. Intel will stop supporting LVDS as of 2013 and AMD is also planning to drop support from most products.
While all this shows that the graphics will shape future innovations in the embedded sector, it is no guarantee for enhanced user friendliness.