By John Keller
Editor in Chief
Introduction of the Intel Core i7 processor with its built-in floating point processing capability was one of embedded computing's biggest stories in 2010, yet the year 2011 was just a couple of days old when Intelmade another announcement just as significant-the 2nd Generation Intel Core processor family. It's a classic three-for-the-price-of-one story-fixed-point processing, floating-point processing, and graphics processing combined on one device.
This will mean unprecedented levels of systems integration in tight spaces for today's network-centric mil-aero applications, such as wearable computers, unmanned vehicles, unattended sensors, and solder-worn communications systems.
The Intel Core i7 processor, introduced in January 2010, holds fundamental interest for aerospace and defense embedded processing because of its ability to perform floating-point as well as fixed-point calculations. Floating-point capability is particularly useful in sensor- and signal-processing applications, such as radar.
When the Core i7 came out, mil-aero systems engineers were hungry for floating-point capability, which they had found primarily in the Freescale AltiVec architecture. By the time the Core i7 came out, Freescale had discontinued AltiVec capability its latest offerings. Freescale since has re-introduced AltiVec floating-point capability in its QorIQ processors, but the damage has been done. Aerospace and defense embedded processing companies have moved overwhelmingly to the Intel Corearchitecture for applications that need floating-point processing.
Now comes round-two, with Intel's 2nd Generation Intel Core i7, which offers not only floating-point capability, but also graphics processing on the same chip. Today's military and aerospace signal processing applications are becoming ever-more graphics intensive, which makes this processor even more attractive for military embedded processing.
The 2nd Generation Intel Core should open up a new frontier of integration for aerospace and defense applications in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). The potential to cram brawny image and other sensor-processing hardware on small platforms, like unmanned aerial vehicles, is already getting a lot of interest among major defense prime contractors and embedded computing suppliers.
The day Intel announced the 2nd Generation Intel Core processor family saw an avalanche of new products in the aerospace and defense embedded computing community. Emerson Network Power, GE Intelligent Platforms, Mercury Computer Systems, Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing, Kontron, andExtreme Engineering Solutions (X-ES) were first out the gate with embedded computing products based on the new architecture. Not only that, but LynuxWorks also announced software operating system support for the new chip. More announcements undoubtedly will follow.
Time will only tell how popularthe newest processors will be for military embedded applications. The graphics processing portion of the 2nd Generation Intel Core should be interesting. Graphics applications for aerospace and defense are exploding, and involve radar, sonar,situational awareness, terrain avoidance, unmanned vehicle control, and countless additional uses.
Some experts believe companies like Nvidia, specializing in graphics processors, may have reason to worry over market share in the mil-aero industry with the graphics processing capability of Intel Core processors. Intel and Nvidia chips are likely to be complementary, rather than competitive. High-end graphics processing applications likely will stick with Nvidia, but Intel's new chip may offer graphics capability in applications where none existed before.