AMD Eases Scalability for Low-Power Embedded Applications

Feb. 25, 2016
Three new system-on-chip additions make it easier for developers in a wide range of industries—including industrial control and automation—to scale their x86 applications up and down markets.

As in so many sectors these days, one of the biggest and most talked-about trends taking hold of the embedded industry is the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT not only opens up a world of possibilities, but also poses significant engineering challenges for silicon manufacturers and the customers using their embedded devices for industrial control and automation.

At Embedded World this week in Nuremberg, Germany, chipmaker AMD announced three new embedded system-on-chip (SoC) devices aimed at making it easier for system developers to go after the benefits of IoT. The additions to its Embedded G-Series family of processors provides more pin-compatible options across a wider array of price and performance options, helping developers ease the scalability of x86 platforms.

“As we try to connect billions of devices—potentially up to 50 billion devices by 2020—we have to do this in a way that’s seamless and is easy for people to use and leverage the benefits of the Internet of Things,” said Colin Cureton, director of product management and enterprise solutions at AMD.

The diversity of IoT devices leads to an even broader range of solutions required across the entire network. “This in turn drives a very, very broad array of different levels of processing requirements, different levels of CPU, GPU and I/O needs within each of these applications or devices,” Cureton said. “Our hardware partners and software partners have to be able to develop end applications and end devices, and they have to be able to scale their value add across different levels of performance and different levels of solutions.”

To tackle this diversity, AMD has introduced two third-generation Embedded G-Series SoCs at the higher end of performance, along with the entry-level Embedded G-Series LX SoC. Not only is the lower-end LX pin-compatible to the previous-generation G-Series SoCs first launched in 2013, but the new higher-performing chips introduce for the first time pin compatibility for G-Series processors with the high-end AMD Embedded R-Series SoC.

The shared package infrastructures, along with shared core architectures, means AMD’s customers are able to easily scale their products up and down and sideways, opening up the IoT to more markets and price points. The Embedded G-Series LX SoC, for example, is based on the same FT3 package as previous G-Series generations, with the same Jaguar Plus core as the second generation. It uses the same Radeon Graphics Core Next (GCN) GPU scaled down from a performance perspective, and shares the same I/O and IP in the device.

“From a hardware and software scalability perspective, we’re able to now scale up and down the stack, across the first and second generation, and the LX products,” Cureton noted. “So customers who have existing platforms based upon the G-Series SoC today can scale down to lower levels of performance and price, enabling them to take their applications into new markets that are perhaps more cost sensitive.”

This is significant for hardware and software developers across a wide array of industries—gaming, military/aerospace, networking, medical imaging, retail, and many more. And it’s a welcome development for industrial controls, automation and machine vision as well.

One customer, which couldn’t be named but which Cureton referred to as a household name in the industrial market, has adopted AMD’s strategy to more easily develop its products across sectors. “We have a customer who’s been leveraging the second-generation SoC today. They use their G-Series SoC platform for the mid and high-end solutions, and then they are using ARM currently in the low end,” he explained. “What they’re looking to leverage is the LX platform moving forward so that they can simplify their software investment to a single ISO. They would also then optimize their hardware design and in this case they can move to a single hardware and a single software engineering team, and now scale their portfolio up and down.”

The same is true for AMD’s customers trying to more easily move to the higher end of the spectrum, with higher levels of power-efficient compute and graphics capabilities. The two new third-generation SoCs are provided in the same package infrastructure as the first-generation R-Series SoC, which was launched this past October to provide a richer feature set for higher-performance platforms. The R-Series was a “game changer” for several markets, Cureton said, because the single-chip solution eliminated the controller hub as a separate component in hardware designs.

The next-generation G-Series SoCs share the same underlying architecture as the R-Series also. “So, for the first time, we have pin compatibility between the R-Series and the G-Series product families,” Cureton said. “And because we’re leveraging the same architecture, this means we’re actually bringing the heavy machinery family of cores—so the Excavator core that was in the first-generation R-Series SoC is now coming into the G-Series family for the first time as well.”

In all, AMD’s embedded processors have hardware and software scalability up and down the product stack and across the two families. “This now gives customers two scalable stacks to choose from that they can build their solutions. And they can choose from a range of different performance points, both from a CPU and GPU perspective, as well as make choices in terms of the I/O mix, the power envelope and the price points that they need to play in, in order to make their products successful,” Cureton said. “This really brings unprecedented choice in terms of selecting an AMD processor and ease of scalability and migration between the devices, and allows customers to right-size the processor they choose and reduce the number of platforms that they have to build in order to scale their systems into different applications.”

The first third-gen AMD Embedded G-Series SoCs are available immediately, with additional offerings planned in the first and second quarter of this year. The first AMD Embedded G-Series LX products are expected to be available in March.

Learn more about the specifications and feature sets of the full G-Series of embedded processors.