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Latest Intel Processors Advance Embedded DSP And SBC System Design

April 22, 2011

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Intel’s latest generation of Core i7 processors is a game-changer for embedded military DSP and SBC system designs. For the first time, they bring support for Serial RapidIO, the OpenVPX (VITA 65) board interconnect fabric of choice. Even better, the performance of vector math processing, critical for DSP applications, is effectively doubled with Intel’s new 256-bit AVX instruction set. 

The key performance metric of interest for military DSP systems is the speed of performing floating arithmetic operations, which is referred to typically as GFLOPS when discussing the speed of computers. In recent history, these DSP systems were commonly built using Texas Instruments 320C40 and 320C6701k and Analog Devices SHARC dedicated DSP processors, which were themselves followed by a number of generations of PowerPC/Power Architecture processors with AltiVec. All of these processors offered good floating point performance per watt and all were available from vendors with a history and track record of support for military embedded customers. Now, with the introduction of Intel’s 2nd Generation Core i7-2715QE quad-core processor, the design of x86-based embedded military DSP systems and high-performance SBCs takes a significant leap forward.  

Intel refers to their product introduction cadence as the “Tick-Tock” model. A “tick” is when Intel delivers new silicon process technology with increased transistor density, and enhanced performance and energy efficiency within a smaller version of an existing microarchitecture. The 2nd Generation Intel Core i7 is a “tock,” which is when an entirely new microarchitecture is introduced on an existing semiconductor process technolgoy. Using the 32 nm process introduced with the Westmere generation, the 2nd Generation Core i7 (previously code-named “Sandy Bridge”) features many architectural improvements (especially in the cache subsystem) that lead to improved performance per clock cycle. It is the nature of microprocessor design that revised architectures typically provide incremental performance improvements. However, the 2nd Generation Core i7 has delivered a major leap forward in the signal processing capability of the processor, thanks to the new 256-bit wide Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) floating-point instruction set, which supercedes the earlier 128-bit Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE) instructions. 

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