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Board initiative, products address MIL COTS obsolescence problem

Posted: 17 May 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:general micro systems? gms? processing engine? cots? commercial off-the-shelf?

If you're working with leading-edge MIL designs, you'll be interested in this development from General Micro Systems (GMS). The company is debuting what it calls a Processing Engine initiative to help solve a knotty technology problem that's impacting military designers everywhere these days.

The problem is how to successfully use COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) hardware in the face of galloping technology. "It's a matter of upgradeability," says Ben Sharfi, GMS's chief exec. "How do MIL engineers upgrade to the latest microprocessors while continuing to leverage the costs and time involved in the development of customized systems?"

The answer, says Sharfi, is GMS's Processing Engine initiative. It lets you migrate new microprocessor technologies into existing board designs. It does that by separating the processor and its support components from a custom-designed board, with its dedicated I/O, mass storage, and other components.

Is redesign a must?
"Most MIL systems boards are customized for certain applications and with specific I/O requirements," explains Sharfi. "At the time of the design, only certain processors were available. So, when new microprocessorswith additional power and capabilitiesbecome available, developers usually have to re-design their board to handle them."

Sharfi explains how GMS's initiative addresses that conundrum by taking the processor and its support components and putting them on a separate module. "Now we can develop an SBC (single-board computer) for specific applications that can be easily upgraded to new processors as they hit the market," he says.

To kick off the company's Processing Engine initiative thrust, GMS is making available two products: the V169-FPIO Powerhouse-II single-board computer, and the Radiant Workstation I/O module. The latter is a high performance audio/video PMC (PCI mezzanine card) module.

Let's look at the V169-FPIO Powerhouse II SBC as an example of the GMS architecture. As a 6U-sized single/dual-slot VME SBC with built-in self-test, it's for upgrading legacy VME SPARC or Pentium boards. It can be fitted with the fastest Intel Pentium M processors. That can mean a 2GHz or faster Pentium M processor with its large cache.

Significantly, the module can be plugged into any existing VME cardcage, without the need for any modifications whatsoever. Cooling is provided by means of a massive passive heat sink that permits the Powerhouse module to operate at up to 55C with a standard 275 LFM airflow.

These modules can also run in a Windows 2000 or Windows XP environment, or under VxWorks, Solarisx86, or QNX realtime operating systems, or under Linux.

Processor options galore
The V169-FPIO Powerhouse II gives you several processor options. For ultra-low power (10W maximum and 6W average), a LV (low voltage Pentium M 738 can be fitted, clocking at 1.4GHz. It carries a 2MB on-die L2 (Level 2) cache. For more processing horsepower, a 1.6GHz Pentium with 1Mbyte of cache can be used. It will dissipate 24W (max) and 14-W average.

For the most demanding applications, though, Intel's latest M-745 chip can be installed. The M-765 runs at 2GHz and provides 2MB of L2 cache and a 533MHz FSB (front-side bus). Regardless of that speed and memory, the processor dissipates 18W (max) and 9W average power. GMS claims that combo renders its Powerhouse board the lowest power, yet the fastest, of any Pentium, SPARC, or PowerPC-based VME SBC available.

To guarantee that memory and I/O devices can exploit the full bandwidth of the processors (an astounding 3.2GBps), the Powerhouse board uses a hub approach for processor bandwidth distribution. The FSB is connected to a four-port hub where three links of the hub are capable of taking full advantage of the processor's performance.

Independent PCI-X buses
Two independent PCI-X buses are also on the Powerhouse for high-speed I/O. The first PCI-X bus is connected to the system's dual Gigabit Ethernet ports only to ensure unencumbered speed. The second PCI-X bus is connected to one PMC site and to an ultra-high-resolution graphics engine chip, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 with 64MB of graphics memory.

Front-panel access
The Powerhouse II was also designed for implementations where all I/O must be accessed via the front panel, where your system must use 3-row VME connectors, and where it requires up to three PMC sites. Again, this approach is calculated to enable OEMs to upgrade older (read sluggish) VME or cPCI (CompactPCI) systems with the best-performing I/O available.

The Radiant PMC workstation I/O module can provide most, if not all, of a system's audio/video and I/O functions on a single PMC module. For its part in the modular scheme, the Radiant brings a multi-port PCI bridge, dual independent video output ports, a video capture port, and quad USB 2.0 and triple FireWire IEEE1394-B ports to the party.

The module supports both 66MHz and 33MHz operations in 32-bit mode. The PMC PCI bus is connected to a two-port Pericom PCI-PCI bridge. Port 1 of the bridge is a 64-bit 33MHz port connected to the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphic device. This IC, unlike the ones used in most PCs, supports a long life cycle and has drivers for Linux and Windows.

The second PCI bus from the bridge is a 32-bit 33MHz bus that connects to the module's USB and the FireWire devices. Click to view the block diagram to see how this is configured.

Speaking of high-speed hardware, the four USB 2.0 high-speed I/O ports are each capable of transferring data at 400Mbps speeds. Each can also power USB-compatible devices.

The three 1394-B ports accommodate high-speed networking. They can transfer video files directly from video recorders. These ports are capable of data transfers up to 800Mbps. Like their USB counterparts, they're also capable of powering FireWire devices such as cameras or recorders.

Huge merged displays
The Radiant's dual display video ports support two standard RGB monitors with or without a Sync-On-Green option. The module also supports two flat-panel displays using DVI-D connectors.

The two monitors can display the same images, or they can be combined for one huge continuous display with resolution to 4,095 x 1,536-pixels in a side-by-side mode. Or, you can set them up in a 2,048 x 3,072-pixel up-and-down mode in 24-bit true-color mode.

In use, you can also capture NTSC or PAL video from an external source such as a camera or a video recorder, and then display that source simultaneously on-screen. This unique feature lets the Radiant be used in applications where realtime video needs to be captured, analyzed, and even overlaid onto the screen. To synchronize audio with video, a separate Line-In connector outputs sound and video onto the screen.

- Alex Mendelsohn

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