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Xeon gets embedded for flight

Posted: 27 Oct 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:server? processor? embedded?

Mercury Computer Systems Inc. unveils an embedded computer ruggedizing Intel's Xeon server processors for avionics, space, surveillance and military pattern recognition applications.

Intel has been promoting its server-class Xeon processors as an embedded solution platform for advanced pattern recognition tasks such as required for radar, video, audio and other sensor signals. These signal processing tasks are assigned to ground-based computers necessitating a high-bandwidth connection between it and the sensor. Putting a Xeon processor in a ruggedized embedded platform enables avionics, space, surveillance and military pattern recognition tasks to be performed in the field rather than back at the data center, powering applications like detecting improvised explosive devices with a Xeon inside a Hummer.

"We are now able to bring two very large server-class Jasper Forest Xeon processors into an embedded form factor, which has never been done before," said Shaun McQuaid, senior product manager, Mercury Computer Systems.

Mercury's OpenVPX module squeezes two Intel Xeon processors (brown) each with four cores and six gigabyte (white) into an inch-high 6U rack.

Mercury's Xeon embedded computer houses two quad-core Jasper Forest Xeon processors for eight cores in total, squeezed onto an OpenVPX module that is already being put to use in high-end radar, multi-sensor electro-optical/IR and other embedded applications courting airborne-caliber SWaP (space, wattage and performance). Smart avionics applications that offload target recognition to the sensor include Predator drones, ship radars, satellite telemetry and mobile bomb detectors mounted on Humvees.

The real story, however, is that it was not as easy as just plugging an Intel Xeon processor designed for a server farm into a mil-spec boardsince avionics boards need to have their chips soldered down. In fact, shoehorning two 48W quad-core Xeon processors with 12GB of memory into a 25mm x 267mm standard avionics 6U rack without melting it down required Mercury to invent three new technologies: a way to solder down the embedded processor that Intel designed to be plugged into a socket; a way to get the heat out; and a way to translate its PC-oriented interconnection architecture into the RapidIO architecture used by embedded systems for signal processing, networking and communications.

To secure the Xeon processor to its board, Mercury invented a way to solder down land-grid array (LGA) as if it were a BGA. To dissipate the heat, the company invented a thermal technique that enables heat to be sinked both above and below the Xeon processors. And to translate the built-in PCIx I/O on the Xeon into the embedded RapidIO standard, Mercury invented its protocol offload engine technology (POET), an FPGA that bridges between the Intel processor's native switch PCIx fabric and serial RapidIO.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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