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New MCU-like Intel Quarks sip power, but where's the Linux?

Nov 5, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 5,628 views
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[Updated: 3:00PM] — Intel unveiled three new Quark CPUs, including models with x86 compatibility, -40 to 85°C support, and integrated sensor hubs, plus a new IoT Platform.

The three new members of Intel’s low-power, IoT-focused “Quark” processor family were announced as part of a second-generation Intel IoT Platform. The Quark D1000 is now shipping, and a more robust D2000 model is due by year’s end. The Quark SE, which is built into Intel’s Curie modules, is expected in the first half of 2016, featuring a sensor hub and integrated pattern recognition.

Unlike the current, 400MHz Quark X1000, found on the Intel Galileo hacker SBC and numerous IoT gateway products, these new microcontroller-like Quarks run at only 32MHz, and support bare-metal code and real-time operating systems (RTOSes), but not Linux. Nevertheless, the Quark D2000 and Quark SE models move from Pentium ISA compatibility to “full Intel x86 instruction set architecture for compatibility and scalability” but without an x87 floating point unit, according to Intel. The two models also add industrial -40 to 85°C support.

The Quark’s role in Intel’s IoT CPU portfolio
(click image to enlarge)

Intel unveiled the three new Quarks as part of an IoT Insights Day announcement of a second-generation Intel IoT Platform that also includes a new Wind River Rocket RTOS designed to run on the new MCU-like Quarks. Intel’s Wind River subsidiary announced Rocket OS as part of a Wind River Helix Cloud platform for Internet of Things application development and monitoring, along with a stripped down version of Wind River Linux called Wind River Pulsar Linux designed to run on the Quark X1000 and Intel Atom.

Intel’s IoT ecosystem
(click image to enlarge)

Wind River Rocket appears to be the new name for the open source Viper RTOS, which is derived from Wind River’s proprietary VxWorks RTOS. Earlier this year, Viper was introduced as being available for the previously deactivated Quark processor on the Intel Edison module, which is primarily driven by an Intel Atom SoC running Linux.

Intel IoT Platform development options
(click image to enlarge)

Development for the new Quark processors is available via the Eclipse-based Intel System Studio for Microcontrollers (ISSM) integrated development environment (IDE). While the Quark D2000 and SE microcontrollers can run their applications either on an RTOS or on bare metal, the leaner D1000 appears to be restricted to bare metal code, as indicated in the table below.

ISSM support for Intel’s three new Quarks
(click image to enlarge)

Although it’s unclear to what extent the new Quarks will support RTOSes beyond Wind River Rocket, it’s noteworthy that the ISSM support table lists “RTOS” instead of specifying Rocket. Intel recently announced that it would offer an Edison Kit for Brillo that runs Google’s new lightweight, RTOS-like Android derivative Brillo OS. Brillo does appear as one of the many distributions supported by the new Intel IoT Platform, along with Windows, Android, Chrome, Yocto Project Linux, and Wind River’s new Rocket and Pulsar Linux (see “Intel IoT Platform development options” image, farther below). However, most of these appear to relate primarily to the Atom or Quark X1000 rather than the new Quark models.

Quark D1000 (left) and D2000 block diagrams
(click images to enlarge)

The three new Quarks offer improved security and are more energy-efficient than Intel’s eight 400MHz X1000 models. The D1000, which integrates 32KB of flash and 8KB of SRAM, operates in “active regimes” on as little as 320μA, and offers “fine-grained power management features that enable battery-powered and line-powered sensors,” says Intel. The similarly single-core D2000 integrates 32KB of flash, 8KB of OTP memory, as well as 8KB of SRAM. It offers additional I/O, as well as the industrial temperature and x86 support.

Quark D1000 CRB and its block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

Intel currently offers a small form-factor “customer reference board” (CRB) for the Quark D1000 that includes flash storage, Bluetooth LE and WiFi radios, and a 3-axis accelerometer. The board also includes USB port for programming on-board, JTAG and UART ports, plus — wait for it — Arduino-style headers for external expansion.

The most interesting new Quark is the Quark SE. The chip includes an integrated sensor subsystem that reduces the energy required for sensor integration while “intelligently handling and processing data from external sensors,” says Intel. The Quark SE also integrates pattern-matching technology that “allows it to recognize patterns from incoming sensor data, providing real-time and actionable insights,” says the chipmaker.

Quark SE block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The Quark SE will first appear in the tiny, already demonstrated Curie wearables and sensor endpoint module. In addition, Honeywell is using the SE for a “Connected Workforce” industrial safety monitoring system based on wearable sensor inputs. Smart building provider Yanzi is using the SE chip in a Yanzi Plug energy monitoring sensor and a Yanzi Motion sensor for tracking motion and space utilization.

Future Quark SE models will expand upon the chip’s onboard intelligence to offer “powerful, built-in machine learning analytics to meet the next wave of IoT,” says Intel. The next-generation Quark SE will offer adaptive analytics with “highly efficient, hardware-based associative memory to enable intelligence based on context rather than pre-existing code,” says the company. The future SE model will also “take any data type, comparing new data to existing data it has been trained on, and identify the closest match for a given scenario.”

Where’s the Linux?

Intel may also be prepping some new Linux-ready Quarks that are more powerful than the current X1000. As is evident from the block diagrams of the Intel Galileo and Aaeon AIOT-X1000 SBCs below, the X1000 is a higher-end “applications processor” than the newer Quarks unveiled this week.

Block diagram showing Quark X1000 functions: Intel Galileo (left) and Aaeon AIOT-X1000
(click images to enlarge)

Although the X1000 includes many of the same peripheral interfaces as the three Quarks unveiled this week, it also provides controllers for external DRAM memory, 10/100 Ethernet, and PCIe expansion. Controllers such as these make the X1000 suitable for use in the “network” portion of Intel’s IoT ecosystem, such as in IoT gateways or in networked home or industrial automation devices.

A year ago, several sites published leaked Intel slides showing upcoming Liffy Island and Seal Beach Quark models that run at 533MHz. The Seal Beach model is said to provide a DDR3 memory controller, 64KB L1 cache, hardware accelerated cryptography, and an integrated display controller that supports both 3D and 2D graphics.

Leaked Liffy Island (left) and Seal Beach block diagrams
(click image to enlarge; source:

We’ve seen no mentions of these Quark SoCs since then, beyond rumors that the X1000 will replaced in 2016 by one or more next-generation Quark applications processors. Presumably the second generation Quark SoCs will, like the X1000, support Linux. It wouldn’t surprise us to see a second-generation Quark applications processor show up on a new Galileo SBC spin, or perhaps within an “Edison 2” module accompanied by an Arduino-style baseboard.

Over the last year, the Quark X1000 has seen considerable uptake in Linux-based IoT gateways. These include the Advantech UNO-1252G and UBC-221, the Aaeon AIOT-X1000, and Adlink’s Matrix MXE-100i or top-of-the-line Matrix MXE-200i.

Second-gen Intel “IoT Platform” on TAP

The three new Quarks and new Wind River Helix Cloud software are supported on a newly announced second-gen Intel IoT Platform. Few details were offered as to what has changed from the original Intel IoT Platform announced last December. The original was defined as an “end-to-end reference model” that included Wind River’s Linux-ready Edge Management System, as well as Enhanced Security for Intel IoT Gateways from its McAfee subsidiary. There was also a new Intel API and Traffic Management solution based on the Intel Mashery API.

Intel IoT Platform overview
(click image to enlarge)

Intel did reveal that the new platform features an improved Trusted Analytics Platform (TAP) technology for “big data” analytics derived from IoT intelligence. This Intel-backed open source project, which appears to be available for both Linux and RTOS implementations, “accelerates the creation of secure, high performance big data analytics applications in cloud environments that can be integrated in an end-to-end IoT solution,” says Intel.

TAP comprises a variety of analytics tools, algorithms, and engines provided in a secure, collaborative workspace. Components include a data layer based on Apache Hadoop and Spark, and an analytics layer featuring a data science tool kit and predictive API framework. There’s also an application layer with a run-time environment for cloud-native apps.

Intel had previously disclosed TAP pilots with Penn Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Oregon Health & Science University. This week, Intel followed up with testimonials from Honeywell and Levi Strauss and Co. Honeywell uses TAP on the previously noted Quark SE-based industrial safety monitoring system, and Levi Strauss uses TAP to securely collect and analyze data from in-store inventory via RFID tags.

Intel IoT Gateway

As before, the Intel IoT Platform also includes an IoT Gateway reference design. SAS is using gateways associated with the new IoT Platform for an IoT enterprise end-to-end solution that also integrates its SAP HANA Cloud Platform. The technology supports multiple OSes and chips including the Intel Quark, Atom, and Core.

Further information

The Intel Quark D1000 is available now from sources including Mouser, while the Quark D2000 will ship by the end of the year, and the Quark SE is due in the first half of 2016. The second-generation Intel IoT Platform also appears to be available. More information may be found in the Intel IoT Platform announcement, Intel’s Quark D1000 datasheet, Intel’s Quark D2000 datasheet, Intel’s Quark SE product brief, and the Mouser Quark announcement, which offers links to product pages for all three models.

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