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Intel launches 14nm Atom E3900 and spins an automotive version

Oct 25, 2016 — by Eric Brown 4,549 views

Intel unveiled its Atom E3900 “Apollo Lake” embedded SoCs, with Gen 9 graphics, 4x ISPs, and time-sync’d peripherals, and tipped an A3900 model for cars.

Intel announced its 14nm-fabricated Intel Atom “Apollo Lake” system-on-chips, which promise “more than 1.7 times more computing power than the previous generation,” says Intel. The new SoCs’ Intel Gen9 graphics, based on 6th Gen “Skylake Core” graphics, are claimed to improve 3D graphics performance by 2.9 times over the previous generation and support triple 4K displays.

Atom E3900


The Linux-ready Atom E3900 series, which was formally announced at the IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona on the same day as the start of ARM TechCon in Silicon Valley, has already started rolling out to some 30 OEM customers, some of which have already announced products (see below). The first Apollo Lake based products will ship 2Q 2017, says Intel.

Atom E3900 features
(click image to enlarge)

The Atom E3900 is touted as an IoT SoC aimed at industrial, automotive, video, manufacturing, and retail environments. The E3900 platform is aimed at “fog computing” applications for gateways and other smart devices near the edge of the IoT ecosystem that need to process data such as video analytics more quickly than would be possible by sending the data to the cloud. Intel also revealed a similar Atom A3900 series focused on automotive applications that will ship in Q1 2017 (see farther below). Despite this differentiation, several of the products supporting the E3900 are transportation computers.

Atom E3900 packaged (left) and bare die

Intel announced three Atom E3900 SoCs: the quad-core 1.6GHz x7-E3950 and x5-E3940, and the dual-core x5-E3930, which has the lowest TDP of the three at 6.5W. Although data sheets have yet to be posted, Congatec released some more details in its announcement of three Apollo Lake based computer-on-modules: the first SMARC v2.0 COM, as well as Qseven and COM Express Compact models.

The Congatec COMs also support two other related Apollo Lake Celeron and Pentium chips that had been previously rumored: the dual-core Celeron N3350 and quad-core Pentium N4200. Other Apollo Lake processors we can expect in the near future include the Pentium J4205 and the Celeron J3355 and J3455.

Initial Apollo Lake Atom E3900 and related Celeron and Pentium processors include:

  • Intel Atom x7-E3950 — 4x cores @ 1.6GHz/2.0GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 12W TDP
  • Intel Atom x5-E3940 — 4x cores @ 1.6GHz/1.8GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 9W TDP
  • Intel Atom x5-E3930 — 2x cores @ 1.3GHz/1.8GHz, 1MB L2 cache, 6.5W TDP
  • Intel Celeron N3350 — 2x cores @ 1.1GHz/2.4GHz, 1MB L2 cache, 6W TDP
  • Intel Pentium N4200 — 4x cores @ 1.1GHz/2.5GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 6W TDP

Only the Atom x7-E3950 and Pentium N4200 support the highest end Gen9 graphics with 18 execution units, while the others support 12 EUs. The FCBGA packaged Atom E3900 chips are also touted for their four vector image processing units, aimed at machine vision applications, which produce “better visibility, quality video in low light, noise reduction, and color and detail preservation,” says Intel. Combined with the high-end GPU, the IPUs enable the E3900 to support up to 15 simultaneous 1080p@30 decode streams.

The E3900 also includes a new Time Coordinated Computing Technology, which is said to coordinate and synchronize peripherals and networks of connected devices. The synchronized clocks “can achieve network accuracy to within a microsecond,” says the chipmaker. According to AnandTech, TCC is primarily aimed at manufacturing customers that want to sync devices on an assembly line.

Atom E3900 specs
(click image to enlarge)

The Atom E3900 integrates security features including a Trusted Execution Engine 3.0 dedicated security coprocessor. AnandTech also mentions a boot time measurement feature that can detect if the boot process has been compromised.

Based on related product announcements, we also know that the SoCs support up to at least 32GB of LPDDR3 RAM, as well as up to 8GB LPDDR4 RAM. It also supports the speedy new eMMC 5.0 flash, M.2 expansion, SATA 3.0, USB 3.0, and other modern interfaces. The SoC supports industrial -40 to 85°C temperatures.

Initial OS support includes Wind River 8 and Yocto Project Linux, as well as Windows 10 Enterprise and IoT Core, all supported in 64-bit mode. Intel’s (via Wind River’s) VxWorks is also supported, and Android 7.0 64-bit will be added in Q2 2017.

It’s unclear if Intel’s performance comparisons refer to the 22nm Intel Atom E3800 “Bay Trail” generation announced in Oct. 2013, or the more recent, 14nm Atom x5-E8000, which is part of the “Braswell” family. Braswell SoCs include Intel’s Celeron N3000 models and the Pentium N3710.

The base clock rates on Apollo Lake are for the most part slightly lower and the TDPs slightly higher than the Bay Trail Atoms, although the Bay Trail Atoms lacked the turbo modes available on all the models here. In addition, the 14nm process provides other performance benefits, as well as faster memory bandwidth.

Intel did not further explain the differences between Apollo Lake and “Broxton-M,” which share with Apollo Lake the underlying 14nm fabricated Goldmont core design and Gen9 graphics. The quad-core Atom T5700 and T5500 Broxton-M models, which drive the new, Linux-based Intel Joule COM, are a follow-on to Intel’s smartphone-targeted, 14nm “Cherry Trail” Atom x5-Z8x- and x7-Z8x processors, but are now aimed at embedded.

The Atom T5700 appears to be the fastest of the Goldmont processors, with a standard rate of 1.7GHz that bursts to 2.4GHz. By comparison, the Atom x7-E3950 has 1.6GHz/2.0GHz performance, and the Pentium N4200 is listed as 1.1GHz/2.5GHz. Yet, considering Intel’s subdued announcement of Broxton-M, this would appear to be mostly a vestigial dead-end. Most of the embedded action will be with Apollo Lake, which carries on the Braswell and Bay Trail pedigrees.

Atom A3900

The upcoming automotive Atom A3900 version of the E3900 will be a “single, compact. and cost-effective” SoC that will enable “a complete software defined cockpit solution,” says Intel. Specific applications include in-vehicle infotainment (IVI), digital instrument clusters, and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Consistent with their automotive focus, the A3900 parts will push the upper end of the operating temperature range to 110°C.

The A3900 series “will allow car makers to offer new levels of determinism for real-time decision-making required in next-generation cars,” says the company. It will be interesting to see if by “determinism” Intel might mean it’s adding microcontrollers, or possibly even FPGA technology from its newly acquired Altera unit. However, AnandTech says Intel is touting the E3900 for determinism, as well, and says it is primarily related to cache technology.

First Apollo Lake products: COMs, box PCs, and car computers

In addition to the Congatec COMs noted above, the Atom E3900 is being used in Portwell’s PCOM-B641VG COM Express Compact module with Intel Core-like support for up to 32GB DDR3L RAM.

Apollo Lake inside: Congatec’s Conga-SA SMARC 2.0 (left) and Portwell’s PCOM-B641VG COM Express Compact modules
(click images to enlarge)

There’s also an Axiomtek NA345 networking appliance and an Advantech UTX-3117 wireless box PC.

Axiomtek NA345 (left) and Advantech UTX-3117

Transportation devices using the E3900 rather than the automotive A3900 include a Teknis VTC 1020-PA in-vehicle telematics computer and a Nexcom nROK-1020 “Embedded Railway Fanless PC” and VMC 3200 vehicle mount computer.

Nexcom’s Linux-ready VMC 3200 in-vehicle computer
(click image to enlarge)

Intel mentioned none of these, but did include testimonial quotes from Delphi, which is building an Apollo Lake based integrated cockpit controller, and FAW, which will use the processor for in-vehicle technology. Intel also mentioned Neusoft as an OEM partner, and noted that Hikvision is going to use the processors in its network video recorder and IP camera solutions. Yesterday, Intel’s recently acquired Movidius, a neural networking and visual processing developer responsible for the Linux-driven Fathom neural networking USB stick, said it was partnering with Hikvision to bring its related Myriad 2 machine vision technology to Hikvision’s smart cameras.

Further information

The Intel Atom E3900 is available now for OEM partners, and will appear in products starting in 2Q 2017. More information may be found on Intel’s Atom E3900 product page.

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