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First Quark-based SMARC module runs Linux on 2W

Dec 2, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 2,447 views

Kontron unveiled the first SMARC COM for headless, industrial IoT devices based on Intel’s Quark X1000 CPU. The Linux-ready module runs on just 2 Watts.

This has been a big week for Intel’s low-power, x86-compatible Quark processor. First The Wall Street Journal claimed that the struggling Google Glass wearable was moving from a Texas Instruments ARM chip to a lower-power Intel chip for an update targeting the enterprise market. Although the WSJ did not say which chip would be used, the Quark would seem to be the most likely candidate. Then again, it also appeared likely that the Quark was the brains behind Intel’s new MICA “smart bracelet.” However, the WSJ says the MICA is based on an ARM chip, presumably from another chipmaker.

(click image to enlarge)

The Quark is definitively running the show on Kontron’s SMARC-sXQU computer-on-module, however. The 82 x 50mm SMARC “short” form-factor COM is the first SMARC module to fully implement the Quark, says the company. The SMARC-sXQU is targeted at a variety of size and power-constrained IoT devices, including automotive computers and larger wearables.

The Quark X1000 processor first appeared in Oct. 2013, running Linux on Intel’s Galileo hacker single board computer, and then appeared on the updated Galileo II SBC. This year, Aaeon announced a Linux- and Quark-based AIOT-X1000 IoT gateway.

The Quark is also integrated in the Intel Edison module (pictured at right), which has appeared on several Internet of Things and wearables prototypes. On the Edison, however, the Quark is currently dormant, while an Atom chip running Linux does the heavy lifting. According to Intel, Edison’s Quark will eventually run a “ViperOS” RTOS derived from the VxWorks platform offered by Intel subsidiary Wind River.

The SMARC-sXQU also runs on Wind River firmware, but it uses a Quark-optimized version of the Yocto-based Wind River Linux, augmented with the Wind River Intelligent Device Platform (IDP) stack. (Today, Wind River announced a VDC Research report claiming Wind River represents more than 50 percent of all revenues from worldwide shipments of Linux and related services.)

Inside the SMARC-sXQU

Kontron’s SMARC-sXQU is available with one of three Quark models: the original X1000, as well as the newer X1010 and X1021. The Quark X1010 was released in the first quarter along with a Quark X1020D. Both chips offer the same basics as the original, including 32nm-fabrication, 32-bit Pentium ISA-compatible architecture, 15 x 15mm package, and a single, single threaded, 400MHz, core. The new Quarks also similarly provide 6KB L1 cache, 512 KB SRAM, an FPU, and support for up to 2GB of DDR3.

The difference here is that both new models add support for ECC RAM for greater reliability. In addition, the X1020D, which is not available on the SMARC-sXQU, added secure boot technology.

The Quark X1021, released in the second quarter, offers the ECC support of the X1010 and the secure boot of the X1020D, and also features a lower 1.9W TDP, compared to 2.2W. Unlike the the other Quarks, the X1021 adds industrial temperature support. According to CPU World at the time, the X1021 also adds support for a mysterious “S1” feature.

Comparison of SMARC-sXQU (left) to SMARC-sXBTi
(click images to enlarge)

Kontron’s SMARC-sXQU (pictured above-left) is sort of a stripped down version of its first SMARC module, the Atom E3800-based SMARC-sXBTi (pictured above-right). When it was released in early March, Kontron said a Quark-based SMARC COM was on the way. A quick visual comparison between the modules shows just how much simpler the new SMARC-sXQU is.

No clock rate was mentioned for the normally 400MHz Quark CPU. The module supports up to 1GB of DDR3 RAM instead of the SMARC-sXBTi’s 8GB, and with the X1010 or X1021 Quark models you can use ECC RAM. There’s no onboard flash or SATA expansion, but the module offers an SDIO interface.

SMARC-sXQU block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Kontron does not use the word “headless” in its description, but there are no display interfaces on the SMARC-sXQU. Instead of a single gigabit Ethernet controller, you get two 10/100 Ethernet controllers, one of which operates via AFB signals.

USB ports are limited to two USB 2.0 host ports and a USB 2.0 client port. You also get two serial interfaces instead of three, and two PCI-Express interfaces instead of three.

The SMARC-sXQU uses the same 3 to 5.25 VDC power supply as the SMARC-sXBTi, and it is said to be able to run on Lithium Ion batteries. The power draw is claimed to be approximately 2 Watts, compared to 5 to 10W consumption on the previous Atom-based module. Presumably, this is slightly lower when running the 1.9W TDP Quark X1021, and slightly higher with the other two 2.2W models. The X1021 version is also the only configuration that gives the module -40 to 85°C temperature support.

Summary of SMARC-sXQU specs

Specifications listed for the SMARC-sXQU include:

  • Processor — Intel Quark X1000, X1010, or X1021 (1x x86 core @
  • Memory — Up to 1GB DDR3L with optional ECC when using X1021 or X1010
  • Networking — 2x 10/100 Ethernet (1x via AFB signals)
  • Other I/O (via 314-pin MXM3 connector):
    • 2x USB 2.0 host
    • USB 2.0 client
    • RX/TX serial
    • UART serial
    • SDIO
    • 4x I2C
    • SPI
    • 2x PCIe x1
  • Dimensions — 82 x 50mm; SMARC short form-factor
  • Power — 3 to 5.25 VDC; 2W consumption
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 60°C; -40 to 85°C with X1021 only
  • Operating system — Wind River Linux with Yocto and IDP stack

“The SMARC-sXQU provides greater flexibility at higher integration levels and is more efficient in use in terms of both cost and energy consumption,” stated Daniel Piper, Senior Marketing Manager EMEA at Kontron. “That makes the module ideal for the next wave of smart interconnected devices, with which we can create extremely energy-efficient IoT applications based on x86 technology.”

Further information

The SMARC-sXQU will be available starting at the end of December 2014 at an unstated price. More information may be found on the SMARC-sXQU product page.

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