DFI | LR101 SERIES | Hybrid Multi-Monitor Solutions Target Embedded

Hybrid Multi-Monitor Solutions Target Embedded
Hybrid Multi-Monitor Solutions Target
Embedded Applications
Display support is extended on next-generation Intel® Atom™ platforms.
By Todd Shaner, DFI-ITOX
any of today’s embedded markets, such as digital signage, capitalize on the availability of large, low-cost,
flat-screen liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). In these applications, it’s common to see three or more displays—each with
independent imaging. The actual system computing power
required in many of these applications is relatively low—except for video image processing. In the past, this function
required the use of costly, high-performance mobile, desktop, or even server platforms. The low-power Intel® Atom™
processor platform provides a more cost-effective solution
for these markets. But this platform is limited in its ability
to support multiple or large-screen displays in these applications. Now, hybrid multi-monitor solutions are becoming
available for Intel® Atom™ processor platforms in applications requiring high-definition (HD) 1080p video or more
than two independent displays.
Demand For A Hybrid Solution
The second-generation Intel® Atom™ low-power “netbook”
and desktop “nettop” platforms relocate the memory-controller hub and Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA)
graphics core from the North Bridge to the processor die. In
doing so, they provide a board-space reduction. This twochip design approach also provides lower power with the
same performance on the Intel® Atom™ processor N450. In
fact, it offers even more performance with slightly higher
power using the Intel® Atom™ processor D410 and Intel®
Atom™ processor D510. Both the first- and second-generation Intel® Atom™ platforms are implemented using 45-nm
Hi-K technology. To maintain the target thermal design
power (TDP) while improving performance, some tradeoffs
were required. One of these tradeoffs is the elimination of
the serial-digital-video-out (SDVO) display interface from
the GMA and new platform-controller-hub (PCH) architecture. The SDVO display port is generally used to implement
a digital visual interface (DVI) or high-definition multimedia-interface (HDMI) display interface.
With the elimination of the SDVO port, it becomes challenging to provide cost-effective DVI and HDMI display
support on these second-generation low-power platforms.
It is possible to implement the required display interfaces
24 | Embedded Intel ® Solutions — Spring 2010 | www.embeddedintel.com
using an external graphics adapter. But availability and
support issues make this a costly option for embedded applications. In addition, the simultaneous use of external
PCI or PCI Express graphics adapters along with the inte­
grated Intel® GMA display ports must be carefully tested
and validated for each specific application. This is due to
interoperability issues with the target BIOS, drivers, and
operating system (OS), which are difficult to predict. Intel
is working on providing better support for hybrid multimonitor applications (see references 1 & 2), but many legacy
issues are still with us today. By better understanding these
interdependencies, it’s possible to design a system that will
function properly while opening the door to lower-cost
display solutions for the new low-power Intel® Atom™ platforms. In addition, applications requiring Blu-ray 1080p
video playback and support for more than two independent
displays can be cost effectively accommodated.
Issues That Must Be Managed
The following is a requirements Q&A checklist for
implementation, validation, and methodology to ensure
proper platform stability and availability over the required
product lifecycle:
1. Are any BIOS changes required and why? The
recommended Intel® video BIOS operation disables
the Intel® GMA display ports when an external
graphics adapter is detected at system boot-up. This
is done to ensure platform stability over the widest
possible range of system applications due to the
interoperability issues discussed previously. Because
the designer will be taking extra steps to guarantee
stability in the target embedded application, this BIOS
code can be safely modified.
2. What display port may be used for the primary boot
display? If the integrated display ports are to be used
simultaneously with an external graphics adapter, an
Intel® GMA-based display port must be dedicated as the
primary boot display.
4. What if some device drivers aren’t available from
the manufacturer for the target OS? This issue is
most often encountered with Linux OS applications
and when supporting a discontinued OS. The designer’s
first resources are the OS user groups and forums,
where it may be possible to find a compatible device
driver that has already been written for the target OS.
These are generally available in the public domain for
free use—yet without any guarantee that they’ll provide
stable operation in the application. If a project has
sufficient time and funding, the designer can develop
his or her own device driver(s) internally or contract an
outside developer. The resources, time to completion,
and risks associated with development of the required
device drivers should be reviewed carefully. It may be
more cost effective to use an OS that has better driver
availability and support.
9. What type of graphics adapters can be utilized?
This includes use of PCI, PCI Express, or MxM
graphics adapter cards or a graphics processor that’s
implemented at the chip level.
10. How does this affect the target application’s
mechanical, electrical, and thermal requirements?
The available system-enclosure space, cabling system,
power-supply capabilities, and cooling provisions
should be reviewed to make sure they’re adequate.
To guarantee stability of the final system configuration,
a bill-of-materials (BOM) lockdown is required for the revision level of all related hardware, firmware (BIOS), OS, and
application software. In addition, all components must be
sourced from a manufacturer that supports an embeddedproduct roadmap that meets the designer’s project lifecycle.
Selected components that don’t meet long-term requirements
can be inventoried for production or purchased at end-oflife (EOL) notification by the manufacturer. It’s important
to establish a good working relationship with all suppliers to
ensure timely communication of component-revision notifications and changes in product availability.
5. What are the requirements that need to be
considered for graphics applications, such as display
resolution, DirectX, Direct3D, or other imaging
support? DirectX and Direct3D applications that must
display in full-screen (non-windowed) mode should be
restricted to one display.
6. How does dynamic-video-memory-technology
(DVMT) function in an application concerning
memory allocation for graphics? System memory
is allocated to the graphics subsystem, making it
unavailable for use by the application software.
7. What testing must be performed to ensure
compatibility and full functionality of the target
application? Testing of all hardware configurations
with the target OS and application software must be
performed to insure stable operation.
8. What types of additional graphics ports are
required and do they need to provide simultaneous
independent display imaging? This includes standard
DVI, HDMI, LVDS, VGA display interfaces and any
proprietary display types that must be supported. Use
of DVI-I connector type can simplify connectivity for
applications requiring both DVI and VGA support.
Figure 1
www.embeddedintel.com | Embedded Intel ® Solutions — Spring 2010 | 25
3. What OS support is required? The target operating
system must be supported by the Intel Embedded
Graphics Drivers (currently 10.3.1) and all of the
graphics drivers that are required for external graphics
adapters. Both the third-party devices implemented at
the chip level and all connected hardware devices must
have compatible drivers available for the target OS.
Application Example
Currently, DFI-ITOX is developing the LR101-B16M
Mini-ITX motherboard for embedded applications requiring up to four independent displays (see Figure 1). This
standard-form-factor system board uses a flexible design approach that’s configurable with the low-power Intel® Atom™
processor N450, single-core Intel® Atom™ processor D410,
and dual-core Intel® Atom™ processor D510. A single-board
design (PCB) is used with specific voltage-regulator-module
(VRM) components selected at assembly time.
Additional display support is implemented using an S3
Chrome 435 ultra-low-power (ULP) graphics processor. It
provides support for 1080p Blu-ray video playback on two independent display ports, which are configurable as 2-DVI or
1-DVI + 1-HDMI. Combined with the integrated Intel® GMA
VGA and LVDS display interfaces, up to four independent
displays are fully supported. The S3 Chrome 435 ULP graphics processor supports an HDMI interface and provides both
VGA and DVI display signaling using two DVI-I connectors
(see Figure 2).
PCI Express, or MxM graphics cards. The most cost-effective
implementation is on board at the chip level using a graphics processor. Regardless of the method used, all required components
must meet long-term availability and revision-control requirements to guarantee platform stability.
A hybrid multi-monitor-display solution can be implemented
on Intel® Atom™ processor platforms to provide support for three
or more high-resolution displays through careful component
selection, implementation, and validation. Along with thorough
system-validation testing, the stabilities of the production systems can be maintained through a BOM lockdown to the revision
level of all related hardware, firmware (BIOS), OS, and application software. When any hardware, firmware, or software BOM
component requires a revision change, the entire system must be
revalidated and verified for proper operation. By following these
guidelines, an Embedded Intel® Architecture system platform
with expanded display support can maintain five- to seven-year
availability or more.
1. Intel® Embedded Graphics Drivers
2. David Galus & Kirk Blum, Hybrid Multi-monitor Support
Intel® Corporation, January 2010
Figure 2
COM Express System Applications
The same checklist provided previously may be used to
provide extended display support for COM Express-based embedded systems. Additional display support is easily provided at
the carrier board level in COM Express applications using PCI,
26 | Embedded Intel ® Solutions — Spring 2010 | www.embeddedintel.com
Todd Shaner is the business development manager for ITOX Applied computing located in East
Brunswick, NJ. With over 40 years in the computer
industry, he has held positions in design engineering and product management, along with his
current work in sales and marketing. ITOX is a
division of DFI, Inc. based in Taipei, Taiwan. DFI-ITOX is an Associate Member of the Intel® Communications Alliance. Contact
info: todds@itox.com 732-390-2815 x6712
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