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The Mil & Aero Blog
Intel i7 microprocessor set to produce a tectonic shift in military embedded computer industry
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Posted by John Keller
LAS VEGAS, 7 Jan. 2010. The military embedded computer industry is turning backflips today amidst the excitement surrounding this morning's introduction by microprocessor giant Intel Corp. of its Core i7, i5, and i3 processors at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Several of Intel's powerful new microprocessors are based on the company's 32-nanometer submicron processing technology, yet what has the military computer board industry excited is the floating point processing capability of the i7 device.
Intel and its customers are attracted to floating point capability for new generations of desktop computers that can handle video faster and more efficiently than ever before, but defense and aerospace systems designers and single-board computer makers see floating point and think digital signal processing.
While Intel sees the floating point capability of its Core i7 processor as the gateway to a new generation of complex graphics and fast streaming video, military systems designers see it as the latest and greatest way to implement signal processing for advanced radar, sonar, electronic warfare, and electro-optical applications with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) single-board computers.
Within hours of Intel's introduction today of the Core i7 processor and the other chips in the company's new Core family, embedded computing heavyweights Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing in Leesburg, Va., GE Intelligent Platforms in Charlottesville, Va., and Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc. of Middleton, Wis., had introduced embedded computers based on the Intel Core i7.
In the grand military embedded computing microprocessor wars that have been entertaining us now for nearly 30 years, it looks like there may be a tectonic shift happening that could swing preferences, which now revolve around the Freescale Semiconductor Power Architecture, back into Intel's camp.
During the past three decades since Intel virtually disappeared from the military embedded scene, the Freescale Power Architecture and its ancestors have dominated military embedded applications, dating from around the time when VME became the most popular databus for mil apps, progressing from the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, to the PowerPC, the PowerPC Altivec, and the Power Architecture.
Intel has not had a strong presence in military embedded systems since the 1980s, when the company abandoned its mil-spec semiconductor processing line in Chandler, Ariz., and concentrated almost exclusively on the desktop market. That's changing now, fast, and in a big way.
While Intel is out of the gate with big market momentum for its Core i7 devices, Freescale has a lot of catching up to do. The company disappointed many military systems integrators when it abandoned the Altivec floating point capability in its latest family of microprocessors in a bid to go after the handheld and cell phone market, rather than the desktop market, which Freescale had given up to Intel.
It remains to bee seen in the coming weeks just how big a deal this shift in the microprocessor industry will be. With the likes of Curtiss Wright, GE, and Extreme Engineering on board, it's bound to be significant for the military embedded industry.
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