What Dual-Core Technology Means for Industrial Computing

01 June 2006

Faced with diminishing returns from increasing processor clock frequencies, microprocessor manufacturers AMD and Intel have introduced new products with two CPUs on a single chip, theoretically
doubling their performance. In 2007 we will see the first quad-core chip.

The new Intel Core Duo Pro microprocessor has two execution cores, enabling parallel threads or applications to be executed on separate platforms with dedicated CPU resources. This, combined with many other engineering advancements with oddsounding names like Advanced Stack Management, Micro-op Fusion, Smart Cache, Dynamic Power Coordination, and Deeper Sleep, boosts performance and reduces power consumption. The dual core chip is manufactured with a new 65 nanometre process which
produces transistors so small that 100 of them could fit inside a human cell. Electrons moving among the transistors don’t have very far to go.

At the Hannover Messe, Kontron presented the first industrial PCs based on Intel’s dual-core strategy. These allow the integration of controls (such as soft PLC) and visualisation in one system, so that only one computer is needed for both control and visualisation. Control, for example, could be running on a realtime
operating system while the visualisation runs in a Windows environment.

Systems that currently use control and visualisation in parallel are found in many industries. They have one thing in common: procedures in which an operator controls the process and complex live data (video or
communications) that must be quickly processed to ensure the quality of the products or services being produced. Until now, these have been separated into visualisation and control for safety reasons, because the cycle times for the control must not in any way be endangered, for example, by a visualisation program which crashes or suffers an attack from the network.

Dual core systems offer another advantage: Virtualisation Technology (VT). If VT is added, everything becomes even more convenient; multiple operating systems and applications can run in independent partitions on one processor platform as ’virtual machines.’ The partitions themselves can be assigned on-the-fly as needed. Thus, not just two systems in one, but n-in-one are possible. Thanks to the high degree of
abstraction, applications can be moved from one server to another. All of this helps save costs—if the solutions are appropriately implemented.

VT is not just a side issue. Intel plans to make it the standard for every new processor platform. The makers of other operating systems will also support VT. Thus, for example, RedHat, Suse, and Montavista will bundle the public domain XAN Virtual Machine Monitor with their software. Future applications development with these technologies will be unavoidable if you want to maintain state-of-the-art technology.

Ultimately, it’s the performance
Besides the many promising features of VT, the subject of performance (per watt) naturally remains an important deciding criterion for dual-core in industrial PCs. The dual-core chips from Intel, with long-term availability of 5 to 7 years, have been available in notebooks since January 2006.

The first IPC systems based on Kontron dual-core platforms were launched at the Hannover Messe (see photo).

The first IPCs equipped with the Intel Core Duo T2500 processor and the mobile Intel 945GM Express chipset offer 2 GHz dual-frequency at 31 watts. Alternatively, the systems are available with lower specification processors, including a single core processor.

This comparison in the above graph shows the increase in productivity—it produces close to twice the performance at the same frequency and with single-threaded software. Furthermore, the first real-time measurements have proven that dual-core performs somewhat more than hyperthreading and practically as much as Intel Xeon processors with two processor cores. Faced with the question of which processor
should be the next to be embedded in a high-performance mechatronics system, Intel Core Duo is the right answer in every case.

—Norbert Hauser is VP of Marketing with Kontron

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