Extra time: extended support for processors modules
congatec has extended support for the AMD Geode processor on ETX and XTX modules until 2021. This makes a total of 16 years, which is unique in the embedded processor market, where processors are usually available for seven years. We talked to Christian Eder about the importance of this extension.
Editor: congatec has partnered with AMD to provide long term support for the AMD Geode processors. What exactly is the focus of this partnership?
Christian Eder: It’s all about collaborating to support the customer. Even with such long availability, challenges arise, for example if other components become discontinued then the support by the processor manufacturer is in demand again. Such services need to be guaranteed and that is why we have confirmed the appropriate support from AMD.
Editor: Haven’t customers had to stock up on last order modules long ago because of threatening obsolescence?
Christian Eder: No. ETX and XTX computer modules are actually still manufactured in large batch sizes. Don’t forget that these two form factors were world leading in their class and generated more revenue per annum by 2012 than the succeeding COM Express standard, which was officially introduced by the PICMG in 2005. And even if we don’t talk much about these two form factors today, there is still substance here. We still deliver a five-digit number of computer modules with AMD Geode LX processors every year - and the trend is upwards.
Editor: How come that demand is increasing?
Christian Eder: Because other suppliers have bailed out and no longer deliver XTX or ETX modules. Their customers like to migrate to a functionally identical component, which is what the standard offers and what we always point out when we introduce the Computer-on-Module standards to our customers. Here we have a real proof of this benefit.
Editor: Various regulations have meant that old technologies had to be abandoned. Why has the AMD Geode processor managed to stay around for so long and is now getting another two more years of delivery time after the extension in 2016?
Christian Eder: It is true that many semiconductors were discontinued because they contained halogenated substrates. This has affected the entire industry including Intel, which stopped making many of its processors and brought alternatives to market instead. AMD, on the other hand, saw the challenge as an opportunity and qualified the AMD Geode processor with a non-halogenated substrate - with virtually no change in processor shape, dimensions, and function, with the effect that all AMD qualification criteria were still met.
Editor: And besides, AMD Geode also profited from the conversion to lead-free.
Christian Eder: Exactly. In 2005, we had a big changeover and the AMD Geode processor was the leader in its category then. So one thing adds to another, because who has a large installed base, will remain on the market for many years to come. That’s typical for embedded computer technology.
Editor: Where is the market for this comparatively old technology?
Christian Eder: The AMD Geode processor as well as the ETX and XTX modules still provide good computing performance per watt, plus they also support ISA and PCI. These two buses cannot be found today on new processor platforms, but were dominant for custom extensions over the past decade. So anyone who can manage with this performance, had no need to change.
Editor: But why are customers not changing? Shouldn’t they keep pace with developments? In 13 years, hasn’t a lot happened, particularly with regards to x86 technology?
Christian Eder: Embedded computer technology always means long term availability, and here’s an excellent example of what this can mean for customers: They benefit from a huge return on investment and can now offer their customers long term availability that comes close to the average car life in Germany, which at an average of 18 years until the scrap yard is considerable. And we are not talking about scrapping, but last order after 16 years.
Editor: So it wouldn’t come as a surprise if another extension were to be given and someday you’d be able to get the AMD Geode as a Youngtimer, still in series production like the VW Beetle?
Christian Eder: We don’t know and cannot make any promises. Don’t forget though that the VW Beetle has model years while the AMD Geode LX from 2005 is basically still the same, apart from the advancing software support. The congatec modules with the new halogen-free AMD Geode processors are therefore still listed under the original product order number, which is another indicator that this product is one of the oldest we offer.
Editor: What’s older?
Christian Eder: Only accessories, such as cable harnesses.
Editor: Let’s take a closer look at the customer requirements structure. Who exactly needs 16 years of availability?
Christian Eder: We have customers in markets that range from automation technology, to very long term rail technology, to the professional infotainment sector, and cost sensitive kiosk solutions, such as lottery terminals, where price and graphics performance are key. Of course, we see a tendency that we no longer sell our modules into the high-end sector of these applications, but into a market that is price-sensitive and where the price enables the volumes needed for a processor to still be in demand after so many years in attractive quantities.
Editor: What was the feature set at the time?
Christian Eder: At a typical TDP of 5W, we were able to equip the AMD Geode LX 800 with up to 1GB DDR3. That was quite remarkable. In addition, our modules offered various standard interfaces including USB, COM and Ethernet for various legacy applications. XTX additionally supported PCI Express, plus it was already designed with 32 bit for target applications.
Editor: If it is probably over in 2021, what do you recommend to your clients?
Christian Eder: There are several options. Which of them will be best for the customer in three years’ time cannot be predicted today. However, it is certain that we will offer our customers a good solution.
Editor: So embedded computing remains exciting and highly innovative?
Christian Eder: Of course! And all this with high long term availability at the same time as increasing complexity. That’s why we want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to use embedded computer technology. And in the case of the AMD Geode design, this means ‘Never Change a Winning Team’.