Intel integrated graphics in deployed defense systems

The graphics display support built directly into the latest generations of Core i7 processors is now more than sufficient for providing for many types of low- to mid-end deployed military applications. The use of a () that features an “Ivy Bridge,” “Sandy Bridge,” or “Haswell” class of Intel processor can often eliminate the need for an additional embedded card such as a dedicated 3U or graphics display module. However, there are a number of cases in which an integrated Intel graphics approach won’t be able to meet the requirements of a particular military system, either because of performance, lack of support for specific hardware interface types, or the lack of software drivers for supporting in real-time operating environments and .

At the low- to mid-end of video-display applications, the graphics processing capability of the newest Intel processors is typically satisfactory. For example, if the graphics processor will be used to drive a mission computer type of Human Machine Interface () to an , the integrated Intel GPU will be able to handle the job. On the other hand, if the application places great demands on system memory and has critical performance requirements, the integrated GPU might not be sufficient because of the shared-memory model used by the Intel processors. Applications that require intensive processing and near-real-time display of complex images, such as digital mapping systems, need to be closely analyzed to ensure that the use of will suffice.

Where fit

Applications requirements that call for embedded graphics typically fall into one or more of three different categories: performance, hardware interface requirements, and/or real-time OS driver support. Because the performance requirements of a graphics display application will vary greatly from system to system, the system designer needs to ensure that the integrated graphics available on the SBC can handle the job. For the most demanding video-intensive applications, such as embedded training, moving maps, Geographic Information Systems (), 360-degree , and Diminished Vision Enhancement (), the integrated Intel graphics may not be able to deliver the graphics horsepower needed to support real-time video processing at the required frame rates. For the most graphics-intensive applications, a dedicated high performance GPU such as an Radeon should be considered.

Interface limits

Usually, Intel-based and VPX SBCs do not provide all the possible interface types supported by deployed displays. Only the most popular contemporary interface types, such as VGA and DVI, are typically made available to the user. If the application requires legacy interface types, such as STANAG 3350 or RS170, the system may require the use of a separate embedded-graphics module designed to support those interfaces.

Another issue arises when an application requires a large number of interfaces. Typically, Intel-based SBCs are limited to three graphics heads. Many applications – such as those that support multiple video sensors – require multiple displays used by a large number of operators, and graphic-intensive training scenarios often need access to far more than three interfaces. For these cases, an embedded-graphics module with a discrete GPU can be used to add from two to six additional interfaces.

Supporting OpenGL in a real-time environment

An embedded-graphics module is also required when support for the open standard graphics language OpenGL is needed in a real-time operating environment. Today, many VME and VPX SBCs are supported with drivers in the Board Support Packages (BSP) that the board vendor provides for use with popular Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOS) such as . However, there are not yet any vendors who provide embedded-graphics RTOS drivers with support for OpenGL on Ivy Bridge or Haswell-class Intel processors. When both OpenGL and an RTOS are required, the system’s Intel SBC can be augmented with the addition of an embedded graphics card.

Figure 1: The ’ VPX3-716 3U module is designed for use on deployed airborne and ground vehicle platforms.
(Click graphic to zoom by 1.9x)

One example of a high-performance graphics display module that can be used to overcome the limits of integrated Intel graphics for demanding applications is Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions’ VPX3-716 3U OpenVPX module (see Figure 1). This rugged 3U module is the first rugged graphics card based on AMD’s next generation GPU, the AMD Embedded Radeon E8860, codenamed “Adelaar,” and features six independent graphics outputs, 2 GB of dedicated video memory, and H.264 MPEG4 motion video decoders. Designed for use on deployed airborne and ground vehicle platforms, this graphics engine meets the long life-cycle availability required for military programs through use of a suite of CoreAVI software drivers supported with a 20-year component supply program.

Product Marketing Manager/Graphics Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions