December 13, 2012 at 9:02 pm #1075
I have designed several industrial audio products with DSP chips for real-time audio processing. While a DSP is powerful enough for a small number of complex channel processing, several DSP chips with high speed interconnects must be used with big channel counts (airports, theaters, stadiums…), making it hard to design such systems.
For some time now I am looking for a low cost, fanless, x86 based industrial board for implementing such demanding systems. Real tests made with our own algorithms compiled for x86 targets (with SSE3 support) show that this platform would allow us to process several hundreds of audio channels using a single processor. Our new target product line is based around this platform as the “big brain” processor for all real-time DSP tasks, and several standalone audio boxes for analog I/O (the audio boxes have a small ARM processor inside) . The processor and the audio boxes are linked with an in house developed network protocol using standard Ethernet switches. Such protocol allows very low latency transport of high quality uncompressed digital audio signals. Audio boxes allow transporting until 32×32 channels each one by using 100Mbps Ethernet links. The processor itself allows transporting until 320×320 channels by using a single gigabit Ethernet link.
The Gizmo board seems very promising for our requirements, because it is fanless, it provides 2 x86 cores with SSE3 @1GHz each one, it allows BIOS customization, and it seems easy to connect our front panels and other custom peripherals using the internal connectors. Regarding cost, $199 is a good price for a development board with debugger, but I hope a lower price for board-only bulk orders (another board I am considering is the Intel DN2800MT, with an ATOM N2800 @1.86GHz inside, which costs as low as $100 -without RAM-… However, the ATOM board hasn’t direct support for hard debugging, or the BIOS or panel customization, which is an add-on).
However I have found that the Gizmo board has some limitations (at least for us) which could be avoided by changing the board slightly:
First, the included NIC controller (Realtek RTL8111DL) is not suitable for industrial Ethernet networking because it lacks hardware support for the IEEE1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP). In our application, this is absolutely necessary for implementing the low latency audio transport protocol (and currently in any industrial grade timing accurate protocol). It could be overcome by adding a PCIe card with a NIC wich supports IEEE1588, but I think it could be better (and cheaper) to change the Realtek NIC to an Intel 82574L or i210 Ethernet controller instead.
Second, as my main interest is in audio processing, I would like to get direct access to signals of the High Definition Audio Link (HDA) of the A55E through the High Speed Connector (or another one), instead of routing them directly to the Realtek ALC272 (maybe make it optional by using a bus switch). This could be used to easily add high quality multichannel audio I/O to the product with a custom daughter board.December 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm #1076
Roger, thanks for your detailed post! I trust it’ll give other developers ideas on how to use the Gizmo Explorer Kit to develop their designs. And we’ll make sure someone gets in touch with you regarding your board change suggestions. Thanks!December 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm #1108
At Pounce Electronics we worked on the Gizmo Board design and manufacturing. The board can definitely be customized for specific applications & price points based on your needs and volumes.
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