AMD has released a new SoC that combines an embedded-optimized Ryzen along with its Versal FPGA programmable array. This combination is specially targeted at integrating with sensors that require a customized interface (hence the FPGA) along with processing power that can effectively analyze sensor data for operational and analytical requirements.
The AMD Embedded+ processor is an extension of the significant work AMD has done in supplying processors for embedded systems over many years. But for this particular implementation, the ability to add interface programmability brings a whole new class of devices to market.
While many lower end embedded system are powered by ARM-ecosystem chips, higher end embedded solutions with more complex operational and processing needs heavily depend on x86 architecture. This is a robust and expanding market area and one that AMD can exploit, although it does have competition from Intel. This is AMD’s target market for this SoC.
In the past, many physical sensors have required a customized interface capability beyond the standard USB or PCIe interfaces that are either industry specific or proprietary to the sensor. For smaller volume sensor deployments, this has created a complexity that manufacturers of embedded system solutions have struggled with.
Significant time and energy are often required to interface these sensors to the final product, be it for healthcare, utilities, robotics, machine vision, retail, automotive, industrial or other applications. It also limited the ability to create a single compute platform that could interface with a variety of sensors. And it required an extended time to market for the final system.
AMD’s Embedded+ eliminates much of the real world connection challenges as it enables a programmable approach to sensor integration and computation. By building a platform, solution providers can create a single system with customizable interfaces that not only adapt to individual sensors as needed, but potentially allow for sensor upgrades in existing systems, which is much harder to do with the custom electronics commonly used. Further, the standard x86 architecture means that many existing OS (e.g., Linux, Windows) and application software solutions can easily be deployed. Using Open Source components for many solutions has become standard practice, so being able to utilize such capability in an embedded system with little modification both speeds time to market and lowers overall cost of development/operation.
AMD is targeting the SoC for Sensor Fusion and Real Time Control. AMD currently offers over 80 I/O solutions for the SoC. Indeed, programmable I/O was one of the foundational applications that Xilinx (now Versal after AMD’s acquisition) was created to solve. This effort is targeted at extension of the existing small form factor and low power PC board-level solutions market. And while AMD does not directly offer the board level system, AMD Embedded+ provides a simple way for ODMs to create a more versatile and programmable solution for fully embedded systems.
AMD is also promoting the Versal components as an AI Edge architecture component needed for many new application areas. Although not as powerful as current NPUs used for AI acceleration, FPGAs have been used in AI solutions for some time, particularly at the edge (e.g., network interfaces).
AMD does offer a variety of processor cores that can be utilized in the Ryzen Embedded+ solutions, initially with a 4 core CPU and a Radeon GPU capability that is required for many visualization and complex graphical interfaces, as well as for video and audio processing. Over time more Ryzen processor cores will be available for selection to meet various system solution requirements to both upscale and downscale compute.
AMD is working with ODM partners that will create a variety of embedded solutions. The first is from Sapphire Technology, a leading vendor of graphics, embedded and GPU solutions for consumer and commercial systems. More are likely to follow shortly.
Bottom Line: AMD Embedded+ is an extension of the work AMD has been doing in embedded systems for many years and in support of an expanding customer base. With FPGA programmability and Ryzen compute on a single SoC, this solution will enable ODMs to create a platform that can be used across multiple vertical industries, and provide faster time to market and lower development costs for system makers. This is a major step forward as previously similar solutions would have required configuring individual CPU and FPGA components which would have increased complexity and size of the system board. The AMD Embedded+ solution will be a major advantage for many creators of system hardware, and shows a leadership solution from AMD as well.
Jack Gold is founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, LLC. With more than 45 years of experience in the computer and electronics industries, and as an industry analyst for more than 25 years, he covers the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies. Follow him on Twitter @jckgld or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jckgld.