The Quark SoC family, which Intel announced at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco last month, has been advertised as "Tiny SoCs for Tiny Devices," but the original announcement left a lot of unanswered questions. For what market were they intended? What peripherals would be on a baseline chip? Would only OEMs be able to use them, or could hobbyists also get their hands on one?
The Quark SoC family: "Tiny SoCs for Tiny Devices."
Intel answered most of these questions in a surprising way today by releasing the Galileo, the highest-performance Arduino-compatible development board currently available. EE Times editor Max Maxfield recently mentioned that it was time to get serious about Arduino. I think Intel has taken this concept to the next level. But before we get into the Galileo development board, let's take a look at the chip that makes all the magic happen.
The Intel Quark is a 32-bit processor that runs with a maximum clock speed of 400 MHz. This seems to position the chip as targeting the high-end ARM Cortex-M4F class and the low-end ARM Cortex-A series devices. The specific chip carried on the Galileo is the Quark X1000, which has the following features:
- Single core
- 400MHz maximum clock speed
- 512kb embedded SRAM
- Support for external, single-channel DDR3 DRAM (up to 2 GB)
- Support for IA 32-bit Pentium x86 instruction set
- Out-of-order processing
- Integrated floating-point unit
- Integrated PCIe X1
- 10/100 Ethernet PHY
- USB2 Device and Host
- SPI Master
- 0.593 pitch FCBGA package, 393 solder balls, 15mm x 15mm
After reading through as much material as I could quickly absorb, I can say that Intel has put a lot of work into this chip. One thing I have noticed is that there does not seem to be strong support for native GPIO on this specific implementation of the Quark. There seems to be little material on timers and pulse width modulation features. A handful of statements seem to indicate that these capabilities would be expected to be added via external modules.
It is important to remember that the Quark X1000 SoC is more of a prototype chip that represents a bare core. This is similar to ARM Cortex processor cores, which get licensed out to other companies that create chips with augmented functionality around these cores. Intel is offering the Quark architecture to its partners, which will be able to add their peripherals to the silicon. I expect that the partners will also have some ability to dictate packaging. The difference between the ARM Cortex business model and the Intel Quark business model is that Intel will be providing the foundry service, whereas ARM only licenses the intellectual property of the core itself.
A few things will prevent hobbyists from integrating the Quark X1000 (as currently designed) into their own designs. The first issue is that it is a fine-pitch BGA device. This would require more than a two- or four-layer board. The chip is also hobbyist unfriendly in that five different voltages are required to power the chip. This is not to say that a partner might not come along and integrate a power solution into its specific implementation.
Despite the potential difficulty of using a Quark in a custom design, Intel has made it easy to get some experience with the chip through the Galileo development board.
The Galileo is a full-reference design. It includes a downloadable Cadance BRD file and other required design documentation for the Galileo and the Quark X1000. These documents can be found on the Intel Makers Community website. The Galileo features Arduino compatibility, but Intel also offers two versions of Linux. The Galileo is slated to be available by the end of November through major vendors such as Mouser and Digikey.
Now that the word is out, will the Galileo make it on to your Christmas list? What might you do with such a high-performing Arduino-compatible board?