All of the work and quality control that Intel pours into its desktop boards also flows over into its embedded products. After all, in many cases, an embedded design is essentially a desktop platform optimized from being general use into single-purpose. In applications such as kiosk terminals or digital signage, size and performance can be important, but, again, reliability trumps all.
When it comes to size, microATX remains Intel’s bread and butter, but an increasing amount of the embedded industry is moving to Mini-ITX. While ITX is one of the few form factors Intel didn’t originate, Intel has taken the open standard and refined it into a new, even more targeted design. “Thin Mini-ITX” cuts the z-height of a motherboard in nearly half. Whereas a conventional 17x17 cm Mini-ITX board has an I/O shield measuring 44 mm high, thin Mini-ITX shrinks this to only 25 mm. This opens up new opportunities in areas such as in-car systems, hospital carts, media center consoles, and especially all-in-one (AIO) system designs, enabling systems as small as one cubic liter in size. In comparison, a traditional tower PC is about 30 liters.
Naturally, Intel embedded boards go through the same design and validation regimen as their desktop counterparts, but the potential for design innovation here—what people can actually do with these boards—is so vast that the company takes extra steps to help grow the market. One example is Intel’s Embedded Development Boards effort. For only $149, even first-time developers get a modular, Mini-ITX motherboard based on the Intel Atom processor and a slew of user documentation, datasheets, installation guides (emphasizing Linux), videos, and more, all aimed at helping businesses go from having an idea to a working, innovative solution built on an ultra-compact x86 platform.