Thursday, November 3, 2005


Windows Embedded Conference: Notes from Day 2

The second day of the Windows Embedded Conference was better than the first day.

Intel's presentations, in particular, were a lot more interesting. I am a software architect and I must admit that I have not followed the evolutions of the various CPUs as well as I did in the past so I learned a lot about the three families:

  • Xeon: high end/performance. Typically ~100 watts
  • Pentium 4: Mid range
  • Pentium m (+ celeron m): low power consumption: 5->15 watt

The Pentium M was designed from the ground up with low power consumption and performance in mind. Low power consumption and low heat emission is important not only in the embedded markets where having fanless systems is a benefit. They are also becoming more important in server farms where CPU heat is problem for blade servers.

Intel, as the other chip makers, have hit the 4Ghz CPU limit so they are working on several fronts to improve performance. The main news for 2006 is that all three processor families will become multi core (dual core initially). The current hyper threading technology simulates two processors in one execution core. During 2006 all the processors will get a real dual cores with two separate execution cores, separate L1 caches, registers etc. They will share the L2 cache and buss and live on the same piece of silicon. This has a more than 2X performance improvement, but most important of all, it gives more than 3.5X to 6X performance improvement /watt. The multi core scenario will continue to pack more cores on the chips during the next decade until we get real "micro" machines. Not only multiple cores but groups of cores.

They are also continuing to cram the transistors closer together. The best chips today use 90nm technology which will drop to 65nm next year. The road map is impressive as they already have 22nm prototypes and plan to drop to 8nm by 2017.

The Windows XP Embedded overview presentation was  held by Cesare de Siena  (Abacus ECC). A great presenter that cleared up a lot of my doubts about Windows XP Embedded.

Windows XP Embedded is a superset of Windows XP where you can choose which of the ~11.0000 parts/components of the OS you want to use. If your device doesn't have USB, why install the drivers for it as it takes precious resources? Any program written for XP works on XP Embedded as long as the correct parts have been installed. A Dependency Checker helps you with the task in case you try to remove too much.

The most interesting features of Windows XP Embedded is what is -not- in XP:

  • EWF: Enhanced Write Filter. You can configure your disk to be read-only so you can run it from a CD or write protected flash memory. It supports multiple volumes so the read-only OS image can be on a write protected volume while user data is saved on another volume.
  • Device Driver Rollback: If a new driver fails you can roll back to the previous version. The impressive thing is that it actually works (according to the presenter :-)
  • Remote Boot allows disk less installations as you can have the OS image on a remote server
  • Message Redirection: a -must have- feature for headless installation. I don't know many times I have seen error messages on public terminals with message like "you are running low on disk space". The message redirection allows you to provide configurable answers to messages like that or redirect them to an external system.
  • HORM. Hibernate Once, Resume Many must be the coolest feature of them all. Resume is no new feature as it also works on XP, but couple with EWF you can have a read-only hibernated state. The device can resume from a known stable hibernated state from a flash disk in an instant. No matter what "damages" the user does to the system, it will reload from the same read-only image after a hibernation or a reset,

At the end of the presentation I "saw the light" and saw other uses for it than the typical kiosk application. XP Embedded would be perfect for locked down PCs for kids and students: the operating system can be write protected and the computer turns on in an instant with HORM. No way you can mess up the machine with the control panel if it is not installed...

It has no online activation and costs ~30% less than the normal Windows XP so it's the perfect solution if you want to tinker a bit

Overall judgment of the conference? Good.
I learned a lot of new things today and the sessions were definitely worth my time. It is a shame that you either follow the presentations or attend the labs. Less "marketing" issues the first day and a chance to get hands-on experience in the labs would have given a “great“ vote.

One final word: ecosystem
I don't know how many times I have heard the word ecosystem these days, but it is as bad as "empowerment" was last year...

1 comment:

  1. The presentations can be downloaded from under Technical Roadshows FY06

    All participants should have received a user name and password to access the information. Feel free to give me a shout if you did not.