Intel is introducing its latest “system on a chip”.  Formerly known as Canmore, the Intel Media Processor CE 3100 is an “all in one” solution for set top boxes and other types of video playback devices.  The chip includes an IA core based on the Dothan architecture, 3D graphics and video playback, integrated DDR-2 memory controller, SATA connections, PCI-E, audio support, USB support, and gigabit networking support (via physical layer chip).  The entire package runs at 800 MHz and is supposed to provide a very snappy experience in the products it is designed for.  The video portion supports HDMI 1.3a as well as component output for high definition televisions.

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The actual processor itself appears to be a sizeable piece of silicon, though obviously not as large as a Phenom or the monstrous NVIDIA GTX200 chip.

While a good portion of users are not entirely fond of the idea of internet on their TV, the other media level applications that this setup could support makes it a very interesting set top box for a good portion of users.  The box would be a low power unit which would give off little heat.  The Dothan core is more than fast enough to handle most applications that are designed for the set-top box, and the video graphics engine is supposed to offload high definition content decode from the CPU.  Support for a 160 GB (or larger in later versions) is handled by the internal SATA controller.  The entire box in current form pulls under 60 watts.

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The demo box does not feature a digital cable receiver, and so it is limited to being connected to a LAN and playing content from there.  Perhaps later versions will have better input support and then can “layer” the output to include realtime internet connectivity and information all the while being able to play content directly from digital cable and satellite.


Going back over some of Ryan’s slides and his previous day’s live blog, I was able to glean a few more tidbits about Canmore.  It is a 150 million transistor part, but they do not mention what process node that it is produced on.  We can assume it is either 65 nm or 45 nm, but looking at the size of the die above and its clockspeed, I would guess that it is a low cost 65 nm part (which is not necessarily a bad thing).  It features 46 clock domains, which means that while the IA32 based Dothan core runs at 800 MHz, different portions of the chip could run faster or slower, depending on the functionality.  Overall I would say that we will not see significant differences in clock speed (eg. cpu runs at 800 MHz and graphics portion at 200 MHz), but there are enough differences to make it interesting.

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Gigabyte is one of the launch partners for the Canmore product, and we can see their finished product here.  The 2.5″ 160 GB SATA drive will be the initial offering, but in the future we can likely expect larger capacities.  These should be hitting shelves within a month’s time or so.  The only major issue I see with the design is the use of a digital coax connection rather than optical.

The integrated memory controller handles up to 3 channels of DDR-2 memory, so overall bandwidth and latency should not be an issue.  While Intel does not go into how many pins are in each memory controller, we can assume that they are likely around 32 per controller looking at the picture above with the 768 MB of memory.  With DDR-2 533 memory we should see around 6.4 GB/sec of memory throughput (if my math is correct).  Because it is broken up into 3 channels, we can theoretically get better overall granularity of memory transactions.  If Intel handles it like AMD does in its “unganged” mode for the Phenom memory controller, we can expect that overall efficiency among the different components will be improved instead of relying on a single channel memory controller which could incur some latency on important data being delivered to multiple portions of the chip.

On the chip itself the 3D graphics, display processing engine, and audio/video decode portions all combine to be larger than the single Dothan core.  Few details were given about the graphics engine, but hopefully it is not based on previous integrated graphics parts from Intel.  And if it is, then I certainly hope that Intel has improved the performance and functionality over the current G45 series of parts.  According to Ryan, Intel was able to show two HD video streams being rendered at angles to the screen by the 3D engine, so there seems hope yet that this might be a useful 3D design!