Boxee Box: The Inside Story, Swapping Tegra 2 for Intel CE4100by Ganesh T S & Brian Klug on September 13, 2010 10:31 AM EST
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- Media Streamer
- Home Theater
The Intel CE4100 (codenamed Sodaville) was introduced on September 24, 2009 at the Intel Developer Forum. Based on the Atom CPU, it is a full blown SoC. A basic block diagram of the CE4100 is shown below.
The x86 core in the SoC is based on the Atom CPU. We suspect that the CE4100 is a slightly modified single die implementation of the Lincroft and Langwell SOCs used in Moorestown, albeit in the 45nm process. While the Moorestown platform had a 32 bit DDR interface, the CE4100 increases this to 64. Other than that, the core components for the OpenGL and video decode support seem to be the same.
The Atom core with 512K of L2 cache is the host processor in the SoC. Though the internal L1 cache details are not public, it is likely to be the same as that of the Lincroft SoC which had 24K of data cache and 32K of instruction cache. Owing to a single die implementation, as well as the process geometry, the TDP of the SoC must be a bit high compared to Lincroft or Langwell taken alone. The higher DRAM bus width also contributes to an increase in the TDP.
The memory controller can support two separate channels of 32-bit DDR2-800/DDR3-1333. This is in contrast to the single channel 32 bit DRAM support in the Tegra 250 which was the earlier SoC under consideration. A NAND flash controller helps the system boot from attached Flash storage. The ability to boot from NAND flash has the potential to reduce the board costs.
Next, we shift our attention to the most interesting gray box in the diagram. This block consists of the video decoder, display processor and the graphics processor. While the block diagram removes any doubt that the graphics processor used is the same as the one used in the iPhone 4 (Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX535), the origins of the other two components are not entirely clear. We have been led to believe that Imagination Technologies is behind these components as well. The decoder would be a member of the PowerVR VXD series, and it is indicated that two simultaneous HD streams can be decoded. There is also hardware acceleration for decoding JPEG pictures, so one may possibly look forward to snappy photo slideshows in products using this SoC. The scaling, noise reduction and deinterlacing features of the display processor need proper programming in order to be able to deliver good results, and the quality of the Intel drivers would ultimately decide the HQV scores for media streamers based on this SoC. The display controller also needs proper configuration in case a product based on this SoC is supposed to end up supporting native frame rates. It is also responsible for OSD blending, subtitles and miscellaneous video functions.
From the perspective of the Boxee Box, the Audio/Video inputs go unused. However, using this SoC in a DVR / PVR system would make the usage of these inputs necessary. For media streamers, HDMI 1.3a is the key feature. Considering that this SoC was launched almost one year back, the absence of HDMI 1.4 is excusable. For general I/O, we have GbE support, but the Boxee Box only enables 100 Mbps Ethernet. The 2 SATA ports also go unused, but both the USB 2.0 host ports are taken advantage of. Some of the other I/O ports are configured for supporting SDIO. Without a look at the board, and knowledge of the pin configuration, it is not evident which I/Os are configured for supporting the SD card.
The CE4100 also sports a dual audio DSP from Tensilica, the Tensilica HiFi2. It is capable of downmixing / decoding two lossless HD audio streams (as per Blu-Ray bitrate specifications) simultaneously. The Transport Processor would be useful for a STB product. We have been given to understand that the security processor is not disabled in the Boxee Box. This should enable the Boxee Box to access premium online content and also get a license from the Blu-Ray consortium.
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quiksilvr - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkSeriously this sounds awesome. Who would have thought Intel of all companies would come out with a GPU that nVidia (or AMD, I guess) could not make for Boxee.
mados123 - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkWell, it not really the GPU functionality that is the limiting factor here. From what I understand it is the other aspects of the SoC (System on a Chip), the CPU that is keeping it from breaking the 10Mbps+ threshold.
ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkmados123, it is not the CPU that is the issue here.
It is probably a problem with the video decoding unit having too high a latency for high profile videos.
Spivonious - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkThey all have GPUs that can handle this. It's the Tegra SOC (system-on-a-chip) that couldn't handle 1080p h.264 at reasonable framerates.
Chris Peredun - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkTechnically it's Imagination Technologies you should be thanking for the GPU, it's a PowerVR SGX series.
And yes, you can haz in netbook - you just get it renamed as the GMA500. The only problem is that it's lacking the necessary driver support. Of course there are unofficial ways of making that work.
ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkYes, it is the SGX series which is responsible for the snappy Boxee UI on the Boxee Box. The video decode, though, is handled by the VXD series IP.
By the way, this IP isn't worth waiting for driver support over. It is best used as a CE device with prebuilt firmware support.
If you are going the notebook or HTPC route, there are much more powerful decoders with inbuilt video processing functions available.
AgeOfPanic - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkthat there is no talk about which services it actually supports. I assume Netflix is, but for instance Hulu Plus would be a major bonus too. That said, this looks like a very nice solution. If they can take the XBMC/MediaPortal experience and make it usable for the general public, this could be a hit.
ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkBoxee/ D-Link couldn't get the agreements in place in time for IDF (with which this PR is coinciding).
They are talking to almost all the top premium service providers, but, being under NDA, I am unable to comment further.
If Netflix and Hulu are important to a particular person, they should wait for the PR announcing them as content partners before placing the pre-order :) ( or, if they are the cautious type like me, just wait till the thing is released to the public and reviewed thoroughly :) )
AgeOfPanic - Monday, September 13, 2010 - linkOf course. Reviews are always good. I just realized actually that Hulu Plus works fine through your browser, so you should have access indirectly.
tipoo - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link" Tegra 2 was incapable of playing back high profile 1080p H.264 videos at even 10 Mbps"
Interesting, Apples spec page lists a low 2.5Mbps limit for MPEG-4 for the Apple TV with the A4 chip in it.