Tablet Project

One of our customers requests us to develop 15" tablet which could be used as a ViewFinder for video camera operators. Main requirements were 4K display and using Intel Haswell GPU only for unpack 3G Bayer RAW video stream from 3G-SDI interface.

That's final device view in SolidWorks:

Tablet general

First stage: 4K 30 fps 15" Tablet

We didn't have enough experience to develop Haswell-based motherboard from scratch. Instead, we take COM Express Type 6 module with Intel Haswell i7-4850 containing 5200 graphics core. Then we split PCB onto 2 boards: Interface and Power. It allowed us to minimize error risks, development time and run development work in parallel with power engineers and high-speed microprocessor engineers. It also reduced development cost, because we had to re-produce and re-assembly only half of the design in case of error.

Generally, there were no serious problem, with one exception: BIOS vendor made error and we couldn't get BIOS video output from DisplayPort. Fortunately, as COM Express is industry-oriented standard, we got text output via serial port. We used Linux, so we make GRUB settings to redirect stdout from screen to serial port, and switch it back to DisplayPort in Linux with right conditions.

Device structure

Tablet structure

 

It was only one of my projects, which were finished exactly at the day written in a contract. To be honest, it requires me to fly myself to development team, take the device and then ride to the customer, but it was our first hardware project with that customer, and such precision was very important.

 

Second stage: 4K 60 fps 15" Tablet

 

In next project customer asked us to re-design device to 60 fps 4K, which requires new Intel Skylake processor with its new 540 graphics core. Additionally, customer recommended changing operating system to Windows 10, to use latest graphics drivers. It was easy: we changed COM6 module to new one (Skylake CPU was just had been released, and we had to use EVT modules SU968 from DFI). We spent most work efforts to write Windows 10 driver for FPGA.

 

Third stage: 4K 60fps 10" Tablet with internal 500GB storage

Final stage was customer's request for design of real tablet - with 10-12" 4K panel and thin case. We understood that our previous outsourcer didn’t have enough experience, so we had to outsource design with Tablet ODM on China or Taiwan. The problem was how to get first contacts with their engineers and managers. It is not so easy if you trying to make primary contact "from the street".

 What I did:

First, I visited Wikipedia Notebook ODM page and copied to Excel all list of notebook manufacturers. It was 45 companies in this list.

Second, I defined methods how to get contact to their engineering divisions.

Obviously, primary way should be use contact email on their web pages or corresponding request web forms. The problem is, of course, that too much spam is sent to these addresses, so chances to get required contact through this way are vague. However, we had to send formal request on these emails, to satisfy formal requirements (and to have possibility to say in conversation "Sorry, I've already sent request here, but had no answer").

BTW, I also thought that my email would be added in mailing list in those companies anyway, so I asked our IT service to create separate email for that task, and I was right - there was a lot of spam I still receive on that address, but email filter is very simple and effective. 

Next ways to reach required people were:

- search on Google email addresses using strings "@inventec.com" and skype like "_inventec". Looks silly at first glance, but I got more responses than using emails given on corporative "Contacts" pages.

- and the last way, which leads me to success, was taking 1-month test LinkedIn Premium account (does your company pay 60$/month for your LinkedIn Premium? I envy to you!) and send InMails to right people. How to find right people in LinkedIn? Very easy. Type in search field "Inventec tablet division" and you get at least 10 appropriate people. All you need is to send them (most suitable of them) short text like "I looking for ODM for develop my tablet, can you point me to right contacts in your company to discuss?" In addition, which is main part, link to real Tech Spec in pdf format, to make people believe that you are interested to start real business. (Don't worry, there is no disclose of the spec, I uploaded it to free access and tried to attract anyone's attention for a month)

In my way LinkeIn people chain in $2B company was: CTO in Notebook division->Director Deputy in Tablet division->CTO in Tablet division. Then we organized kick-off meeting and started business discussion.

 Full table of that investigation process was (45 companies overall):

ODM table

Next hard step was looking for 4K panel. Of course, resourse Panelook.com provides excellent broad view of world panel market:

panelook

However, at the time I used it, there was 5 types 4K panel types and only BOE was able to sell us the panel with pdf spec. All other, include panel giants, either refused to sell us panels, or requested $10K for each sample ("or please wait for a year"). Anyway, we purchased ten 10'1 panels from BOE through an intricate chain of agents.

Unfortunately, this story has sad final. Customer suddenly cut off all hardware RnD activities in Russia, so we wasn't able to finish this project.

©2019 Nikolay Bodunov. All Rights Reserved.