Electronic Design

To Build More, Buy More Boards And Tools

Unless you're building applications completely from scratch, the climate within the embedded sector couldn't be any better. Off-the-shelf hardwareand software based on cutting-edge technologies like PCI Express, VPX, and Eclipse are available from a plethora of vendors. Building on the work of others cuts time-to-market, increases functionality, and reduces costs.

Lower-Cost Tools Also Deliver Faster Development
More integration and lower costs will be the norm for development tools and platforms this year. Likewise, the integration of lowcost solutions from different vendors like this combination of Texas Instruments' eZ430 USB development module and Quickfilter's SavFIRe finite-impulse-response (FIR) filter will be more common (Fig. 1).

Integrating a variety of third-party products will be a requirement, and it won't just occur at the kit level either. MontaVista will be part of the wave, providing its development toolset as a plug-in for Eclipse instead of delivering a standalone package.

Middleware will become more critical and more common. Standards like the Data Distribution Service (DDS) make multivendor middleware easier to use. They also let designers add important features such as security and encryption to applications without needing a doctorate in that area.

Take a cue from LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) and look for slimmer middleware like the Object Management Group's (OMG) latest adoption, CORBA/e ("e" for embedded), or Microchip's MiWi, a lightweight 802.15.4 protocol stack alternative to ZigBee.

Start taking a look at multithread programming and debugging aids like trace tools if you haven't already. Multicore chips are making a programmer's job more complex, and more projects are incorporating multiple processors.

Embedded Hardware Revels In Standards
Board and interface standards approved years ago are finally coming to fruition in real products. PCI Express and Serial RapidIO will be available on more embedded microcontrollers like Freescale's MPC8641D dual-core processor, which can be found on Curtiss-Wright's CHAMP-AV6 (Fig. 2).

Higher density continues to be the goal for storage, but the time isn't ripe to jump on any particular bandwagon. Perpendicular recording will become the norm for hard drives, while the Blu-ray and HD DVD competition is just heating up (Fig. 3).

The major problems with increased density concern cooling and power. These problems are now striking home, from enterprise server farms down to handheld devices. A combination approach employing multicore chips, power-down modes, and higher-performance convection and conduction cooling will likely be the solutions to this year's problems. It definitely will be a hot time in the design cubicle this year.

See Blue Sky Predictions

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