Electronic Design

Embedded> Hardware

The Year Of PCI Express And Other Migration Issues

The landscape is changing this year from the flowers to the trees. PCI Express will have a major impact on system designs, permeating everything from consumer products to COTS. Peripherals will still be at a premium, but available products will make migration manageable. Expect the old PCI/ISA motherboard combos as PCI/PCI Express motherboards become the norm.

Serial ATA (SATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) will also find homes on motherboards, RAID systems, and blade systems. SATA hard-disk shipments will grab a significant slice of the pie this year. Look for more systems to support both SATA and SAS drives, especially in the server market, because both utilize the same connector and electrical support.

Ethernet and InfiniBand will finally receive some real competition on the backplane. However, don’t expect Advanced Switching for PCI Express to get major design wins yet. Still, the door will open and Advanced Switching has big guns behind it. In addition, RapidIO looks to make inroads with its mezzanine and backplane standards.

For the COTS market, VME is poised to stay on top. Controversy still swirls about its support of switch fabrics, but high-speed serial mezzanine cards has solid support. Watch for boards with this type of support this year. Military and medical demand remains strong.

AdvancedTCA and CompactPCI continue to upgrade their specs and features. Though the technology potential is evident, orders are needed to make a difference for this part of the market.

Keep an eye on ExpressCard. It will change the peripheral landscape and improve user interaction with desktops and embedded devices.

Wireless remains hot, but expect a standards shake out this year. Too many standards lead to confusion. Hardware-based encryption acceleration will come in a variety of forms from chip to board. It’s going to be needed with the increased demand for secure communication and authentication.

TOP TEN

  • The little ExpressCard that could. Sporting USB 2.0 and a 1x PCI Express link, ExpressCard is the little standard that keeps on chugging. With minimal hardware costs and high functionality, it will replace the ungaining PC Card and give CompactFlash a run for its money. Expect early adoption in laptops and desktops and embedded applications to follow quickly.
  • PCI Express is in the station. It’s no surprise that PCI Express is on track to hit it big this year. The chips are finally coming out and the boards will follow. The number one question is how fast it will move into the embedded space. The prevailing answer is slowly. PCI Express is a radical change of form and feature with respect to hardware support, and work still needs to be done on standards for existing board form factors. Rapid adoption on the server, desktop, and laptop will force embedded migration as support-chip prices fall and availability of PCI Express-based hardware increases.
  • SATA and SAS steal sweet spot. Serial ATA (SATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) play off each other with a common hardware interface and the need for speed where parallel buses ran out. Look for SATA and SAS drive features and shipments to exceed their parallel partners in the next year or two. But don’t discount the smaller connectors. They’re key to smaller drives. SATA and SAS are two winners you can count on.
  • Wishing for advanced switching. Wishing and waiting. Hoping and praying. But be careful what you wish for. The specification is done. Real hardware may see the light of day this year, but taking advantage of advanced switching will require new applications and programming techniques. The results will put the systems on the cutting edge. The question will be when, not if, the price will be worth it.
  • AdvancedTCA takes off. The signs are good, but will the economy let AdvancedTCA run for the gold? It’s too close to call now. Though the hardware is here, the myriad switched backplane standards add to the confusion. Ethernet leads the way with well established hardware. InfiniBand is relatively mature, as is Star Fabric.
  • InFiniband finds a super niche. Who would have thought InfiniBand would make it big in supercomputers? Superclusters are fast and furious when powered by InfiniBand. Maybe these supercomputer designers know something system developers should check out. Don’t expect to see InfiniBand at the low end because SAS RAID systems are where it’s at. Though InfiniBand has lost some of its original sparkle, vendors will deliver high-performance, low-latency systems throughout the year.
  • USB finally gets embedded. It’s taking a lot longer for USB to work its way into COTS. Before now, USB interfaces were only usable with external peripherals due to a lack of suitable on-board peripherals. This will start to change, but don’t look for a stampede to USB quite yet. Flash memory will be the starting point. Everything from wireless adapters to embedded printers could come through USB, ultimately reducing the number of legacy interfaces.
  • Wireless everywhere. Even without solid security in all areas, wireless will continue to burst into all aspects of embedded design. The war has been won by 802.11, but the winner has so many hats, including ZigBee, that confusion abounds this year. It’s no sure bet, with 802.11b being cheap but not the fastest or most secure. Don’t expect things to settle down for another year.
  • Active duty for MIL COTS. Board vendors in the military space have been making money, and the big players are in acquisition mode. This is also good for technology, though VME is at a crossroads with switch fabrics coming online. The Vita 46 working group has its work cut out for itself. It’s trying to maintain backward compatibility while looking into providing more I/O board.
  • NUMA now? Take an old technology like NUMA (non-uniform memory access), couple it with a new technology like HyperTrans-port or RapidIO, and you get a cheap, scalable architecture to meet the high-performance demands.
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