Electronic Design

Embedded> Overview

A Plethora Of New Technologies Will Take Time To Integrate

Promising technologies for embedded designs are ready for the big time. The overriding question will be whether or not there's enough demand for vendors to implement these technologies in sufficient quantities this year. Clear hardware leaders include Serial ATA, PCI Express, PCI-X, and ExpressCard. On the software side, Eclipse 3.0 will bring a lot to the table, and the migration to 32-bit MCUs will raise demand for new tools. A good deal of software work in the 64-bit space will take advantage of new processors appearing on the desktop and in low-end servers. Yet designers will face key decisions. Which technologies do I incorporate? Which legacy technologies do I discard? Switching to high-speed serial interfaces like PCI Express, HyperTransport, or RapidIO brings faster, more expandable systems to the table—and significant new design problems too. The latest board design tools and chip sets for these and other technologies like InfiniBand will dramatically ease the designer's job. Migration continues from the elimination of parallel and serial interfaces with USB to disk drives that incorporate Serial ATA (SATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS).

Software compatibility and wide availability of hardware are keys to quick adoption. Currently, there's a huge ramp-up in SATA and SAS disk drives. New, smaller drives take advantage of the reduced interface pin count, while larger buffer memories on these devices provide better performance. A common physical layer will lead to adapters that support either type of drive, greatly reducing the number of options compared to today's SCSI and integrated-development-environment controllers.

Serial interfaces are critical to the success of ExpressCard. This allows a compact form factor that suits it for almost any device, including a desktop PC. Using USB or PCI Express means support will be built in for most systems. And, ExpressCard flash-memory sticks make it the ultimate replacement for the venerable floppy disk.

USB and Ethernet will be found more often in single-chip MCU solutions. Wider availability of these highly integrated 32-bit MCUs will lead to low-cost solutions with greater connectivity, such as Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phones. But be wary of the need for better security. Isolated networks are becoming less common, making security a critical part in the deployment of network-based devices for home and industry.

Security is especially important for the increasing number of wireless solutions. Single-chip 802.11 devices will push the availability of fixed and portable wireless devices. Wireless technologies like ZigBee are poised to revolutionize the remote monitoring arena.

VME remains the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) cash cow, but it also will be moving more heavily into the high-speed serial and wireless areas. This will be the year for ironing out standards in the VME realm using existing technology in military and medical applications.

CompactPCI and AdvancedTCA have an edge on fabric backplanes, making them a good option for new designs. But their success will rely heavily on growth in communications and adoption in other areas. It's a buyers market now, with many vendors lining up to sell this new technology. Fabric backplanes and standardized system management support is still new to most application developers, slowing delivery of new applications due to increased learning curves.

On the software side, Eclipse made a move into the mainstream as an open development platform. The growing number of commercial plug-ins will augment Eclipse-based solutions provided by real-time operating-system vendors.

Compiler improvements will be significant this year as compiler designers attack a range of platforms from DSPs to 64-bit processors. Higher-performance workstations will help improve low-end, 8-bit development through more sophisticated optimization and simulation support. It will be interesting to see if similar improvements develop in the debugging arena.

The number of new hardware technologies available this year is mind-boggling. Opportunity lies in the ability to select the right combination to beat the competition.

See associated figures 1 and 2

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