Electronic Design

Location, Location, Location

It's true for real estate. It's true for processors and devices, too. That's right. In system design, location dictates the kind of interconnect that will be required, and no single solution works in all circumstances. This is why so many new standards will make 2003 a very interesting time. Interfaces like PCI, VME, and even ISA will continue to garner the majority of work for this year, but new products will be sporting new connectors and chips.

Going off-board leads to a host of options depending upon the location of the processor and the device. The Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 is making it possible to handle more than just mice and keyboards. It could replace the more cumbersome PC Card interface in many designs. USB On-the-Go makes a lot of sense for an embedded device that might use a flash-memory key to download data and later with a PC that's reconfiguring the system.

The venerable EIDE interface may be one of the near-term victims for processor-to-storage-device connections. Serial ATA is popping up in motherboards and interface adapters. Disk-drive manufacturers are delivering the other half of the puzzle, providing better performance, higher reliability, and lower-cost devices. Serial ATA will also appear in another switch-fabric technology, InfiniBand, where arrays of disks will be common and systems will benefit from Serial ATA's features.

The big fish this year will be PCI Express, along with its siblings Mini PCI Express and PCI Express Advanced Switching. It will be bigger than all other new technologies combined, but it's going to take a bit longer to become established. Early adopters can take advantage of features like high speed and low pin count, but the choice of peripherals will be limited until next year. For now, much of the PCI Express support will occur via bridges connected to existing PCI and PCI-X devices.

Almost everyone will wind up using one or more of these new technologies in the near future, no matter what kind of computer real estate you are building on.

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