Electronic Design

Embedded: Hardware

It's All In The Timing For Embedded Hardware

When is it best to incorporate many of the new technologies that will be available? That will be the pervading question this year within the embedded hardware industry. Unfortunately, many technologies, such as switch-fabric backplanes, require a major hardware shift. The trick is to determine if benefits like faster throughput, higher reliability, and better management offset costs due to incompatibility. Luckily, many new technologies, like PCI Express, and existing solutions, including StarFabric, provide a high level of compatibility with existing PCI and PCI-X products.

The same can be said for technologies closer to the processors, such as HyperTransport. Chips supporting HyperTransport will be available in quantity, suiting them for new system development. RapidIO should turn the corner this year with real silicon even before the long-promised PCI Express shows up.

COTS developers made vendors happy last year, with the exception of the communications market. Many solutions, such as VME and PC/104+, support a number of different markets that showed some growth. This area tends to be slow to adopt new technologies, though, so don't expect major additions like PCI Express and Serial ATA in these product areas. A few pioneers will emerge, but look for arrows in the back as conservative product designs are the name of the game.

Deeply embedded designs will push networking even more than last year. Once again, 100BaseT Ethernet will anchor the top end, but look for improvements in low-speed networking and alternative connections. CAN and LIN support in MCUs will make low-speed embedded networks as easy to deal with as an Ethernet hub and adapter. Although phone line networking will slowly and silently disappear, watch out for power-line and wireless networking. ZigBee, an 802.15.4 standard, is a low-speed wireless protocol worth keeping an eye on. Not everything requires 10Mbits/s or more to operate.

Finally, remember not to trust, or at least not without first implementing some good security. This year will be more a year of learning for all but those experts who have already contended with the 802.11b security debacle. Developers will demand more from hardware vendors, yet a lack of clear security-related standards and understanding will exist for quite a while.

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