The theme of this year’s 2006 Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) in sunny and humid Orlando, Florida was the 8-/32-bit Controller Continuum. There is actually a lot more going on here at FTF but more on that later. The Continuum is more of a long-term plan versus product announcements.
The Continuum blends the 8-bit families such as the S08 and the new 32-bit V1 core Coldfire family into a series of processors that will share common peripherals and pin-outs. Freescale’s CodeWarrior C/C++ IDE (integrated development environment) will tie everything together. It is based on the latest 8-bit version that employs a simplified installation and improved wizards.
The idea of a range of 8- through 32-bit parts is not new. NEC announced something similar a while ago but it is Freescale’s software play that makes the difference. CodeWarrior’s experts make it a snap to target a particular chip by creating the header files for each peripheral. The processors in this series will share 8-bit peripherals allowing easier upward migration versus the 32-bit peripherals used with the Coldfire V2, V3 and V4 core-based microcontrollers.
Freescale did some research before starting this project. The results were interesting. Seems a good number of 8-bit developers have been moving to C. Somewhere around 10% of the current code being used was done using inline assembler. This low percentage means it will be relatively easy to migrate to the V1 Coldfire chips since only the assemblers differ. C should port with relatively few problems.
Don’t run out an order anything yet. The 8- and 32-bit chips will be out about Q1 of 2007. The chips will likely come out in pairs differing by only the processor core. The amount of flash will start around 128kbytes. Additional 8-bit versions will likely be available with lower amounts of flash and the 32-bit parts will have a higher percentage of RAM. Of course, the 32-bit parts will be faster even though they use less power than other Freescale 32-bit chips. Some of the V1 variants will likely wind up with Ethernet support that is currently missing from the 8-bit family.
The Continuum was just part of the news at FTF. The Best of show awards highlighted other areas including development tools and multimedia.
FTF Best Of Show
The Coldfire continuum may have to wait but the Coldfire does not. National Instrument’s LabView Embedded for Coldfire was the top development tool. It was being shown with Logic Product Development’s M5329BFE Fire Engine module (see Figure 1). The package is similar to LabView Embedded for Blackfin that was released earlier this year.
LabView is moving steadily into the embedded field. Initially the core of a test and measurement tool, LabView’s graphical programming environment (see Figure 2) has grown over the past decade into a first class, model-based software development tool. Developers can massage the resulting C code or simply let LabView do all the work.
On the hardware side, NVidia’s GoForce 5500 (see Figure 3) took the hardware Best of Show award. The GoForce 5500 is targeted at mobile devices that are tied to platforms like Freescale’s i.MX processors.
There is a lot more technology didn’t win any awards like products based on Serial Rapid IO (SRIO).
Communications And Multimedia
Freescale was showing a number of microcontrollers and DSPs with SRIO support. There was a few vendors with SRIO wares. One of the more interesting ones was Fabric Embedded Tools’ RapidFET that was being displayed with an array of SRIO hardware (see Figure 4). RapidFET (see Figure 5) is an indispensable tool that can configure and monitor an SRIO system.
RapidFET is going to find a lot of use in the new RIOLAB. RIOLAB is a company that will be doing compliance testing of SRIO products. It is currently under the auspices of Tundra, an SRIO hardware vendor, but it is moving towards being an independent entity. The demand for testing is high because of the number of SRIO products continues to grow.
Another hot communications product I learned about was Freescale’s dual core MPC8572 PowerQUICC III. It has a pair of e500 processor cores, PCI Express and SRIO interfaces, and quad Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. Data for the latter can be massaged using application accelerators that include a table-lookup unit (TLU), an encryption engine, a decompression unit and a pattern matching engine. Together, these hardware accelerators can perform in-depth packet analysis at line speeds. The accelerators handle industry standard compression formats such as gzip and encryption standards like DES and AES. The chip uses 90nm silicon-on-insulator so it uses minimal power while running at 1.5GHz.This looks like a really neat platform for routers that can deliver a range of features such as unified threat management, firewall/VPN and load balancing.
Wireless communication was hot in the technical lab and the technical sessions. Zigbee was at the forefront. A related technical session on remote sensors for Zigbee was standing room only and a second session was scheduled to handle the overflow.
This situation was similar to many of the other tech sessions I was able to peek into. There were quite a number of hands-on sessions where you could check out development kits for all sorts of platforms including wireless packages.
Before the tech sessions, Freescale’s Chief Executive, Michel Mayer, kicked off the forum with a company overview that hit the multimedia highlights. One of many cool products shown was Toshiba’s new Gigabeat video player based on an i.MX microcontroller. It more than doubles the battery life than its popular competition.
Mayer pulled in some help to show off a Freescale-based 3G multimedia cell phone. Downloading a multimegabyte video clip took less than 20 seconds compared to a non-3G phone that still had a lot to download after five minutes.
Even betting things are on the horizon. I got a glimpse at the i.MX27. This chip has a ARM926EJ-S 400MHz core and a significant chunk of hardware to handle MPEG-4 and H.263/H.264 multimedia decoding and encoding. The chunk is called SmartSpeed. It is designed to let the Arm processor twiddle its thumbs most of the time or at least do something other than churn multimedia streams into the right format. The Dynamic Process Temperature Compensation (DPTC) mechanism is designed to minimize the core voltage to levels needed to support the current operating frequency.
There is a lot more going on here at FTF but I’ll close with some news about FlexRay. Its finally going to show up in a real car from BMW this year. Freescale Flexray-equipped microcontroller will at the center of the control damping system.
For those who were here last year, the tech lab was more crowded than last year. There were more vendors on the floor. The only big ticket item on the floor was the University of Wisconsin’s diesel-hybrid SUV that used Freescale silicon, of course. This was FTF after all.
Fabric Embedded Tools|
Rapid IO Lab
Rapid IO Trade Association