When it comes to embedded system design, the choices keep multiplying. Form factors never go away—they just continue to morph.
Take Acces I/O Product’s USB-based modules (Fig. 1). These boards have a PC/104 form factor but no ISA or PCI bus. They work with any USB host, from a PC to a single-chip micro. You can wire up a stack or spread them around like a hydra as multiple boards with a central host.
Likewise, the new stacking standards such as Stackable-USB will be out in force this year. Look for these to establish their own niche. Don’t forget, though, that other existing board and module standards like PC/104, VPX, CompactPCI, and VME will deliver new multicore marvels using the latest serial interfaces.
SERIAL INTERFACES SHAPING THE FUTURE • Serial interfaces are quickly pushing parallel bus systems out of the way for new designs. Luckily, there are no completely new standards on the horizon. Still, further generations are on the horizon, with 3G being the state of affairs for the likes of PCI Express as well as USB.
The flood of products for the year will be 2G, which more than meets the performance requirements of most designers. The plethora of interfaces on most single-board computers (SBCs) and modules will likely persist, with the trend continuing toward more serial interfaces (Fig. 2). Expect to see half a dozen or so USB interfaces in some environments.
MULTICORE MEETS SOFTWARE • C remains the language of choice for embedded developers, and runtime environments like OpenMP and Intel’s Thread Building Blocks are moving to match applications to multicore hardware. Taming multicore remains the issue of the year.
GPUs will add to the confusion. Their architecture is very different from x86 SMP, but emerging standards like Open- CL appear to address at least some of the multicore software problem. Expect more programmers to dip their toes into the graphical language and functional programming space.
Security will remain a misunderstood entity, though some progress will be made as programmers become more aware of how interconnected and vulnerable their targets will become. Antivirus is not an option.
MEETING MASSIVE STORAGE NEEDS • Terabytes, terabytes, terabytes. Hard drives are moving to meet the video requirements of consumers. Everything else will benefit from this massive increase in storage.
The demise of 3.5-in. drives is far in the future, yet the move to 2.5-in. and 1.8-in. drives marches on. It will be interesting to see where redundant arrays of disks (RAIDs) pop up with the growing possibility of multiple drives.
Flash will be big this year. Some form factors are expected to hit the 500-Gbyte mark. Flash is changing the way designers think because of size, ruggedness, and power requirements.
Finding the right combination of hardware and software only gets harder as the choices proliferate.