Know The Way To San Jose For This Year's ESC, Or Else

March 16, 2006
PCI Express and ZigBee are among the many sizzling technologies crowding the marquee at the 2006 Embedded Systems Conference.

This year's Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) is shaping up to be one of the hottest shows ever. Vendor expectations for the show, scheduled for April 3-7 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif., reflect the cautious but generally upbeat economy. Visitors will find new technologies like PCI Express and Serial ATA as well as new processor architectures making big splashes.

But don't be hypnotized by just the new developments. Plenty of refinements in existing technologies, from PC/104 data-acquisition boards to FPGA layout programs, will make their mark. Check out my EiED Online review for more products and technology happenings at the show. For now, here's a preview of some announcements that are certain to make this year's Embedded Systems Conference the place to be.

DEV TOOLS AND KITS Look fast before someone slips this marvel into his pocket. Texas Instruments' eZ430-F2013 packs an MSP430F2013 microcontroller unit (MCU) and a USB Spy biwire debug emulator into a USB stick (Fig. 1). In fact, the latter takes up more room than the removable target board. Best of all, the complete package (including software) costs only $20.

The eZ430-F2013 isn't the first tiny development tool—Silicon Labs' ToolStik uses the same approach (see "Development Kits In USB Dongles" at, ED Online 11854). The big difference is that TI's solution lets designers split the emulator from the target board. TI's target board also provides external access to all 14 pins.

The MSP430F2013 MCU comes in a 4- by 4-mm thin-shrink small-outline package. It has 2 kbytes of flash, 128 bytes of RAM, a 16-bit sigmadelta analog-to-digital converter (ADC), a serial port with SPI and I2C support, and an on-chip clock. The $1.65 chip supports a 500-nA power-down mode. A wide range of MSP430 chips with the same pinout starts at $0.55.

The MSP430F2013 is an interesting tool choice for a host of applications, such as robotics and process control prototyping. The development package includes a free IAR Kick Start Embedded Workbench integrated development environment (IDE) that includes a debugger, assembler, and C compiler. It's the same tool chain used in the commercial IDE package. I'll take a hands-on look at this system in the near future and post a review at

Hi-Tech Software also plans to show off a series of new products for developers at the show, including its PICC Enterprise Edition. This compiler package supports all of Microchip's 10/12/14/16/17/18 series PICs, including the 16-bit dsPIC digital signal controller. Hi-Tech will also present its ARM compiler suite and support for Texas Instruments' MPS430.

PROCESSOR ARCHITECTURES: NEW AND OLD ESC affords attendees the unique opportunity to talk with the designers of the latest processor architectures. For example, Atmel's AVR32 uses a completely new 32-bit architecture with a vector multiplier coprocessor (see "A New Player In The 32-Bit Processor Field," ED Online ID 11939). It has DSP and SIMD (single-instruction multiple-data) instructions, Java bytecode support, and a compact instruction set. The chip targets low-power, high-performance multimedia applications.

The AP7000 multimedia processor chip also features the new architecture (Fig. 2). The AP7000 includes bit-stream audio digital-to-analog converter (DAC), LCD, and hard-disk controllers. It offers 480-Mbit/s USB 2.0 with an on-chip physical layer (PHY), two 10/100 Ethernet media-access controllers (MACs), and a peripheral DMA controller. Other peripherals include serial ports, I2C, SPI, PS2, and a synchronous serial module (SSC) supporting most serial communication protocols.

Dynamic frequency scaling and fine control over power to all subsystems enable the chip to operate in power-sensitive applications. For even lower-power applications, Atmel will exhibit its picoPower technology, which is aimed at the 8-bit AVR family. Its ultra-low-power, on-chip 32-kHz oscillator draws less than 300 nA, while the overall chip draws 650 nA.

Philips Semiconductor, meanwhile, will present a new ARM7-based microcontroller. The LPC2800 is ideal for portable applications because it can be powered by a single 1.5-V battery, its USB port, or an external power supply. The chip boasts a USB 2.0 high-speed (480 Mbits/s) interface with on-chip transceiver and 1 Mbyte of flash memory.

Show attendees can also view Philips' ARM926EJ-based LPC3000 processors (see "Vector-Processing MCU Skimps On Power," ED Online 12046). This low-power chip brings vector processing to multimedia applications. The Nohau development system works with ARM's RealView Developers Kit (Fig. 3). This looks to be a really hot combination. I'll do a hands-on review of this kit for EiED Online as well.

MIPS won't be left out of the fray. Its 34K core family is the first to implement the MT application-specific extension (ASE) plus the MIPS DSP ASE. The 34K cores can be configured with a maximum of two virtual processing elements (VPEs) and five thread contexts. The dual VPEs can provide a symmetric-multiprocessing (SMP) environment, or they can run two independent operating systems. Companies like iVivity currently use MIPS 34K.

Be sure to check out Intel's and AMD's latest dual-core, 64-bit processors, in addition to their low-power, single-core processors. They have some interesting chip sets and processor chips in the Pentium, Xeon, Opteron, and Athlon lines. Companies such as VIA Technologies will reveal chip sets that deliver PCI Express and HyperTransport connectivity.

And don't forget about VIA Technologies, who will be presenting its Eden processor line. The company's dual-processor board, the VT310-DP, is a Mini-ITX board with Fast and Gig Ethernet interfaces plus EIDE, SATA, and RAID disk support. The CN400 North Bridge provides hardware multimedia and graphics support.

HIGH-SPEED SERIAL PCI Express has been wowing the industry with its development on the PC side, from laptops to servers. With the broader availability of PCI Express chip sets and bridge and switch chips, design has become significantly easier.

One particularly bustling area for PCI Express involves laptop docking stations. It should be interesting to follow due to the reduced pin requirements and the high speed available with even a single PCI Express lane.

PLX Technology's PEX 8517 five-port, 16-lane switch chip will be on display, along with the PEX 8508 five-port, eight-lane switch. The company also plans to show off its PEX 8311. This one-lane PCI Express to 32-bit, 66-MHz local bus bridge supports non-PCI peripherals. It also can provide a simple front end for FPGAs.

Other high-speed serial technologies are on the docket, too. Companies like SBE, SBS Technologies, and VMetro will exhibit boards that incorporate Serial RapidIO, InfiniBand, Gigabit Ethernet, and more.

Much of this was presented at January's Bus & Board Conference in Long Beach, Calif., but that show's attendance is more limited (see "Bus and Board Show: Part 1" at ED Online 11977). ESC attendees will get a chance to check out the new boards and backplanes for VXS (VITA-41), VPX (VITA 46), VPX-REDI (VITA-48), AdvancedTCA, CompactTCA, and CompactPCI form factors.

BOARDS AND SYSTEMS High-speed serial connections are popping up in other board systems, but developers who are counting on existing bus systems needn't worry. Plenty of new advances are in store for them as well, such as WinSystems' PCM-MIO (Fig. 4).

This PC/104-based, multifunction analog/digital data-acquisition board uses top-notch parts and a solid design that requires no calibration on the analog side. It features 48 bits of bidirectional, transistor-transistor logic (TTL) digital IO plus a 16-channel (8-differential), 100-kHz ADC with 16SE/8DI inputs and eight 12-bit DACs. Both of the analog devices support ranges up to ±10 V. C drivers are available for Windows and Linux. And, it's an industrial-grade (40C to 85C) board.

Expect an army of small modules to storm the show. Visitors can check out Kontron's X-board . This tiny (49 by 68 mm) SIMM-style module features a 600-MHz, 32-bit, ARM-compatible, XScale 80219 microcontroller. It also offers 16 Mbytes of SDRAM and 64 Mbytes of flash, plus peripherals like a VGA/LCD output, USB, AC'97, and 10/100 Ethernet support.

Visitors will also get a peek at Rabbit Semiconductor's Rabbit 4000-based modules. The 8-bit Rabbit 4000 offers built-in Ethernet as well as hardware encryption support. It supports the company's new RabbitSys remote management operating system.

Parvus will unveil its AlphaMAR, a Cisco-based mobile IP network router optimized for bus and rail transit applications (Fig. 5). It uses Cisco Systems' industry-standard IOS software. The AlphaMAR integrates multiple Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) RJ-45 injector ports and Power with Serial (PwS) connectors. As a result, many remote devices can operate without additional power. The fanless, conduction-cooled systems are designed for harsh environments (40C to 70C). The unit, which includes its own 150-W power supply, can support cellular and wireless devices using external add-ons.

WIRELESS AND NETWORKING Wireless modules seem to go hand-in-hand with offerings like the WiPort Embedded Wireless Device Server from Lantronix (Fig. 6). It's powered by a DSTni Ethernet processor with a 10BaseT/100BaseTX MAC/PHY plus 256 kbytes of SRAM. The module also includes an 802.11b/g radio module and 2 Mbytes of flash memory. The built-in real-time operating system (RTOS) greatly simplifies the development of network applications.

Of course, ZigBee will be a hot item as well. Freescale and Ember have single-chip solutions, so check out their development kits and stacks. Telegesis will display a range of modules based on Ember's EM250 ZigBee system-on-a-chip, which combines a ZigBee transceiver with an MCU that runs the ZigBee protocol stack. These include the Telegesis ETRX1 module designed for OEM integration, the ETRX1CF ZigBee CompactFlash card module, and the ETRX1USB, which is a USB Zig-Bee stick.

SOFTWARE Java continues to gain ground in the embedded space. The Real Time Specification for Java (RTSJ) has been around for a while, but change is in the wind (see "Critical Java" at ED Online 8116). RTSJ provides finer control and permits limits to be set on memory management. This allows Java to match the efficiency of C/C++. It also provides a standard for real-time thread support.

Atonix will display its PERC Pico subset of RTSJ, or rather, RTSJ profile. PERC Pico is a Java virtual machine (VM) that fits into 128 kbytes of flash. It gives applications direct access to peripherals, eliminating the need for C/C++ library access or Java Native Interface (JNI). It has a latency time on the order of 2 s for today's 32-bit microcontrollers.

With PERC Pico, which uses the latest Java 5 compiler and tools, designers can get applications performance comparable to C. Developers who need real-time Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) and realtime garbage collection support can use the standard PERC VM.

Enea will show off its memory-resident Polyhedra FlashLite, a compact, flash-based relational database management system (RDBMS) for 32- and 64-bit embedded systems. PolyLite uses standard SQL and handles high-speed NOR and low-cost NAND flash. Its cache-based design, with as little as 200 kbytes, boosts performance by up to an order of magnitude relative to conventional disk-and flash-based alternatives.

Polyhedra FlashLite, which is ACID-compliant (atomic, consistent, isolated, and durable), can handle operating systems such as OSE, VxWorks, Integrity, Linux, Windows, and Unix. The package supports remote debugging and TCP/IP links to remote databases.

On the RTOS side, QNX will highlight its QNX Neutrino RTOS kernel, which now sports adaptive partitioning. Like other partitioning systems, applications in individual partitions are isolated from each other, and resources such as memory and processor time can be allocated by partition.

The adaptive aspect enables these settings to change over time, based on system requirements. Partition settings are generally independent of applications running in a partition. Consequently, this feature typically can be utilized without major code modifications.

Altium plans to roll out its Designer 6 at ESC. The Designer integrated environment includes a series of development tools that handle various chores, ranging from pc-board layout (Protel) to FPGA design (Nexar) and software development and debugging.

In integrated systems, movement of application functionality across the FPGA boundary is relatively easy, even when embedded soft processors are part of the equation. Designers can use Altium's NanoBoard-NB1 FPGA hardware development kit. Check out a hands-on review of Altium Designer 6 at "FGPA Kits Part 1: Altium NanoBoard NB1" at ED Online 12106.

On the model-based design side, I-Logix will show its Rhapsody 6.2 running as an Eclipse plug-in. It supports application design using the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and the latest version of the Systems Modeling Language (SysML).

Model-based design continues to pick up followers. On display at the show will be National Instruments' LabView, in addition to several other presentations from the company. One exhibit will highlight Texas Instruments' C55X Power Optimization DSP Starter Kit (DSK). Its use of LabView enables designers to monitor and test an application via a graphical interface. Of course, model-based applications can be created with LabView as well.

POWER WITH A PURPOSEInternational Rectifier's cyber booth will be stocked with PCs presenting information about all of its latest products, including the IRF4000 (Fig. 7). This 100-V-rated power-management chip integrates four HEXFET MOSFETs for PoE applications.

The IRF4000 also complies with the IEEE 802.3af specification for networking and communications infrastructures, delivering up to 15 W per port. It replaces four individual SOT-223-packaged MOSFETs with a single Meridian-lossless-packing (MLP) package. This reduces the required footprint by almost 80%. Additionally, the IRF4000 fits 48- and 96-port Ethernet switches.

This year's Embedded Systems Conference should be great, with plenty of developments beyond this preview. So if you know the way to San Jose, don't miss out on the show. For more coverage, check out additional Embedded in Electronic Design Online reports at


Cisco Systems
Embedded Systems Conference
Hi-Tech Software
International Rectifier
National Instruments
PLX Technology
Phillips Semiconductor
Rabbit Semiconductor
Texas Instruments
VIA Technologies

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