EiED Online>> Highlights Of The Bus And Board Show

Jan. 19, 2005
Activity and spirits are high in Long Beach at this year’s Bus and Board Show. VME and AdvancedTCA systems were out in force, including boards utilizing switch fabrics.

It's the end of day two at the Bus and Board show and there is already too much to cover. Check in next week for a follow up issue on show coverage.

Ray Alderman puts on a pretty good show in Long Beach. It is more of an editor-meets-vendor show than a free-for-all like the Embedded Systems Conference. On the plus side, it gives editors like me a one-on-one with the tech staff. Now for a few trends I picked up on while talking with the vendors.

Remember StarFabric? It is one of the first standard switch fabrics other than Ethernet. It was going to be deep sixed by PCI Express-based Advanced Switching (AS). Well, AS is moving a little farther into the future and StarFabric was out in force at the show in real products. It has the same software interface as AS, just slower. Of course, speed is relative and StarFabric delivers more than enough bandwidth for high end applications.

StarFabric was not the only technology that was once down for the count but now rearing its head. InfiniBand is still alive and kicking. This 10-Gbit/s fabric has low cost, single chip adapter solutions from Mellanox. AMD was there to talk about HyperTransport and their 64-bit Opteron/Athlon. They were also showing off the IWill motherboard with built-in InfiniBand support.

COM Express, a relatively new computer-on-module standard, was well represented. COM Express utilizes serial interface standards like PCI Express, Serial ATA, and Gigabit Ethernet. More on these products later.

Another new standard is Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC). AMC modules are designed to plug into AdvancedTCA carrier boards. They essentially replace other mezzanine standards like PMC and XMC. AMC's advantages include hot swap support as well as interfaces designed for high-speed, serial switch fabrics.

One interesting observation regarding AMC is that in the near term these modules may wind up in proprietary boards instead of AdvancedTCA boards. It may sound crazy, but not after you consider that it provides customers with a way to incorporate standards-based enhancements to existing hardware. Adding an AMC slot or replacing a PMC site with an AMC slot is a relatively easy job. It lets designers utilize the standard AMC modules that are now popping up, thereby providing a long-term upgrade solution to AdvancedTCA without the initial system shock. In theory it also gives customers a way to recover part of their investment because these AMC modules could potentially be moved to the AdvancedTCA platform in the future.

It also looks like the AMC modules may find their way into standalone systems. This is a work in progress. It has been called CompactTCA and MicroTCA. In either case, there were some mockups of systems built with only AMC modules and a switched backplane. It has some interesting applications.

I actually left the big fish for last. VME remains the central theme of the show from both a vendor standpoint and in terms of volume shipments. In many places, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) is synonymous with VME. It's the major force in military applications as well as a number of commercial and medical areas.

I probably need to dedicate a couple of future columns to VME and its related standards, but in the mean time, here are some highlights from the show. The VITA 41 standard, a mix of VME bus and switch fabric support, was clearly out in front with hardware demos. The complementary, all fabric VITA 46 standard is still in the works and will likely remain so for at least another year. VITA 41 looks like a winner.

That's it for the quick overview. Now for a few details.

Presentations The 2005 Bus and Board Show theme was economics. It opened with a keynote speech by Chris Amendson, Chairman of SBS Technologies, entitled "The Changing Board Business from a Financial Perspective." Mr. Amendson touched on the importance of R&D and how it differed depending upon the market area being addressed, such as the government, communications, and commercial sectors. Andrew Reddig, President and CEO of Tekmicro, gave a small-company perspective. One interesting comment was that the split between customers looking for a black box solution and developers who prefer to perform their own customization has remained relatively static, even with the increase in the number of standards-based offerings.

Jeff Berson, Senior Analyst for CIBC, gave a Wall Street analyst's perspective on capital spending. A moderate growth rate is expected with vendors shifting to more hardware integration and exploitation of software integration. Expect large vendors to continue with their acquisition trends to keep their margins high by utilizing acquired technology.

Eric Mantion, Networking Analyst for InStat, had one of the more interesting presentations entitled "End Market Demand in Networking, Fabrics, and Interconnect." Eric noted the generation gap in technology usage data. For example, the highest wireless usage data is in the 25-34 age group, whereas the 55-64 age group prefers land-line long distance. On average, there's a 4.8% rise in cell phone expenses per user. This exceeds the rate of inflation. Eric's sleeper technology from CES is WiFi phones.

Eric does not think there will be a "King of Backplanes." Rather, switch fabrics like InfiniBand, RapidIO and Gigabit Ethernet will fill a variety of niches. On the other hand, Ethernet is the "English" of networks. It is what everyone knows even if they are bilingual.

Warren Andrews of RTC Magazine moderated an interesting roundtable of CEOs from SBS, Motorola, Artesyn, and Curtis-Wright. One interesting recommendation: don't bet the ranch on Advanced Switching or Vita 46.

Products Now for a few product overviews. You will find even more in the print version of Electronic Design over the next few issues. There were just so many product announcements at the show.

Act/Technico was showing off their new family of Ethernet PCI mezzanine card (PMC) modules (Fig. 1). Prices start at $345. Several versions are available, including a 66/133 auto speed select version and a 64-bit PXI-X version.

Elma was showing off a number of compact chassis for small solutions and prototyping. The VXS Development Chassis is one of the solutions. The portable system comes in 5- and 12-slot versions with a VXS backplane compatible with VITA 41. It utilizes a new 6.4-Gbit/s high speed connector across the P0 section of the VME64x backplane.

The Curtiss-Wright Champ-AV IV DSP board with quad 1.5-GHz FreeScale MPC7448 PowerPC processors shows the continued support for VME (Fig. 2). It supports up to 512 Mbytes of DDR-250 SDRAM and dual PMC 100-MHz 64-bit PCI-X interfaces. Both PMC sites support Low Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) to the backplane connectors to support the use of high-speed serial switched interconnect technologies such as StarFabric and FibreChannel. Pricing for the CHAMP-AV IV starts at $14,995.

Included in the COM Express offerings is PFU Systems' Plug-N-Run G4 (Fig. 3). It is available with an Intel Pentium M or Celeron M. The x16 PCI Express Graphics expansion link operates at 40 Gbit/s, plus there are four additional x1 PCI Express links. The dual SerialATA-150 links have an aggregate bandwidth of 300 Mbytes/s. There is also a single 100-MHz ATA interface and a 32-bit 33-MHz PCI bus. The board holds up to 2 GBytes of DDR2 SDRAM. Gigabit Ethernet is standard along with eight USB 2.0 ports.

Kontron's Xeon-based AdvancedTCA AT8001 single board computer replaces the usual PMC sites with a pair of AMC slots (Fig. 4). The slots can handle single- or double-height AMC modules. It is an indicator of things to come.

TekMicro and QinetiQ announced an alliance that integrated QinetiQ's precompiled FPGA cores for use on TekMicro's Jazz line of VXS-based FPGA boards and modules.

Time to get back to the show. Look for more details in the next issue of EIED Online.

Related Links Act/Technico

Advanced Micro Devices

Bus and Board

Curtiss Wright Controls Embedded Computing






PFU Systems


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