One Embedded Systems Conference event that definitely lived up to its billing was the debate between Jim Turley and Clive "Max" Maxfield about embedded versus discrete processors. The event was, as advertised, both entertaining and informative.
As advertised, Turley, CEO of Silicon Insider, argued that choosing a discrete processor to run embedded systems is most often the best choice, while Maxfield, president of Techbites Interactive, said embedding the system processor within an FPGA is the way to go. The event was moderated by Rich Nass, director of content and media at EE Times Group.
|From Left: Jim Turley, interviewer Todd Sierer of National Instruments and Clive "Max" Maxfield.|
Who won the debate? Too close to call. But both participants delivered some good one liners. Here are a few highlights:
Maxfield said the choice is always dependent on the application. He said a typical von Neumann processor is inefficient at performing computation.
Turley argued that there is a reason that people build standalone processors and a reason that many of them are so valuable. "Ounce for ounce, an Intel microprocessor is way more valuable than gold.
While it's possible to build a system processor within a traditional FPGA, Turley said, the solution is not optimal. "An FPGA is like a big Etch-a-Sketch," Turley said. "You can turn the dials and create any picture you want, but it's not a very pretty picture."
Using the example of inexpensive processors found in musical greeting cards, Turley said that some types of processors have become so inexpensive that it makes sense to use them to power any system.
Maxfield said many embedded applications feature an FPGA even if they have a standalone processor. If that FPGA has programmable fabric that is not being completely used, he said, building the system processor within the fabric is the best course of action. "If you can squeeze onto one chip, it makes sense to do so," he said.
But Turley said doing so would often take too much effort. "Processors are inherently flexibile, if inefficient," Turley said. "But they are great at saving the most valuable resourcean engineer's time."