SAN JOSE, Calif. STMicroelectronics has introduced an "industrial" version of STPC, its X86 PC-on-a-chip.
Unlike National Semiconductor Corp., which is promoting its Cyrix-developed cores in the hope of driving a market for PC-compatible Internet appliances, STMicro is steering the STPC-Industrial toward embedded processor and control applications. But like National, STMicro sees the installed base of X86 processors and compatible software as "the world's greatest software asset," according to Jean-Claude Monney, marketing director for STMicro's new ventures group in Switzerland.
With a plethora of existing development resources, X86-compatible cores can easily be harnessed by novice programmers to the needs of industrial controls and thin client network applications, Monney said. (STMicro had delivered a thin-client version of the STPC with limited PCI capability and a CRT output in spring 1997.) The more fully equipped industrial version will be launched at the Embedded Systems Conference next week.
STMicro is banking on growth in the 32-bit embedded processor arena, where it ranked as the world's eighth largest supplier in 1997, with $47 million in sales, according to Dataquest Inc. (San Jose, Calif.). While 32-bit devices occupy 47 percent of the current embedded control market, they are expected to grow to 58 percent by 2001, according to STMicro's assessment of Dataquest's forecast data. Though eroding prices of 8-bit devices have given embedded parts a relatively flat average selling price (ASP), STMicro believes the 32-bit segment will represent a $5 billion total available market in 2001. ASPs for 32-bit parts are expected to rise from $17 in 1998 to $25 in 2001, Monney said.
On-chip peripherals will undoubtedly drive the value of the parts. Only 51 square mm of the 140-square mm STPC industrial device, or less than 40 percent, is taken by the X86 core, Monney said. The rest of the chip's area goes to STMicro's "added value" peripherals an on-chip graphics controller, 64-bit DRAM memory controller, north bridge and south bridge PCI controllers, and Super I/O. The super I/O includes a Cardbus/PCMCIA interface and 1,024 x 1,024-pixel TFT LCD display controller. A PanelLink interface will drive a long serial cable several feet to an LCD. A video I/O port enables video overlay functions with a zoom video card. The STPC effectively replaces six separate chips.
The industrial version of the STPC consumes about 4 watts, and is not easily geared for portable applications, Monney said. Nevertheless, the company believes the $40 device will find applications in information kiosks, electronic gambling machines and in-flight entertainment centers, as well as in $100 handheld industrial terminals. "Enablers" for the STPC's proliferation board makers that may not be STMicro customers include Maxan, a PC/104 board builder in Korea, Hyojin Contec of Taiwan, Lippert and Mazet of Germany, and DFI and Aaeon of the United States, Monney said.
"Software is the biggest obstacle to growing the embedded market," Monney said. "For a semiconductor company to invest in software is a major decision." As an X86-compatible device, the STPC will readily run DOS, all versions of Windows, Windows CE, QNX, Linux and NCOS.
IBM Microelectronics is the second source for the 0.35-micron CMOS device, and Microsoft identifies STMicro as one of 55 approved integrators for its Windows CE operating system. Microsoft's participation in the industrial market through Window CE is welcome, said Monney. Microsoft may help make the embedded systems market two to three times larger than it is today, he said.