The well-attended April Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in San Francisco proved to be a shot-in-the-ARM for the electronics industry. A rich technical program and around 300 exhibitors on the show floor provided a peak into the products and direction of the embedded-electronics segment, offering interesting insight into what's hot (and what's not).
One obvious trend is the rapidly growing support for the ARM architecture, both from hardware and software vendors. Several ARM licensees announced new ARM-based products targeted at a broad range of applications.
Oki Semiconductor touted its new dual-core (ARM and DSP) chip for MP3/WMA (Windows Media Audio) and speech-processing applications. Containing an ARM7 32-bit RISC core and DSP Group Teak 16-bit DSP core, the ML675200 microcontroller divides computational tasks between the two processors. The RISC processor runs application-level software, with access to all the device's general-purpose I/Os. Concurrently, the DSP core handles repetitive tasks such as MP3/WMA decoding. Other chip features include a built-in speech CODEC, a USB full-speed device controller (USB 2.0 compliant), 32 Kbytes of SRAM, 256 Kbytes of Flash ROM (in an optional Flash ROM version), and a built-in controller for external memory.
Also based on an ARM core (the ARM7TDMI), Oki's new ML675001, ML67Q5002 and ML67Q5003 devices are general-purpose microcontrollers for a wide range of applications including industrial, consumer electronics, biomedical and medical instrumentation, PC peripherals, and security appliance systems. The microcontrollers are loaded with high-performance features including an internal unified cache, 32 Kbytes of high speed RAM, and an operating frequency of up to 60 MHz. The three new products in the ML675K series are pin-for-pin compatible with each other and with Oki's ML674K MCU series announced earlier this year. This feature lets you upgrade designs using ML674K MCUs without changing the layout of the CPU board, saving time and effort.
Sharp Microelectronics announced that the company's 200 MHz LH7A400, based on an ARM922T core, is now available in production quantities. A member of the company's BlueStreak product line, the LH7A400 combines the ARM core with 16 Kbytes cache, MMU, color LCD controller, and 80 Kbytes of SRAM. Featuring 220 MIPS of performance, the chip dissipates a low 1.33 mW/MIPS operating at 1.8V. The chip supports up to 1024 x 768 pixel displays, up to 64,000 colors, and 15 gray shades, with direct interface to STN, color STN, TFT and Sharp's Advanced-TFT display panels. Sharp also launched the BlueStreak Software Library, a centralized Internet location containing critical software drivers and documentation for all BlueStreak ARM-based MCUs and SoCs.
Aptix has joined ARM's PrimeXsys Community Program and the two companies have signed an agreement to further the adoption of the ARM PrimeXsys Platform through the development and demonstration of pre-silicon prototyping with Aptix products. The PrimeXsys Platform is based on the ARM926EJ-S microprocessor core, and incorporates ARM Jazelle technology for Java acceleration, a multi-layer AMBA bus, and ARM's PrimeCell peripherals. Using an Aptix System Explorer, a hardware platform for building reconfigurable pre-silicon prototypes, you can build a complete prototype of a PrimeXsys Platform-based design, integrate other silicon-IP, run an selected operating system and application software, and validate the design under real-world conditionsbefore any silicon is available. System designers can then deliver multiple development platforms to software engineers using the Aptix Software Integration Station or create custom printed-circuit boards with Aptix Prototype Studio/PCB.
On the software side, CMX Systems and IAR Systems have completed a program to integrate the CMS-RTX RTOS with IAR's Embedded Workbench for the ARM 7 processor family. Integrating the two products gives software designers a simplified environment for developing ARM-based applications. Designers can 'peak' into the RTOS to see the task list, focus the debugger on a specific task, set task-specific breakpoints, and execute task-specific stepping.
Embedded is More Than ARM
The embedded industry does not survive on ARM-based systems alone, nor does it depend entirely on 32-bit processors. Even with a much smaller share of the 32-bit microprocessor market, MIPS and MIPS-based processors continue to show up in new products and applications.
QuickLogic announced three new QuickMIPS family members. The QuickMIPS devices combine a 32-bit MIPS processor, memory controller, dual 10/100 Ethernet and PCI controllers, and other peripherals with an FPGA, replacing separate processor and FPGA chips. The three new devices, the QL902, QL903, and QL904, feature performance enhancements over the company's original QL901 device. You now have available a CPU operating frequency up to 233 MHz, a memory bus frequency of 116.5 MHz, and a range of 1152-2016 FPGA macrocells (equivalent to 300K to 572K system gates). Applications for QuickMIPS-enabled systems include VPN gateways, VoIP, industrial control, and I/O processing as a co-processor in an embedded system.
Toshiba announced two new MPUs that the company developed around the MIPS architecture. The 300 MHz, 64-bit TMPR4938XBG-300 features low power dissipation, built-in Ethernet Media Access Control (MAC) or NAND Flash memory interface, and 32-Kbyte instruction and 32-Kbyte data caches. The MPU targets high-speed processing applications such as those associated with digital information and networking devices. Toshiba also unveiled the 32-bit TMP1962 for personal portable equipment applications. The chip features low-power operation, 1 Mbyte of Flash or ROM, and 40 Kbytes of RAM. The TMP1962's extensive peripheral set includes 17 channels of 8-/16-/32-bit times, 24 channels of ADCs, and seven channels of serial interfaces, making the chip well-suited for digital camcorders and similar applications.
32-Bits Are Not for Everyone
There were some interesting new products at ESC involving 8-bit microprocessor architectures as well. Atmel announced four new application specific extensions to the company's AVR microprocessor family. The AT86RF401 SmartRF processor, merging the AVR with a RF transmitter operating at 250 - 460MHz, targets cost-sensitive wireless remote control markets such as auto keyless entry, garage door openers and home convenience controls. The AT90SC Family Secure AVR integrates a random word generator, crypto coprocessor and on-chip security (Figure 1). The device performs encryption functions in real time, enabling GSM SIM cards, Internet transactions, pay TV, and banking designs.
Figure 1: Block diagram of Atmel's Secure AVR microprocessor family
The AT43USB351M, a configurable low/high speed USB controller, supports five end points. With integrated 12 channel 10-bit A/D capability, the chip supports video game controllers, data acquisition devices, sensors, and mass-storage applications. Finally, Atmel's Mega 169 is the first member of a family of devices with integrated LCD controller. With typical power consumption under 20uA at 32KHz operation, the Mega 169 targets battery-powered applications such as residential thermostats, portable medical instruments, and LCD cordless communication devices.
Flash and Substance
Zilog has "downsized" the company's Z8 Encore! family of Flash MCUs (Figure 2) with the Z8F08 (8 Kbytes Flash) and Z8F04 (4 Kbytes Flash). The new eZ8-based chips, with less Flash memory and RAM, and smaller packages than their predecessors, still support a core speed of 20 MHz. Both chips target the cost-sensitive side of applications such as home appliances, security systems, sensors, motor control, electronic lighting, and personal electronics devices.
Figure 2: Block diagram of Zilog's Z8 Encore! family of Flash MCUs
Two new micro-converters from Analog Devices integrate two high-resolution ADCs and with a programmable 8-bit Flash MCU that runs up to 12 MHz. The ADu844 has three Flash options62 Kbytes/4 Kbytes, 32 Kbytes/2 Kbytes, and 8 Kbytes/640 bytes of code/data Flashwith a 8052 core that runs the 8051 instruction set. The micro-converter has two sigma-delta ADCsa 24-bit primary and an auxiliary 16-bit unit. The lower cost ADu846 is similar to the ADu844, but has two 16-bit ADCs. Target uses for both devices include industrial applications requiring precise measurement of low-level signals with a wide dynamic range.
Also coming out with new 8-bit MCUs is Motorola, which is making available two Flash-based chips, the 68HC908JL8 and 68HC908JK8. Pin-compatible with the company's existing HC08 JL and JK MCU families, the new devices have 8 Kbytes Flash each, double that of existing family members. Applications for the new MCUs include appliances, industrial compressors, instrument control panels, HVAC blowers and fans, and automotive electronics. Additional features include in-circuit and in-application re-programming, fast programming times (as low as 32 microseconds/byte), and block protection and security features to guard intellectual property contained in software code.
16-Bit Processors Continue Strong
Reports of the demise of 16-bit microprocessors continue to be greatly exaggerated. The continued popularity of these devices is driven by two factorsless cost than 32-bit processors and a smaller software footprint, which reduces system cost.
Renesas Technology, the recently announced new company integrating Hitachi's and Mitsubishi's semiconductor operations, offers several new 16-bit based products. First is the 25-MHz H8 Value Series, less expensive versions of the company's existing H8 chips. The Value Series targets cost-effective applications including GPS receivers, emission test equipment, label printers, touch-screen controllers, bar-code scanners, point-of-sale (POS) equipment, and security systems. Both H8S and H8/300 devices include 4 or 8 Kbytes RAM and 128 Kbytes of Flash or ROM. The H8 value series also has an 85-channel data transfer controller and 4-channel direct memory access (DMA) controller.
Renesas also announced the M32C/81 16-bit MCU family, with operation up to 40 MHz and up to a 20-MHz A/D conversion rate for automotive, industrial, and automotive applications. The devices are CAN 2.0B-compliant and operate over a -40 to +125 degrees C range, necessary for automotive and severe industrial applications. The 12 family members come with 128 Kbytes of ROM and either 10 or 12 Kbytes of RAM. Rounding out the company's new 16-bit MCUs are 16 devices with CAN and LIN interfaces for automotive applications, including door modules, airbag controllers, shock absorber controllers, and anti-theft devices. Members of Renesas' Tiny Series, eight MCUs are in the H8/36057 series and four in the H8/36037 series. All operate up to 20 MHz with a 5V supply.
Another 16-bit processor-based device is the ADSP-BF532eM10 encoder/decoder from Analog Devices, the first member of the company's newly announced Blackfin eMedia Platform supporting low-cost consumer multimedia. The eM10 decodes D1 (30-frames/sec) multimedia content with a power dissipation of less than 600 mW for DVD-quality video Windows Media Video 9 decoding. According to Analog, you can use the chip's programmable features to decode and encode any audio/video format, providing efficient software-based reusability.
FPGAs Have Their Say
Although there seemed to be a lack of FPGA and CPLD visibility at ESC, there were a couple of announcements of note. Nallatech's DIMEtalk design tool, which creates either an intra- or inter-FPGA network for moving data between user-defined hardware and system interfaces, is now available. Using a simple GUI, the tool automatically builds a packet-based network of nodes, routers, bridges, and edges, a communications backbone, and then generates synthesized code for the network. Currently, DIMEtalk supports edge-to-PCI interfaces, although Nallatech plans to add PCI Express and Rapid I/O in the future. DIMEtalk and third-party tool APIs operate within Nallatech's FUSE (Field upgradeable Systems Environment) Reconfigurable Computer Operation System. FPGA design tools such as Xilinx's System Generator and AccelChip's AccelFPGA let you couple The Mathwork's de-facto DSP tools, MATLAB and Simulink, directly to FUSE.
Xilinx also has an updated version of its Embedded Development Kit (EDK), with enhancements to the company's MicroBlaze 32-bit soft processor and embedded design tools for MicroBlaze and the Virtex-II Pro PowerPC core. New performance-enhancing MicroBlaze features include LocalLink interconnect technology, a barrel shifter, instruction and data caches, and hardware divider. Embedded tool enhancements include Solaris OS support, a Block Editor view, and extended debug capabilities for multi-processor systems.
About the Author
is a consultant providing marketing, writing, and other electronics industry services, specializing in EDA tools and ASIC/SoC design methodologies. His job experience includes chip-design R&D, marketing, marcom, technical editing, and on-line publishing of technical content for engineers.