One design, multiple applications

March 1, 2012 OpenSystems Media

With each new project, embedded design teams face increased system complexity due to evolving technology and new customer demands coupled with the shorter schedules needed to compete in today’s product marketplace. To cope with this changing environment, many embedded designers are turning to the latest generation of FPGAs to create multiple system configurations with a single hardware design.

The latest high-density devices can replace the processors, memory, custom logic, and many of the peripherals required by a typical embedded project. These system-level FPGAs allow designers to create standard hardware designs that can be modified as new requirements emerge or completely reconfigured for totally different applications.

FPGA technology offers designers a number of advantages over conventional design practices. For example, FPGA designs combine multiple components into a single package to reduce component count, board size, and manufacturing complexity. FPGA-based signal processing algorithms can be segmented into parallel computing structures to significantly boost performance. Designers can also employ drop-in IP cores from device vendors and third-party suppliers to ease system setup.

To bring you up-to-date on the latest FPGA technology, we interviewed industry experts from major vendors to create a virtual roundtable discussion in this month’s Silicon section. We posed the same questions to Misha Burich, Senior VP of R&D at Altera, Lawrence Getman, VP of Processing Platforms at Xilinx, and Sean Riley, Corporate VP of the Infrastructure Business Group at Lattice Semiconductor. They discussed the best projects for FPGA versus ASIC technology, along with the learning curve required to get up to speed with development tools. Each expert gave their assessment of current FPGA architecture and its use in a variety of embedded applications.

Continuing with our goal to present the hottest embedded design trends, the Software section of this issue features three in-depth articles on code analysis. These automatic verification tools can save countless hours of manual trial-and-error troubleshooting to verify secure and reliable software operation.

Rutul Dave of Coverity reveals that many critical security leaks in embedded software are caused by heap- and stack-based buffer overflows. Rutul exposes some of the more exotic techniques that static analysis tools use to find programming errors, including data flow and interprocedural analysis plus false path pruning. Another article by Paul Anderson of GrammaTech takes a look at code analysis from the multicore perspective and highlights race conditions as some of the most vexing concurrency bugs. Paul describes how to find and eliminate these defects with static and dynamic code analysis. In the third technical presentation in the Software section, Klocwork’s Gwyn Fisher answers our questions about how embedded designers can integrate analysis tools into their development process to identify threats and help control cost/schedule problems.

As embedded devices proliferate throughout society, unique design considerations arise for isolated applications outside the public utility electric power grid, such as telemetry, pipelines, and digital signage. Addressing this small but growing segment of the embedded community, Robert Burckle of WinSystems describes how to take an embedded computing system off the power grid in this issue’s Strategies section covering small form factors. Robert outlines the steps necessary to configure a solar-powered embedded system with battery backup using low-power, off-the-shelf components and explains how to choose the right size solar panels and batteries depending on the system’s location.

Besides utilizing alternative power sources, small form factors are also integrating new silicon technologies to create innovative embedded systems offering enhanced embedded graphics. Dan Demers of congatec shares how powerful embedded graphics processors are being implemented on Computers-On-Modules (COMs) such as the Qseven standard to render fast and efficient graphics performance in small, low-power systems suitable for deployment in imaging-intensive applications like portable 3D ultrasound devices.

From FPGA configuration to software analysis and even off-the-grid embedded computing, the articles and interviews in this issue demonstrate just a few of the diverse technical challenges embedded design teams face on a daily basis. We are always on the lookout for original, in-depth, and informative technical articles for our upcoming issues. Contributed articles provide an excellent tool to gain exposure and establish your company as an authority in the embedded computing industry. For example, the June issue will feature articles that describe innovative embedded silicon, software, or some unique technical approach that would result in increased product performance and cost/size reductions. If you have an idea, please send me a short abstract.

Warren Webb (Editorial Director)
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