Embedded Systems November 2000 Vol13_12

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ALEXANDER WOLFE Embedded ICs: Expanding the Possi bi I ities As designs start to proliferate in the more complex 16-, 32-, and 64-bit realms, the days of selecting a mild- mannered, off-the-shelf processor may be numbered. That's because semiconductor vendors are unleashing a new crop of heavy-duty cores, beefed up instruction sets that add DSP support, and system-on-chip options. This article will explore what's dl'iving these tt'ends and look at a few of the latest offerings. he explosion- and several new technical directions-in embedded integrated circuits were in ample evidence at the latest Embedded Systems Conference (Sept. 24-28, San J ose, CA). Perhaps it's heresy to say it, but silicon is no longer the hot hard- ware area. No one is uggesting that standard controllers and processors will die out anytime soon. Yet much of today's embedded coming from system-on-ch ip (SoC) architectures, which enable engineers to pretty much take any core and turn it into a custom processor. "Far and away the most important trend that's occurring is we're seeing a lot of SoC development," said Dean McCarron, prin cipal analyst at Mercury Research. "That's not to say that piece-parts aren't important. Wha t's happen- ing now is product development and perhaps initial, low-volume manufactur- ing is occurring with tandalone devices. But as soon as the determination has been made that the product is a winner, it's almost immediately going over to SoC." AJso taking shape is a kind of shotgun marriage between the heretofore large- ly separate worlds of the microprocessor and the digitial signal processo•- (DSP). In practice, this is resulting in embedded chips and cores getting fitted with DSP- Iike instruction-set additions, which deliver mau·ix and Fourier transform capa- bilities, for example, in hardware. Embedded Systems Programming NOVEMBER 2000 147

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