Fifty Years of Electronics in Munich
Electronica, the enormous "trade fair for electronic components, systems, applications and services", to quote the organisers, was nearly a month ago. So why have I waited this long to report on it? Mainly because I needed the time to recover and to try to get a perspective on what I saw and heard during three days packed with meetings interspersed with long walks.
Looking back to the year electronica first took place, 1964 was the year that I Want to Hold Your Hand triggered Beatle-mania (and the Rolling Stones released their first album), US President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and the US began ramping up the forces in Viet-Nam. In Russia, Khrushchev was deposed as Soviet leader, and, in Britain, Harold Wilson became Prime Minister. China, France and America conducted atom bomb tests, and the second Vatican Council replaced Latin with local languages for Roman Catholic church services. Moog launched his music synthesiser. General Douglas McArthur and Cole Porter both died and Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin were both born. If most of this (except the births) means nothing or little to you, you are probably too young to understand.
Elliptic Technologies Delivers Hardware Root of Trust
Sometimes even the circuit designer doesn’t know how the chip works. And that can be a good thing.
If you’re designing a chip or a system that includes security features, anti-tampering mechanisms, DRM protection, or defenses against DPA attacks, it’s probably better if you don’t know how it all works. That kind of stuff is mysterious. Secret. Black magic. And there are practitioners of these dark arts who are far more skilled than mortals like you or me. For they dwell in the deep places, apart from the rest, shunning the daylight and the company of men. And we call them Elliptic Technologies.
Connected Cars and Saving the World Through IoT
Hold on tight ladies and gents! This week I'm flying down the IoT Highway, and I’m taking you with me. Our first stop is a little Consumer Electronics Show preview with Rob Valiton from Atmel. Rob and I discuss why low power MCUs will hold the key to the future of automotive innovation and how we can keep those pesky hackers out of our connected cars. Also this week, we look at how IoT Kickstarter campaign Khushi Baby hopes to make the world a much healthier place -- bridging the gap between healthcare workers and the communities they serve, one NFC-equipped necklace at a time.
New RISC Processor for SoC Developers is Yours for the Taking
“There are two major products that came from Berkeley: LSD and Unix. We don't believe this to be a coincidence.” – Jeremy S. Anderson.
Ready for some radical, left-field (not to say left-wing) thinking? Believe in free love, sharing, and open markets? Step right this way. We’ve got something for you.
Oh, goody. It’s another new microprocessor instruction set.
The great minds at the University of California at Berkeley (that’s “Cal” to insiders) have added a lot to our community over the years. Berkeley was the source of some early RISC processor research and the birthplace of Sun’s famous SPARC processor. And its Big Kahuna, Dr. David A. Patterson, PhD., is professor (and former chair) of Computer Science at Berkeley, as well as being an IEEE and ACM Fellow and recipient of the John von Neumann Medal. You may know him as the Patterson in Hennessy & Patterson, authors of the authoritative computer design bible. A real computer nerd, in other words.
Soft Machines Uses Combination of Tricks to Improve Performance
Still trying to juggle those flaming chainsaws? Splendid, because now we’re going to see how it’s done.
Last week we introduced Soft Machines and its VISC processor, a new CPU design that runs native ARM code even though it’s not an ARM processor. Soft Machines says VISC can also be tailored to run x86 code, Java code, or just about anything else the company decides is worthwhile. It’s a tabula rasa microprocessor: able to run just about anything you throw at it.
Its other major trick is that it can extract more single-thread performance out of a given binary program than any other CPU. And do so without expending a horrendous number of transistors or consuming planetary levels of energy. Let’s start with that part.
Soft Machines’ VISC Processor Takes an Unorthodox Approach
Excuse me while I juggle these flaming chainsaws. While riding a unicycle on a tightrope crossing over Niagara Falls. Blindfolded. Challenging enough for ya?
That’s essentially what a new company called Soft Machines is attempting. It’s a new firm with an entirely new microprocessor design that is taking on the two toughest challenges in the business: how to increase performance while reducing power, and how to run programs written for other processors. Oh, and they’re competing with ARM for embedded RISC processor cores. And then they’ll be taking on Intel and AMD with x86 processors. Challenging enough for ya?
It’s not every day you get to see a brand new microprocessor company. What do you think this is – 1998? Yet Soft Machines thinks it’s cracked the secret code to making embedded processors that are both fast and small, quick yet power-efficient, new yet totally compatible with existing binary code.
Are You Ready for Tomorrow?
There are times when you shouldn't really think too deeply about things. Last week I was driving along the motorway from London to Winchester. While accelerating to overtake, I saw the engine pass through 4,000 rpm, and I wondered about each piston moving from stationary at top dead centre to stationary at bottom dead centre and then back to top dead centre 50 times a second. (Geeky? Moi?) Sadly, I can't perform in my head the sum that would calculate the speed at which each piston was moving at its fastest, but it must be pretty speedy, and that cycle of movement would be putting all sorts of stresses on all sorts of metal parts. I eased my mental stress by consoling myself that, at least in my 15-year-old Golf, there wasn't software running on silicon to control the engine.
So I didn't have to worry that the software could be like that in the Toyotas that may have suffered unintended acceleration. There has been no resolution on whether the software caused the issue. The evidence of software guru Michael Barr was so damning that, while he couldn't say that the software caused the incident, he had the Toyota lawyers worried. Add to this the way in which the opposing legal team were being successful in throwing dust into the eyes of the jury and sowing doubt into their minds, and it is clear why Toyota settled out of court.
Carbon Design Systems Announces the Carbon System Exchange
So I hear you’re going to try to build an SoC. Good luck; you’ve got lots of work ahead.
First you have to come up with an architecture. Then you need to design all of the blocks yourself. Then you need to write all of the software that’s going to run on this beastie. By yourself.
That’s the easy part. When you’re done with that, you have to verify the whole thing. Yes, you have to design everything and finish it all before you can start your verification. I just hope you don’t make any mistakes at the early architecture level.
So, okay then, off you go like a good lad.
AMD’s Multi-pronged Strategy Is Certainly Different, But Is It Better?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair… we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Is AMD the best microprocessor maker in the world, or the worst? Is the company more competitive than it’s ever been, or about to hit bottom? Are they blazing a trail to success, or on the road to perdition?
Or the real question: Are you planning to buy AMD chips or aren’t you?
HCC Embedded Strikes Efficiency/Freedom Balance
We humans are funny creatures. When it comes to how we organize ourselves, we like for someone to be in charge. But we don’t want them to be too much in charge. Exactly how that balance is set is a point of constant friction around the world, and there’s no one right setpoint for everyone or every culture.
System design inherits this ambivalence. We don’t want chaos, but we want maximal individual freedom and flexibility. So we want standards, but not too many. And we like reference designs, but we want to be able to customize them and make them our own.
It’s all about adding value: we all want to build something that’s uniquely us. From a business standpoint, we’re hoping that “that special something” will excite customers and become a sales differentiator. But, while we want to put our custom touches on it, we don’t want to develop everything from scratch, and we tend to eschew redundancy as being inefficient (unless it’s a requirement for safety purposes, in which case we go along begrudgingly).