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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Graceful degradation in encoding

An interesting element of the recent launch of a family of SD video codec cores from ARC is the use of 'graceful degradation' in the encoding process.
Depending on the resources available - and that can be power or memory - the cores can throw out various tools and reduce the quality of the encoding to extend the battery life or the recording time - this is all up to the designer and allows systems based on the cores to be differentiated through these engineering tradeoffs.

The five cores are based on the recently introduced VRaptor Multicore Architecture, each is programmable, encodes and decodes a wide range of popular video standards, and comes with optimized media processing elements including:
o Up to two 128-bit SIMD Media Processors
o A dual-channel media-optimized DMA engine
o Separate multi-standard encoding and decoding accelerators
o Programmable motion estimation accelerator
o SoC development tools
o Optimized video codecs:
o (encoders) H.264 BP, MPEG-4 SP/ASP, H.263 profile 0, and JPEG
o (decoders) H.264 BP, MPEG-4 SP/ASP, H.263 profile 0, VC-1 SP, MPEG-2 MP, MJPEG, JPEG, GIF, TIFF, and PNG

All this is very interesting when video becomes a key IP block for the next decade.

Powering chips by body warmth

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen, Germany, have developed a way of harnessing natural body heat to generate electricity to power low voltage logic devices.

While this won't power a cell phone, medical sensors may be able to function without power from a wall socket. Instead, they will draw all the power they need from the warmth of the human body. The respective data will be sent by a radio signal to the central monitoring station.

The researchers, with collleagues at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research IFAM, are using thermoelectric generators, TEG for short, made from semiconductor elements that extract electrical energy simply from the temperature difference between a hot and a cold environment. Normally, a difference of several tens of degrees would be required in order to generate enough power, but the differences between the body’s surface temperature and that of its environment are only a few degrees.

“Only low voltages can be produced from differences like these,” said Peter Spies, manager of this sub-project at the IIS. A conventional TEG delivers roughly 200 millivolts, but electronic devices require at least one or two volts. “We combined a number of components in a completely new way to create circuits that can operate on 200 millivolts,” says Spies. “This has enabled us to build entire electronic systems that do not require an internal battery, but draw their energy from body heat alone.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

VIA ships 1W x86 processor

To tackle deeply embedded and power sensitive applications, VIA has launched a 500MHz x86 processor that runs at under 1W.
The Eden ULV processor has been designed from the ground up to meet the low power requirements of a wide range of industrial, commercial and ultra mobile applications and has an idle power of 100mW.The 1W power level allows a 21mm x 21mm NanoBGA2 package to be used for more space sensitive applications.
The new processor can be combined with the ultra compact VIA CX700/M system media processor, an advanced all-in-one digital media chipset with a maximum operating power of just 3.5 watts, supporting a wide range of multimedia, connectivity and storage options and enabling system platforms with a maximum power of less than 10 watts.
It is being used by:

AAEON, Acrosser, Adlink, Advansus, Advantech, Aquila, Arbor, Avalue, Axiomtek, Biostar, Bona, Boser, Commate, E-TOP, Flexus, Freetech, Ibase, IEI, Inhand, IPOX, Kontron, Lanner, Liantec, Maple, Nexcom, Posiflex, Portwell, Termtek, Unication and Unicorn.

“With a maximum power of just 1W, the 500MHz VIA Eden ULV processor has finally brought x86 design into the realm of the embedded market,” said Richard Hung, Product Manager at Advantech. “This remarkably low power consumption has allowed our new PCM-4372 to provide all the power, performance and versatility of the x86 architecture to our customers.”

“The 500MHz VIA Eden ULV was the logical choice for our new 5.25” SBC, EBM-CX700 and B5 size slim PC, the ASM-CX700,” said Sam Wang, Vice-President of Avalue. “Now that VIA has brought to market an x86-based processor that doesn’t have the prohibitively high power consumption of other offerings, the benefits in terms of versatility, availability of compatible software and hardware, and performance can’t be overlooked.”

Integrated into the processor is the VIA StepAhead Technology Suite, which boasts an extensive array of performance-enhancing features including the VIA V4 bus at 400MHz, sixteen pipeline stages, branch prediction and an efficiency-enhanced 128KB full-speed exclusive L2 cache, ensuring the processor’s low power consumption doesn’t come at the expense of performance.
It also integrates VIA's PadLock Security Engine security tools to enable real-time military-grade encryption of data such as AES encryption, Secure Hash Algorithm SHA-1 and SHA-256, and a Montgomery Multiplier to accelerate the encryption process used under RSA and other public key transmissions as well as NX Execute Protection to prevent worms from propagating, and dual quantum based random number generators.

“Giving our customers the building blocks to create innovative systems and driving PC technology into new markets defines our ‘Small is Beautiful’ strategy,” said Richard Brown, Vice President of Corporate Marketing, VIA Technologies, Inc. “With its performance, energy efficiency and compact size, our new VIA Eden ULV processor provides a way for embedded developers to add real value to their systems and push the market forward.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

LSI shakeout continues with Infineon deal

The transformation of LSI Logic has settled down with the last remaining element - the GSM chip business - sold off to Infineon Technologies for what looks like a knock down price.
The E330m (£235m) deal is expected to close in Q4 and is for roughly the same as the project sales this year (the first six months saw sales of E150m), and Infineon expects a clearly positive EBITA contribution in 2008.
The 700 strong Mobility Products Group came from the April 2007 acquisition of Agere, and includes a design team and sales and marketing operation in Bracknell in the UK. Whether this becomes a standalone group for Infineon or merges with the Infineon design group in Bristol remains to be seen.
Another question is what this means for the comms element of the BlueOnyx strategy of a mobile server - that relied heavily on the Bluetooth and GSM element that came from the Mobility group, coupled with the storage capabilities of LSI. But buying in modules from a stronger player such as Infineon should not be a problem.
“Infineon’s strong commitment to the mobility market will ensure our customers continuity of the LSI product line, ongoing customer support and a broader portfolio of solutions to address their needs,” said Abhi Talwalkar, LSI president and chief executive officer. “LSI is fully committed to work with Infineon to provide a seamless transition for customers.”
Following the carve-out of Qimonda in 2006, Infineon is focusing on three key areas of business: Energy Efficiency, Communications and Security, having acquired Texas Instruments’ DSL CPE business earlier this year. In the Communication Solutions segment, Infineon has picked up new customers including Nokia, LG-Electronics, Panasonic and Samsung.

Friday, August 10, 2007

NI makes LabView multicore....

Embedded software tool vendor National Instruments has developed a multi-core version of its LabView graphical programming tool for the x86 architecture.
LabView 8.5 adds multicore support for PCs, embedded boards based on X86 processors and FPGA development systems. Running threads across multiple cores is allowing significant speed up of applications developed on the PC, such as test systems.
More importantly for embedded designed, NI has also made its real time operating system multi-core aware so that processes can be allocated to individual cores either manually or automatically to make the most of the system resources.
“Engineers and scientists depend on continually improving PC processors, operating systems and bus technologies to drive increased performance in their measurement and control systems,” said Dr. James Truchard, President, CEO and co-founder of National Instruments. “With the shift toward multicore processors on the PC, LabVIEW programmers benefit from a simplified graphical approach to multithreading, making it possible for engineers and scientists to maximise the performance of multicore technology with little to no change to their applications.”
With the parallel dataflow language of LabVIEW, users can easily map their applications to multicore and FPGA architectures for data streaming, control, analysis and signal processing. Building on the automatic multithreading capability of earlier versions, LabVIEW 8.5 scales user applications based on the total available number of cores and delivers enhanced thread-safe drivers and libraries to improve throughput for RF, high-speed digital I/O and mixed-signal test applications.

LabVIEW 8.5 also provides symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) with the LabVIEW Real-Time environment where designers of embedded and industrial systems automatically can load balance tasks across multiple cores without sacrificing determinism. With the latest version of LabVIEW, users can manually assign portions of code to specific processor cores to fine-tune real-time systems or isolate time-critical sections of code on a dedicated core. To meet the more challenging debugging and code optimisation requirements of real-time multicore development, engineers and scientists can use the new NI Real-Time Execution Trace Toolkit 2.0 to visually display timing relationships between sections of their code and the individual threads and processing cores where the code is executing.
The inherent parallelism of LabVIEW maps onto FPGA applications as well with an FPGA Project Wizard that automates I/O configuration, IP development and overall setup for common I/O, counter/timer and encoder applications. Using the FPGA Project Wizard, engineers and scientists can automate the generation of more complex high-speed DMA data transfer code. Additionally, LabVIEW 8.5 offers multichannel filtering and PID control functions commonly needed in machine automation to significantly reduce FPGA resources for high-channel-count applications.

… and NI adds state machine modelling tool

Statecharts are commonly used to design state machines to model the behaviour of real-time and embedded systems to depict event occurrences and responses for digital communication protocols, machine controllers and system-protection applications. LabVIEW 8.5 adds a new statechart module to help engineers and scientists design and simulate these event-based systems using familiar, high-level statechart notations based on the Unified Modeling Language (UML) standard.
Because the LabVIEW Statechart Module is based on the LabVIEW graphical programming language, engineers and scientists have a single platform to design, prototype and deploy their systems quickly, combining familiar statechart notation with real-world I/O running on deterministic real-time or
FPGA-based systems.
While this is not a move into full blown requirements capture and system modelling, it is a response to the recent acquisition of embedded UML tool provider Telelogic by IBM Rational. IBM is more focussed on the system and web software development, rather than embedded, and NI expects to pick up customers who used the I-logix state machine tool that was bought by Telelogic and so is now part of IBM Rational.