May 2010

Industry Insider


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Personal Computer Pioneer Ed Roberts Dies

Ed Roberts, who produced what may have been the first personal computer, the MITS Altair 8800, has passed away. The Altair 8800 was sold as a kit starting in 1975 and turned into a $13 million business. It was based on an Intel 8-bit 8080 microprocessor running at 2 MHz and had a maximum memory of 64 Kb. It was also based on a bus architecture called the S-100 bus. The Altair 8800 was introduced in an edition of Popular Electronics and soon became a darling of hobbyists.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Altair 8800 was the fact that it needed a programming language that hobbyists could use. That prompted two MIT students, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, to develop an 8080 version of BASIC by simulating an 8080 on a DEC computer at MIT and copying it on a paper tape of the type that could be read by a teletype machine. Gates took his tape of BASIC to MITS and it ran on the Altair. It was later also made available on a cassette tape that could be loaded into memory on the Altair. One did that by first setting switches on the front panel that constituted the instructions for a boot loader and loading them byte by byte into the machine’s memory. Then BASIC could be loaded.

Later, 8-inch floppy disk drives became available and a primitive “Star Trek” game became wildly popular. The Altair soon motivated emulators to produce competitive machines and the personal computer phenomenon had begun. Not long after, a couple of students named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak introduced their first Apple computer to the Homebrew Computer Club in California, and publications were launched such as Byte and Dr. Dobb’s Journal. The world has not been the same since.

VITA Members Form FMC Marketing Alliance

VITA, the trade association dedicated to fostering American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited, open system architectures in critical embedded system applications, today announced the formation of the FMC Marketing Alliance. The purpose of the FMC (FPGA Mezzanine Card) Marketing Alliance is to establish an ecosystem of interested parties that promotes and grows adoption of the FMC specifications and technology. The Alliance is responsible for promoting the capabilities of the FMC specification and educating, training, informing and promoting FMC use to the press and the broader electronics community.

FMC, as defined in VITA 57, provides a specification describing an I/O mezzanine module with connection to an FPGA or other device with reconfigurable I/O capability. The low-profile design allows use on popular industry standard slot card, blade and motherboard form factors, including VME, VPX, CompactPCI, AdvancedTCA, MicroTCA, PCI, PXI, and many other low-profile motherboards. The compact size is highly adaptable to many configuration needs and complements existing common low-profile mezzanine technology such as PMC, XMC and AMC. Companies that develop FMC products are encouraged to contact VITA to join the FMC Marketing Alliance. VITA announced the ratification of the FPGA Mezzanine Card standard under ANSI/VITA 57.1 on April 13.

ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 Technical Requirements Available for Public Comment

The ZigBee Alliance has announced that the ZigBee Smart Energy version 2.0 Technical Requirements Document (TRD) is available for public comment by the Smart Grid community at large, opening it beyond those who have been active in its creation. The Alliance makes this unprecedented move for an organization engaged in standards development because it recognizes the important role ZigBee Smart Energy plays in the Smart Grid and the need to expedite the broadest consensus possible on its capabilities.

The Alliance has entered into numerous liaison relationships with key stakeholder groups to engage directly in the collaborative development process for the HAN and the Smart Grid. The TRD represents input from a broad set of players into the development of the IP-based version of ZigBee Smart Energy. The TRD is driven by the Market Requirements Document that was made publicly available in June 2009. ZigBee Smart Energy version 1.0, currently in wide deployment, was made publicly available in May 2008.

LDRA and Netrino Partner on Static Analysis Tool to Enforce Embedded C Coding Standard

LDRA and Netrino are partnering to implement the Embedded C Coding Standard. Support for the Embedded C Coding Standard complements the LDRA tool suite’s support for C language programming standards such as MISRA-C:1998 and MISRA-C:2004, CERT C, SEC C and GJB (Chinese Military Standard).

The Embedded C Coding Standard was developed by Netrino to minimize firmware bugs by creating rules that keep bugs out while also improving the maintainability and portability of embedded software. The coding standard details guiding software programming principles, specifies naming conventions and outlines rules for data types, functions, preprocessor macros, variables and much more. Individual rules that have been demonstrated to reduce or eliminate certain types of bugs are highlighted.

The C language is widely used by organizations in the development of safety-critical software applications. The LDRA tool suite provides the most comprehensive C coding standards enforcement available on the market today. Support of the Netrino Embedded C Coding Standard extends LDRA’s already comprehensive list of C/C++ language standards.

Actel Announces Keil’s Support of New SmartFusion ASP Family

Actel has announced that Keil now supports the application services platform (ASP) family in the Keil MDK-ARM Microcontroller Development Kit. The latest release of MDK-ARM supports the ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller subsystem (MSS) on SmartFusion devices and includes set-up files, device-specific views and example projects. MDK features the industry-standard compiler from ARM, the Keil uVision4 Integrated Development Environment, the fully functional RTX RTOS and sophisticated analysis tools. MDK provides a complete development environment for creating, debugging and verifying embedded applications.

SmartFusion, the first intelligent ASP, integrates an FPGA, hard ARM Cortex-M3-based MSS and programmable analog, offering full customization and ease of use. SmartFusion devices meet the needs of hardware and embedded designers who require a true system-on-chip (SoC) solution that is more flexible than traditional fixed-function microcontrollers and less costly than soft processor cores on conventional FPGAs. MDK-ARM v4.10 is available for download now at   

Express Logic ThreadX Available for Tensilica’s Dataplane Processor Cores

Tensilica and Express Logic have announced that Express Logic’s ThreadX real-time operating system (RTOS) is now available for Tensilica’s new third-generation Diamond Standard dataplane processor (DPU) cores. A free demo download of the ThreadX RTOS is available on the Tensilica Web site. Designed for small-footprint, demanding real-time control, the ThreadX RTOS is a suitable match for the Diamond Standard family of general-purpose, low-power cores aimed at deeply embedded control and signal processing functions. 

ThreadX is designed for fast real-time performance. It helps applications quickly respond to external events with its priority-based, preemptive scheduling. It is also deterministic, providing bounded real-time response regardless of the size of the application. A high-priority thread starts responding to an external event in the amount of time it takes to perform a highly optimized ThreadX context switch—under 250 nanoseconds on a DPU core running at 1 GHz. It is also small with a minimum kernel size under 2 Kbytes. Tensilica’s Diamond Standard series DPU family covers a broad range of embedded control performance with synthesizable cores ranging from a very small 32-bit ultra-low-power, cache-less RSIC DPU to a powerful high-performance 3-issue VLIW processor.