Saturday, September 30, 2006

Embedded Boards Review – ESC Boston 2006

The Embedded Systems Conference Boston 2006 was well attended for what we have come to expect from the Boston show. Many vendors that VDC met believed the quality of the show was up and show organizers indicated that both registration and attendance were up. Exhibitors said that meetings and discussions were leading to serious talks and actionable ideas about how their products could be built into systems. Attitudes seemed upbeat and it seems not only the show, but the embedded space as a whole, are generating some momentum.

VDC believes that a key reason for this success and the increasing activity of people in the aisle ready to find new products has in large part to do with RoHS. RoHS has led to pent-up demand in the market that is now being released. When RoHS was first announced, it was not clear what would happen with the directive. The market was not sure if it was for real or if it was something that would fall by the wayside. It is known by now that it is in fact very real and will not go away. Even though this has been evident for some time now, people were skeptical about the first products that would be RoHS-compliant.

For RoHS these were very real concerns due to the tin whisker problems associated with lead-free solders and other durability concerns. For these reasons, it is likely that many people who knew they had a new product development or launch coming up in the timeframe of the launch of RoHS delayed these to avoid falling prey to the pitfalls of being a first adopter. Now the many RoHS-compliant product releases that have come leading up to the July 1, 2006 deadline are alleviating fears to a certain degree. They are beginning to buy components again to launch their own development efforts that had been delayed while they waited to see what would happen with RoHS. VDC believes this was partly responsible for some of the action at the ESC Boston show this year.



Ampro Computers – The PC/104 stackables and embedded motherboards specialists had the first EPIC Express board at their booth that VDC have seen. It was also the only EPIC Express board on the show floor. We have all known that EPIC Express was coming for some time and many vendors are scrambling to soon release these products, however it appears that Ampro will be one of the first to market with a product. This begins a new generation of innovation for Ampro as they look to be technology leaders with other upcoming solutions such as PC/104 Express.


It’s about time that a vendor had an exciting demo that peaked the crowd’s interest on a grand scale. This year the clear winner in the best demo category was Sun Microsystems with its large model race track, complete with dueling race cars speeding around the track. We’re sure this was a strong attraction to Sun’s Java exhibit.


The notable absences from the show on the embedded hardware side of things were Motorola Embedded Communications Computing (MECC), Radisys, Trenton Technology, Diversified Technology, and Performance Technologies, who did not have booths in the exhibition. As a side note, on the software side many people were talking about Wind River’s absence from the show.


VersaLogic had on display the first COM (Computer-On-Module) on an embedded motherboard that we’ve ever seen. A COM for active backplanes (motherboards) is a product that we have expected to see for quite some time now – from anybody. It looks like it will be a successful product for them, giving customers many options to switch in and out different processors without having to buy an entirely new motherboard.

Intel made an announcement during the show that they will be extending the life-cycle support for the Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 and T7400 processors for embedded applications to 5 to 7 years. This is aimed at meeting the unique requirements of embedded customers.

AMD was at the show with the message that they intend to place a greater focus on the embedded market moving forward. Similar claims have been made in the past and only time will tell if this really happens, but it appears that AMD’s intentions are genuine. AMD can now offer very real advantages to embedded customers with low-power processors and the ability to integrate video onto chipsets.

VIA Technologies announced the release of an HDTV ready chipset for the embedded market at the show. The chipset is for the VIA C7 and Eden processor platforms and it integrates graphics, audio, memory, storage, and HDTV support all in a single chip design. It appears that the processor and chipset supplier will be targeting the embedded market with integrated products such as their Mini-ITX and Nano-ITX motherboards that offer customers an entire integrated board, processor, and chipset solution.

Advantech is making a push toward integrated embedded computer systems by leveraging their knowledge and expertise in boards to build quality integrated systems around their many board offerings. They were trumpeting their ARK systems as well as a new system that can be used to support high-def graphics on a variety of screens. A major application of this platform will be to put high-definition advertising up on a flat screen display or television. It seems that there would be high demand for such products from store owners and retailers who want to distribute information around their stores or to advertise in-store.

Digital-Logic is well on their way in developing a PC/104 Express standard. We have heard from the industry that there are a few stumbling blocks currently in the way that have been realized as a result of what has been done with the EPIC Express standard, but Digital-Logic seemed upbeat about the prospects for a standard in the not-too-distant future.

Win Enterprises displayed an interesting IP PBX 1U off-the-shelf platform called WIN CAP (Converged Application Platform). This product provides a cost-effective, scalable, and simple-to-use IP PBX platform that customers can use to also take advantage of a reduced time-to-market as compared to developing a proprietary system from scratch.

The small venture-backed start-up CorEdge Networks was featured in CMP’s Disruption Zone, covering companies with technology or business plans/models disruptive to the embedded market. CorEdge Networks is offering their proprietary Bit Stream Processor chip-level hardware and software technology on AMC cards that allows for networking applications to operate at 10Gbps. This firm is focused on the AMC and µTCA segment to distribute their IP, which is in their ASICs.