Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SDRAM Power Calculator

Need to estimate battery life for your next embedded design? With SDRAM systems that can be difficult but Micron has a few system power calculator excel spreadsheets you can download to help. They have separate spreadsheets for SDRAM, DDR, DDR2, DDR3 and RLDRAM II. They also have some useful tech note pdfs on calculating system power.

Monday, June 22, 2009

iPhone 3G S Tear-down

The first teardown of the iPhone 3G by Rapid Repair gives more details than the previously published specs. The Rapid Repair comparison chart shows the 3G has a 412MHz Samsung S3C6400 ARM11 and the 3G S has a Samsung S5PC100 ARM Cortex A8 at 600MHz.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Google Wave Changes Personal Communication

Google Wave is the second Google project for the developers of Google Maps. It attempts to combine e-mail and instant messaging into a single system, but doesn't stop there. They also aim to combine documents with conversations and allow networked collaboration to create a new electronic object called a wave. A wave doesn't have a true physical representation but that is part of the design according to the Google Wave post on the Official Google Blog. With an electronic form the wave allows dynamic features like playback and rewind that are hard to navigate with paper documents.

Another interesting part of Wave is that it has an underlying open protocol called the Google Wave Federation Protocol. By opening up the protocol, Google is enabling companies to develop interoperable systems that use waves. That could allow consumer electronic start-ups to invent new web enabled devices. This can also allow some apps to be developed and delivered across mobile platforms. In the video you can also see Wave running on Android and iPhone at the 25:26 mark.

Prototype PCB Calculator

If you want to compare prototype PCB costs without visiting every manufacturer's website try this javascript PCB design calculator. The author, Limor Fried, has a great page on finding parts and blog with many other interesting electronics projects and resources for prototyping. You can see her talk about open source hardware in a video at the O'Reilly OSCON 2007 website.

26 Year Old Bug Fix

"The new product design you are working on will end up in a dumpster in 10 years." I read that years ago in an engineering magazine. The point was to think about the environment, but I was more shocked to realize my hard work would soon be worthless. It made me strive to design products that will have value well beyond the warranty period.

An unlikely area for product longevity is computer games because of the continuous advance of graphics technology. It may be partly nostalgia, but classic games live on. Surprisingly, its not in remakes with modern graphics, but in ports of the originals to new platforms like flash or mobile. Here is a flash Super Mario (also see Game Developers Compete to Give Mario Intelligence) or this Pac-Man for your cell.

The use of emulators like MAME with the original code means even the flaws are ported. Usually cheats are added to give unlimited lives or invincibility but now the bugs are being fixed as well. That code review and test cycle that was skipped 26 years ago is being done by volunteers. Don Hodges found and fixed a huge bug in Donkey Kong shown in the video and another in Pac-Man.

Thanks to Paras for sending me the link.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Surface Mount Hand Soldering Techniques

The Curious Inventor website has a great surface mount soldering video guide showing a number of techniques you can use to solder fine pitch surface mount components to printed circuit boards (PCBs).

A novel method of prototyping electronics that allows easy soldering is the Schmartboard. An example of this is shown 7:59 into the video. I just read an article about electronic prototyping in the latest issue of Electronic Design that mentioned Schmartboard was awarded patent 7,511,228 for this technology. I found the JTAG I/O SchmartBoard useful when I needed to create an adaptor to connect my prototype to a standard 0.1 inch JTAG cable. The RJ11/45 and USB connector board looks useful as well.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Storage Start-up Promises Revolutionary Hard Drive

DataSlide is publishing 160,000 IOPS and 500MB/s transfer rates for its new Hard Rectangular Drive technology. The technology has been proven in prototypes according to an article in the Register. ZDNet gives a few more details and mentions a similarity to IBM's Millipede project.

DataSlide is also promoting this as green tech when comparing IOPS/Watt to other drive technologies.

NXP ARM7 Processors

I have developed on a few different NXP (formerly Phillips) ARM7 processors in consumer electronics products. NXP has a great selection of processor families with a variety of feature sets in each family. This makes it possible to reuse code on different products or to design-in a new processor without changing vendors. For example, on a product using the LPC21xx we were able to change to a processor with more memory during software development without any problems and with a very minor schedule impact.

I just returned my LPC21xx development board to a client last week now that their product is in production. I was thinking about purchasing a replacement when out of the blue, I received a skype from NGX Technologies about a new low-cost LPC214x evaluation board they have developed.BlueBoard PCB I haven't had a chance to evaluate it, but at under $50 (depending on exchange), it is much cheaper than any of the LPC214x boards I find online at the very useful LPC Tools website.

Open Hardware Projects

The concept of open hardware is not as mature or well-defined as open software, but that hasn't stopped the development of some very interesting embedded systems. Some are inexpensive designs for the hobbyist that resemble electronic kits like the Arduino. Other are very polished and expensive consumer electronics like Chumby, with a 1GHz Marvell PXA168 processor and 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi. Another is Bug Labs ARM11 based BUGbase with swappable BUGmodules available for a variety of applications. Of course, with open hardware you can build your own module too. BUGsound Module Make magazine has a huge list of open hardware projects. The one thing they have in common is free access to the schematics and layout and should use only open source software, so you are free to build the entire design yourself.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Intel's New Embedded Strategy

In 2006 Intel sold the mobile XScale processor business to Marvell "to focus its investments on its core businesses." Now they are re-entering the embedded market by acquiring embedded software company Wind River as "part of Intel's strategy to grow its processor and software presence outside the traditional PC and server market segments into embedded systems and mobile handheld devices." Links are to Intel press releases.

There is a lot of speculation about this acquisition and Intel's next embedded move, such as Intel looking to buy Marvell to re-aquire the mobile XScale, or an Android Linux smartphone that outperforms Google's.

One area that may be affected by the acquisition is the newly available embedded OS virtualization technology, Wind River Hypervisor. It is currently only available on Intel and Power-PC processors, but support for other non-Intel processors is planned. This article at LinuxDevices.com claims that might change and gives an overview of the technology. Hypervisor currently only supports Linux and VxWorks, both Wind River supported OSes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Embedded Processor Benchmark

CoreMark is a new free benchmark for embedded processors from EEMBC. EEMBC is using this to promote its other benchmarks and to compete with free benchmarks like Dhrystone.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ARM TechCon3 2009

The former ARM Developer's Conference is now billed as an engineering-oriented technical event and will focus on three areas

  • Energy Efficiency
  • MCU & Tools
  • Internet Everywhere
ARM TechCon3 is still being held in October in the Santa Clara Convention center. The deadline for paper submissions is July 14, with the conference on October 21-23, 2009.

Game Developers Compete to Give Mario Intelligence

As part of the IEEE Games Innovation Conference, there is a competition to build the best AI to play the classic Nintendo Super Mario Bros. game. You don't need to attend to enter the contest, just join the Mario competition google group and you can download source code to create your AI (called a controller or agent) that plays the game. The organizers want to use the competition to compare different methodologies so be creative. They are calling for submissions based on
  • artificial evolution
  • evolutionary neural networks
  • genetic programming
  • fuzzy logic
  • temporal difference learning
  • human ingenuity
  • hybrids of the above
This reminds me of the Terminator TV series where a computer designed to compete in chess acquires an artificial intelligence that eventually threatens humanity. If you enter watch out for cyborgs and time travelers.

IEEE Gets in the Game

The IEEE Consumer Electronics Society is holding its first Games Innovation Conference in London on August 25-28, 2009. Focusing on both technology and creativity in games this international conference is for almost everyone involved in creating and studying games including 'researchers and practitioners'...'from different disciplines in acedamia and industry.'

Wolfram Alpha

The makers of Mathematica have created a website to "make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything." They need some help at the moment and will give you a link to participate if you find something the site is missing like digital filter, frequency spectrum, Hamming window, or impulse function.

Wolfram Alpha is currently more powerful than using Google's built in calculator but I find the interface to be cumbersome. If you perform more than one calculation the history function can interfere with your text input and you lose the focus from the text entry box after each result.

It does look useful for learning about mathematical functions, try epi*x for example, you can see a quick graph and they give a lot of useful formulae like series representations and integrals.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

iPhone 3G S Specs

The new iPhone 3GS has just been introduced in a few different models. Here is a brief feature comparison to the iPhone 3G. 3GS Features include:

  • 3 megapixel camera
  • 30 fps video with third-party application integration
  • photo and video geotagging
  • digital compass
  • proximity sensor
  • ambient light sensor
  • accelerometer
  • assisted GPS
  • 7.2 Mbps HSDPA (not available from AT&T until later this year)
  • OpenGL ES 2.0 3D
  • hands free voice control
Here are the full iPhone 3GS specifications and iPhone 3G specs. The 3GS release date is June 19. Prices are $199 for the 16GB 3GS and $299 for the 32GB model with new $99 price for the 3G. The 3GS specs are close to those leaked a month ago on a Chinese website according to this article on Brighthand. A few more specs that were leaked are a 600MHz processor and 256MB of RAM, these were both on the Chinese site and an accidental post to a T-Mobile spec page in the Netherlands.