Nextgen hardware tools for nextgen problems
Embedded systems hardware designers face numerous challenges at the board, package, and chip level in the year ahead. They will need tools and techniques that will allow them to continue to build the systems with the reliability their applications require.
One view of the kind of challenges they face can be seen at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in two weeks, where a number of trends are emerging that make the hardware design of the embedded consumer devices more difficult to analyze, debug, and correct:
1 - Processor designs of higher speed than ever before but which must operate in an untethered wireless environment, and must be maintained by the variable power available from cell batteries or energy harvesting from the ambient environment.
2 - Nanometer scale integrated circuits that achieve the high density required but at the cost of voltage and power stability as they approach the edge of unpredictable quantum effects
3 - High speed internal board and system interconnects that push the limits of reliable performance and signal integrity tolerances
4 - PCB layouts of increasingly smaller dimensions, which require close attention to the razor-thin tolerances that such compact dimensions require
5 - Reliable operation in an increasingly crowded wireless RF spectrum that introduces possible electromagnetic interference problems of amazing diversity and unpredictability
Fortunately, as is illustrated in the design articles and blogs included in this week’s Tech Focus newsletter on “Tools for embedded hardware debug and analysis,” advanced oscilloscopes and logic analyzers are now available with capabilities that more than match the challenges.
Not only are the costs of traditional scopes and analyzers now no more prohibitive than a high end desktop computer, they are small enough to be carried around in your pocket. My Editor’s Top Picks are:
“Practical EMI troubleshooting with a mixed domain oscilloscope." Faride Akretch of Tektronix describes some of the EMI testing and troubleshooting techniques that can be used to deal with EMI from a variety of sources including those caused by integration of wireless interfaces and connectivity.
“Fourier and us.” Jack Ganssle provides a short tutorial in the characteristics of fast fourier transforms, an understanding of which he believes is essential in the effective use of scopes and logic analyzers.
“Scoping out palm-sized USB oscilloscopes.” Jack Ganssle evaluates three "microscopes" -- USB oscilloscopes that fit in the palm of your hand or next to your pocket protector.
If you are like me, though, the best way to learn is to study how a tool is used in real world designs. Some real-world examples from Embedded.com’s archives of design articles and blogs are:
How the right measurements can optimize battery run time
Efficient I2C Bus debug using Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes
Debug your MCU-based design with a mixed signal oscilloscope
Making embedded system debug easier: useful hardware & software tips
For in-depth and intensive education in the real-world application of scope and analyzer tools, I recommend registering for DesignCon, which will be held Jan. 28-31 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
In addition to several hands-on classes in the use of the newest in logic analyzer and oscilloscopes there will be 120 or so classes divided into 14 conference tracks including: PCB design tools and methodologies, mitigating crosstalk, jitter and noise; next generation test and measurement methodologies, RF/Microwave/EM signal integrity techniques, and achieving electromagnetic compatibility.
Embedded.com Site Editor Bernard Cole is also editor of the twice-a-week Embedded.com newsletters as well as a partner in the TechRite Associates editorial services consultancy. He welcomes your feedback. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 928-525-9087.