Race to 32-bit embedded devices gains some incentives

Moving to 32-bit is kind of like cleaning the garage.

There's a high-speed race this summer -- full of spills and chills -- and it's not on the Nascar circuit or in the French Alps. It's a race between Freescale Semiconductor and ARM (among others) to woo more developers and device manufacturers from 8- and 16-bit bit architectures on up to the respective 32-bit silicon implementations from the chip producers.

The tight jockeying in the third turn, so to speak, is evident this week at the Freescale Technology Forum 2006 in Orlando, Fla. A slew of Freescale announcements, as well as those from partners, are trying to make the race fans an offer they can't refuse ... a perfunctory migration path to 32-bit processors and platforms. The Siamese twins of software and hardware providers for device-level intelligence want to take more pain out of the change up to 32-bit, and sweeten the deal for when manufacturers get there.

Moving to 32-bit is kind of like cleaning the garage. You know you should. You know all those tools and the lawnmower in their proper places will make more room for the bicycles, trash cans, and cars -- but, sheesh, who wants to clean the garage and burn up a full Saturday getting it done? So the reluctant device architects need a boost, an incentive, the prospect of the equivalent of a case of cold beer by the hammock under the shade-tree once the job is done.

Freescale is moving aggressively into mobile, WiMAX, multi-protocol chips, 3G packaging, and is expanding the Power architecture more broadly. The hardware races will be interesting, certainly more so than cleaning the garage.

Among the Freescale partners trying to grease the skids to 32-bit adoption are embedded software provider Green Hills Software, with more support for more Freescale silicon across more software; Wind River with multi-core Linux support, and Mentor Graphics, with tools for the Freescale 32-bit platform and with Eclipse-based tools support for Freescale's mobile chip, the i.MX31.