Friday, February 25, 2005

FPGAs Coming to Wireless Base Station Designs

An article in the current edition of Wireless Design & Development describes the use of FPGAs in the next generation Base Station designs.
The article contends that as the market matures in the wireless infrastructure arena, cost pressures will drive manufacturers to FPGA-based designs to gain performance improvements in addition to cost reductions. Revenue figures for infrastructure equipment sales is estimated at $27B in 2005, but is expected to drop back to $10B to $15B by the end of the decade when the market matures. Prices for base stations already have dropped 80% since 2001 and will continue to decline.

Manufacturers will have to meet a lower price point, but maintain differentiation which they typically do through better algorithms. The FPGA-based approach gives vendors an opportunity to innovate on the algorithmic side at a price point customers will accept. Typically, new algorithms are more complex and require greater processing bandwidth. To accomplish this, FPGAs will bring faster system level clocks and new parallel processing architectures.

Software Defined Radio continues to be one of the more interesting Emerging Technologies in the field today. If you are working with Software Defined Radio applications, please contact me at

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin

Friday, February 18, 2005

Apple iPod Used to Store and View Medical Imaging Files

In my September 10, 2004, posting I described how Apples’ iPod with its built-in hard drive made it an interesting tool for Virtual Instrumentation applications. The widespread use of the iPod means there are plenty of them available and in use. Apple sold 4.6 million of the units in the last three months of 2004, driving Apple’s quarterly revenue to $3.5B and giving them a 200% increase in stock price for 2004. You can see more about the impact of the iPod on Apple’s revenue here. The technology behind the IPod is quite interesting. There’s a brief review on how the Apple IPod works here.

Recently, I read about OsiriX which makes software for downloading and storing DICOM images onto the iPod. This allows doctors to carry their patient images with them from one place to the other. The hard drive capability on the iPod is large enough to handle the tremendous size of the images. Technology Review has a nice story on it here.

As the performance in handheld devices improves and the cost comes down, they will find more applications in the domain of virtual instrumentation. One can imagine the use of the iPod for collecting and storing data for easy retrieval while away from the computer or the network in such applications as in-vehicle/in-flight testing, machine condition monitoring, and more.

If you are interested in discussing further about the use of the Apple iPod for Virtual Instrumentation applications, please email me at

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin

Friday, February 11, 2005

IBM/Sony/Toshiba Announce New Cell Processor

IBM/Sony/Toshiba announced a new processing architecture designed to give computing a jump in performance. As the engine behind Sony’s Playstation 3, Cell processing promises to bring unprecedented computing power to the consumer market. It’s a 64bit "Power Architecture" processor. Power Architecture is a term IBM uses to describe both PowerPC and POWER processors.

A single unit of computation in a Cell system has a theoretical computing capability of 250 GFLOPS. While not every system reaches its full theoretical potential, even a partial fulfillment will give this technology an increase in performance over other processors. The makers are promising 10x the performance over processors used today.

With memory and I/O optimized to reduce latency and make data transfer as efficient as possible, the Cell architecture is essentially a general purpose PowerPC CPU with a set of 8 very high performance vector processors. Each Cell contains 8 APUs. An APU (Attached Processor Unit) is a self contained vector processor which acts independently from the others. A more detailed description of the spec can be found here.

Applications in the world of Virtual Instrumentation for performance computing include signal processing such as FFTs, linear problem solvers, simulations, and partial differential equations. Real-time applications could also benefit from such performance. This architecture promises “hard” real-time data processing with “absolute timer” capability.

If you are interested in Cell architectures and processing, please email me at

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Grid Computing Now Available to Anyone

Grid computing, long the domain of the rich pharmaceutical company or the well-funded government research project is now available to everyone. Sun now provides grid computing at fairly reasonable prices. Click here
to find out more about Sun’s offering to allow you to connect to Grid-based computing. The stated price is $1 an hour per processor and a $1 a month per gigabyte of storage.

I bring this up because I believe computation is going to be as accessible and prevalent as electricity. Most people don’t have an electric generator in their house but by tapping into the electric grid they gain access to the resources they need to power their appliances. Likewise, computation power is a resource people need and by tapping into a “computation grid” they can pay for what they need, when they need it. Grid computing is the early incarnation of computation-on-demand and now we are seeing it become available at reasonable prices.

In other news, IBM and United Devices announced a research grid called, “World Community Grid.” The first project will focus on protein-folding applications. Just as companies organize partnerships to provide better customer service, we may see companies organizing computation grids to provide better computation services. To learn more about the IBM and United Devices offering you can click here.

Virtual instrumentation works in a distributed environment. I maintain it will need to work in a grid environment in the not so distant future. If you have an opinion in this area, please email me at

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin