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Securing product longevity over processor generations

The lifetime of an embedded processor is typically seven years. End-of-life requires a generation shift of the embedded computer. Increased processor performance and new functionality in the end product is promising for competitiveness when making the shift.


The overriding problem is often though to ensure interoperability with existing hardware, software and subsystems. Solutions to tricky interoperability problems are often found in firmware and BIOS adaptations when Hectronic develops the new generation embedded computer for our customers. This is a typical scenario.

The following scenario takes its inspiration from real life and our customer's actual problems, possibilities, Hectronic's suggestions on a solution and the benefits thereby arising for the customer. The purpose of the text is to inspire you to see new possibilities for your business using the benefits with Hectronic's business model.

The manufacturer of forest machinery has sold thousands of harvesters and forwarders worldwide the last ten years. An embedded computer is used to control the crane, engine, propulsion and hydraulics. The processor has gone end-of-life.

The ISA bus – Obsolete but necessary

The next generation embedded computer needs to work not only as a part in production of new machines but also as a spare part in the existing ones. Requirements therefore include support for the ISA bus. It’s a bus standard that has been obsolete quite a few years but it’s actually still used. The forest machinery uses the ISA bus to monitor and control functionality in existing cranes and harvester heads.


ISA uses a bus speed of 8MHz and 16 bit addressable data. 8 bits are enough to manage and control the cranes and harvester heads. Most modern X86 processors support the LPC bus, a bus often used to realize legacy interfaces like ISA through the use of an LPC to ISA bridge component.


The plan was to realize an 8-bit version of the ISA bus on the computer board. Integrating an ISA bridge in hardware was uncomplicated. The tougher challenges appeared in software. There were conflicts in memory mapping on set-up in the new processor. The memory address space required for the ISA bus to access cranes and harvester heads was occupied by a couple of peripheral units.


Technical control ensures interoperability

Discussions were initiated with Hectronic to find a solution. Hectronic’s software engineers adapted the BIOS which reallocated resources during the start-up phase and mapped memory to match existing cranes and harvester head models.


Some additional legacy requirements were more straightforward to meet but nonetheless important. Physical dimensions were such an example. The hole pattern of the new computer board was designed to match its predecessor.


Our experience is that Hectronic’s main strength in securing interoperability from one product generation to the other is breadth and depth of technical competence. Since we are the only player on the Nordic market to develop X86 processor platforms from scratch we possess the knowledge and control of the details and the big picture. Development of next generation embedded computers that fulfill legacy requirements, are interoperable over generations, is often the result of joint efforts among a combination of disciplines like hardware, software and mechanics.


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