Posted by John McHale
The impact of Apple's purchase of chip provider, P.A. Semi last week was the hot topic among attendees and sponsors at the Critical Embedded Systems Media Fest held in Scottsdale this week.
P.A. Semi makes a high-performance processor - the PWRFficient - which has the low power attributes needed for rugged military embedded applications, and seen as the low-power alternative to the PowerPC and Intel chips.
Many companies have designed product lines around the P.A. Semi device, and are concerned that Apple might not see the need to continue producing it because of the low volume market it represents.
One of those companies, Extreme Engineering is taking a positive look. Extreme's vice president of sales and marketing, Brett Farnum, says he believes that Apple will do the right thing and off load the technology to a third party manufacturer and that it will continue to be supplied.
During his opening remarks, Ray Alderman, executive director of VITA – the standards organization that runs the event – said that the federal government is looking to get involved to ensure continued supply of the P.A. Semi technology because it supports mission critical military applications.
However, some of the other attendees are not as optimistic about the continuation of the part. Peter Cavill, managing director of GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms, said during his keynote address that he hopes the chip will still be available but is doubtful. Cavill also said that without the low power chip, the industry will be forced to design systems with less thermally efficient processors such as the Intel devices and that this may inspire new unique cooling solutions to solve the thermal management challenges that accompany the high-performance commercial processors.
Right now it's a wait and see and embedded vendors are coming with alternative plans for their customers in case the P.A. Semi technology does disappear.
The Critical Embedded Systems conference itself was smaller than it had been in the past when it was called the Bus and Board conference. There seemed to be a third of the attendance than when it was in its heyday.
Notable absences were the RTC Group publications – COTS Journal and RTC Magazine – and past sponsor Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing.
However, despite those factors I still felt it was an effective event. It's not a news making conference, but one of the best networking events for embedded media and vendors. I enjoy meeting with embedded defense suppliers and the market outlook presentations.
In fact I thought this year's keynotes were the best I've seen in the decade I've attend the event. Doug Patterson, vice president of sales and marketing at Aitech and Peter Cavill gave informative presentations on COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) procurement and defense market analysis without turning their presentations into blatant commercials.
I enjoy coming to this event and networking with familiar and new faces in the industry. I find much more value in face-to-face meetings than conference calls or email threads. Maybe I'm just a bit old-fashioned.
I hope the Critical Embedded Systems Conference continues in some form.