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Spansion to unleash bus interface for cars

Posted: 20 Feb 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Spansion  bus interface  automotive  NOR memory  MCU 

Spansion Inc. has created a bus interface aimed at embedded systems such as automotive instrument clusters that demand "instant-on" and an "interactive GUI." The company claims that the HyberBus interface offers low latency, high read throughput and low pin-count.

Spansion also announced that it will become the first flash memory chip vendor to launch HyperFlash NOR memory devices that take advantage of the interface.

Claiming that the new device is "the world's fastest" NOR flash memory, Spansion noted that its read throughput is up to 333MB/s, more than five times faster than an ordinary Quad SPI flash presently available. Spansion has also kept the pin number of HyperFlash NOR memory devices to 12, one-third the number in Parallel NOR flash. The initial read access time is 92ns.

With this increased performance at a minimum pin count, Hironaga Ino, Spansion's senior director, responsible for NOR product line, described HyperFlash as a device that "combines the best of both worlds of Parallel and SPI NOR flash."

Spansion's announcement of "HyperBus interface" for embedded systems and "HyperFlash" for NOR memory sets the tone for Spansion's latest business strategy. After the acquisition of Fujitsu Semiconductor's MCU and analog businesses last summer, Spansion is no longer a memory chip vendor. Rather, it portrays itself an "embedded systems solution" company.

HyperBus Interface

Spansion's proprietary 12-pin HyperBus Interface for various memory types and peripherals.

The interface consists of an 8-pin address/data bus, a differential clock (two signals), one Chip Select and a Read Data Strobe for the controller, reducing the overall cost of the system.

Despite an IP license necessary for the use of HyperBus, Spansion is confident that the interface will be designed into a variety of products including SoCs, MCUs, memories and peripherals. Spansion's Ino said at a press conference, "More than two leading SoC vendors are already implementing the new HyperBus Interface on their chips."

In addition, Freescale is rolling out a number of HyperBus-based MCUs in the near future. Freescale has worked with Spansion to develop the interface, said Ray Cornyn, VP of product management for Freescale's automotive microcontrollers business.

Spansion will release engineering samples of the HyperFlash NOR memory device in 2Q14, according to Ino. The launch of production samples is slated for Q3. Spansion is manufacturing the chip, based on a 62nm process technology, at the company's fab in Austin, Texas.

For many embedded system OEMs, the most attractive feature in Spansion's HyperBus Interface is that it allows for "much faster boot time, direct execute-in-place (XIP) from flash, reducing the amount of RAM needed," explained Spansion.

Speaking of the target market, Spansion's Ino stressed a groundswell of demand among car OEMs, Tier Ones, and automotive chip suppliers.

Consider, for example, automotive instrument clusters, said Ino.

Instead of traditional analog gauges and dials, clusters are going digital. Gauges are displayed on an LCD screen. Ino asked, "What if you turned on the ignition of a new car, and your instrument clusters don't show up instantaneously?" OEMs and Tier Ones want something like the HyperBus interface for fast boot and quick display solutions, he explained.

If this hypothetical dashboard were an Android smartphone, which typically uses a combination of NAND and DRAM, consumers might be more tolerant of several seconds of boot time. But a delayed display in a car won't be permitted in the automotive world.

Spansion's HyperFlash NOR memory is designed from the ground up for automotive applications. It withstands under the extended temperatures, ranging from -40°C to 125°C, required by automakers.

HyperFlash NOR memory's use inside infotainment/navigation systems and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) doesn't mean that it's replacing NAND flash in such systems. "NAND will be always there," said Ino. But it leads to a system design using less DRAMs.

By reducing the amount of DRAMs, "system designers can eliminate the number of components in a complex ADAS system, already crammed with a lot of parts," Ino said. "Fewer components mean reduction in power and boost in reliability in automotive systems."

Asked if HyperBus interface needs to become an industry standard, Ino explained that Spansion decided to push its proprietary technology as "a de facto standard" due to the pressing market demand. Going through the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) "would take too long," he noted.

However, customers might feel differently about HyperBus once they realize that Spansion is the only Flash memory company using that proprietary interface. They often demand second sources.

When asked about this second source, Ino explained, "Spansion has a pin and package compatible Dual-Quad SPI NOR flash, which was introduced last December. This has satisfied our SoC vendors as an alternate solution."

Ino added, "Nonetheless, we also have multiple fabs as sources to mitigate any production risks. We are also actively exploring second source opportunities at this moment."

It's important to note that HyperFlash memory based on the FlashBus interface will not be totally foreign to system designers who would use it for the first time. Because the HyperFlash NOR memory device is offered on a universal footprint featuring a common pin-out, Spansion claimed that it provides a smooth migration path, from single Quad SPI to Dual Quad SPI to HyperFlash memory. It will allow system applications to be scaled to different levels of flash performance when paired with compatible controllers, said Spansion, giving OEMs the ability to offer different product models with a single design.

A big unanswered question is whether HyperFlash NOR flash memory, armed with fast boot and fast XIP, can buck the trend of market erosion caused by smartphones. Typically, smartphones use a combination of NAND and DRAM for memory.

Spansion's Ino believes HyperFlash NOR memory, with its fast boot, "has potential" to replace or reduce DRAMs in smartphones. But for now, the focus is on meeting the immediate demands of the automotive industry, he added.

Applications, other than automotive, include hand-held displays, digital cameras, projectors, factory automation, medical diagnostic equipment and home automation appliances, according to Spansion.

"As we educate the market on HyperFlash and HyperBus, we are confident that people will find various applications we are not even thinking about right now," said Ino.

Spansion will offer its HyperFlash Memory family in 3V and 1.8V power-supply versions. It will initially include three densities: 128Mb, 256Mb and 512Mb.

The HyperBus interface is available for licensing from Spansion.

- Junko Yoshida
  EE Times

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