64 Bit Processors in Embedded Projects

Posted by: Thom Denholm

Desktop processors are universally available in 64 bit varieties, resulting in higher and faster processing power. Another major advantage of 64 bit processors include direct addressing of huge amounts of RAM. In the embedded realm, the first hardware architecture to provide 64 bit was the x86-64, provided by Intel and AMD. Later targets included MIPS and ARM.

According to market research firm Embedded Market Forecasters, use of 64-bit processors in embedded designs is increasing and they are now used in roughly 20% of projects. Embedded RTOSes that support 64 bit targets include Microsoft's Windows Embedded Compact 7 (and 2013), Wind River's VxWorks 6.9, Linux and of course Android. The latter environment drove much of Datalight's 64 bit roadmap, as Google required a 64 bit development system to support Android 2.3 and above - even on 32 bit targets.

One drawback to using these faster chips is that 64 bit access requires larger pointers - which doubles the data and stack space requirements. This cost is strongly felt in embedded designs, where RAM can be at a premium. Conditional compilation was a required solution here.

Most of the changes required for 64-bit support were fairly standard, although extensive. From a technical standpoint, these processors have a new mode of operation - long mode. In this mode, 64 bit applications and operating systems can be used, along with a 32 bit compatibility mode. Also available is legacy mode, which maintains 100% compatibility for 32 bit applications and operating systems.

Datalight products released with full 64 bit support include Reliance Nitro, FlashFX Tera, FlashFXe, and our Windows desktop File System Exchangeability driver for Reliance Nitro.


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