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Technology Watch

New Electronics' Technology Watch section focuses specifically on the latest technological developments within the electronics sector. Whether innovative new design or theoretical concepts, our Technology Watch articles will keep you informed of advances within the electronics industry.

Component size and communication speed propel PCB design

Viewed from the outside, the world of the printed circuit board (PCB) seems to move very slowly. The core technologies used in PCB fabrication have not changed radically in decades; boards remain based on glass fibre and vias are still the result of holes being drilled and plated. But PCB tools have evolved as more subtle changes in packaging and fabrication technology have taken place.

Electromechanical relays still have much to offer

Large scale digital logic began not with the vacuum tube but the electromechanical relay. Although vacuum tubes were available at the time – and were used on competing machines – Konrad Zuse chose to build the first operational programmable computer in Berlin using electromagnetic relays, rather than tubes, because he considered them to be more reliable when used in bulk.

Creating the software that drives embedded system design

The term 'embedded system' dates back to a time when most things had code buried deep inside. The user interface might be nothing more than a segmented led and nobody expected the code inside to be updated, short of a complete board replacement. Now, even a cooker might have some form of touch based graphical user interface, even if it is not quite up to the job of running downloadable apps. And, as more systems acquire network connections, customers expect to be able to update the products they use.

Understanding the benefits and pitfalls of modern cryptography

In a world where everything is connected to everything else by the internet, the need to keep secrets has never been so strong. Traditionally, the need for strong encryption was limited. Governments and military organisations required it to protect secrets from the enemy and so it remained a specialist subject. The rise of virtualisation has changed all that.

The world of serial communications between PCs and peripherals

When you consider how difficult it was to hook up peripherals to a PC in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is little wonder that the Universal Serial Bus (USB) should have been such a success. Users had to wrestle with arcane interrupt and address selections to attach more than a couple of serial or parallel peripherals to a computer, often with unpredictable results and rarely entirely successfully.

The internet's patch job

Practically every year, networking experts claim the internet is about to run out of room, but the truth is the internet has been close to running out of room since the mid 1990s.

The analogue barrier

The trend in RF design over the past 20 years has clearly been towards greater levels of digitisation in order to squeeze more capacity out of some of the most congested parts of the radio spectrum. At the same time, operators want to reduce power consumption in their basestations and hubs while users want better battery life out of their handsets. These factors are uniting to force big changes on the analogue front-end.

Fibreglass fighting back as a pcb substrate

It says something for the status of FR4 as an everyday material that people notice when a printed circuit board (PCB) is not green. Yet both the fibreglass – yet another product of silicon – and the UL94V0-rated flame-retardant resin that binds the fibres together – the source of the FR in FR4 – are colourless.

Quartz faces losing its lock

Wherever you go in electronics, you cannot avoid silicon, although its pre-eminent status is coming under threat. Its amorphous oxide is only just beginning to be displaced from leading edge integrated circuits as the gate material of choice. But, in the meantime, its crystalline form is still going strong as the primary timekeeper for electronics.

A/D converter architectures still up to the challenge

Electronics design may have gone strongly digital, but the world with which most systems deal remains unreservedly analogue. As more signal-processing functions have moved into the digital domain – partly for flexibility and increasingly because the algorithms offer better power-performance than analogue-domain processing in the latest deep submicron processes – the analogue-to-digital (A/D) converter has become more important than ever.

C secure for some time

C was never meant to take over the world, yet it has done more than any other high-level language to displace assembly language as programmer's tool of choice. The bad news is that C's success arguably owes a lot to machine code in the first place.

The future's bright: How the led could enable a range of new applications

The light-emitting diode (LED) has revolutionised the look of electronic products, with each new extension in the range of colours on offer providing an opportunity for designers to set new fashions. It's hard to find a consumer product that does not sport a blue LED – thanks to the rise of nitride-based devices in the past ten years – where once red and green prevailed.

Capacitors continue to evolve

Few passive components exist in the sheer variety of forms that the capacitor has taken. Simple in principle, the design of the capacitor involves a number of tradeoffs that make it impossible to satisfy all possible uses with just a few types of product.

Holistic power supply designs gain popularity

The question of efficiency is never far away when looking at power supply design, even though it might be trumped by cost when the final choice is made. For years, however, efficiency has been about a single number: the peak efficiency at a favourable load point.

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