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Acquisition of Linux/Android specialists to bring Android to PowerPC

Jul 30, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 5 views

Mentor Graphics announced it has acquired Linux development firm Embedded Alley, plans to port Android to PowerPC, and will work with ARM, Freescale, Marvell, MIPS, RMI, and TI on Linux and/or Android projects. One plan calls for combining Linux with Mentor's “Nucleus” RTOS on Marvell's dual-core Sheeva MV78200 processors, added Mentor.

Aside from the Embedded Alley (EA) acquisition itself, the major announcement is that Mentor Graphics will port Android (and continue to develop Linux) for Freescale's PowerPC-based QorIQ and PowerQUICC III processors. The electronic design automation (EDA) company also said it is working with ARM Ltd. and Marvell Semiconductor on separate projects that combine Linux and Nucleus OS on the same platforms.

The ARM project has Linux running on an ARM11 core that also includes an ARM Mali graphics processing unit (GPU) that runs Mentor's Nucleus GUI. The Marvell collaboration combines Linux and the full Nucleus OS on Marvell's ARM, XScale, and Feroceon-architecture derived Sheeva MV78200 dual-core processors.

Mentor Graphics also received a fairly vague testimonial from Texas Instruments (TI) (see below) addressing Linux/Android support for TI's ARM Cortex-A8-based OMAP35xx system-on-chips (SoCs). The company also said that MIPS and RMI have endorsed the acquisition, suggesting that the relationship begun with EA on the latter's Android port to the MIPS-based RMI platform will be continued. (See farther below for more on each of these announcements.)

Pulling a Wind River

Mentor Graphics is an $800 million EDA firm that employs about 4,425 people, and is big in military, aviation, semiconductor design, and other industries. It also fields the Nucleus OS, one of the leading RTOS (real-time operating system) distributions, and which is claimed to be the leading RTOS used in mobile handsets.

With its acquisition of up-and-coming embedded Linux development and consulting firm Embedded Alley (EA), Mentor Graphics appears to be following the lead of RTOS rival Wind River. Recently acquired by Intel, the latter has successfully expanded beyond its RTOS roots with VxWorks in 2005 to eventually grow into the market-leading embedded Linux development business. Wind River's success with Linux resulted in part from being able to gradually convert its RTOS customers to Linux, as well as support hybrid RTOS/Linux projects, a goal that appears to be shared by Mentor Graphics.

In its mission statement for the acquisition, Wilsonville, Oregon-based Mentor Graphics said, "By combining Embedded Alley's Android and Linux products and services with the Mentor Graphics Nucleus RTOS, tools and middleware, Mentor can now provide device manufacturers with all the software they need to build their products, and work closely with them throughout their product lifecycle to supply tools and services at every stage."

Clarifying this statement, Glenn Perry, Mentor Graphics Embedded Systems Division GM, stated, "Mentor's strategy acknowledges two strong trends we see in embedded device development today. One is a huge demand for Google's Android platform in new, complex devices beyond the mobile phones for which Android was originally developed. The other is the growing use on multi-core processors of multiple operating systems, usually Linux and an RTOS like Nucleus."

Mentor Graphics did not reveal financial or organizational details of the acquisition of Embedded Alley. The fast-growing embedded Linux Silicon Valley firm has participated in open source Linux projects such as OpenEmbedded, Advanced Linux Sound Architecture, and the Linux kernel development.

EA has recently expanded from its base as a consultancy and services firm into a vendor of embedded Linux distributions and tools with its services-oriented Embedded Alley Development System for Linux. The company achieved even wider recognition in June when it announced it had ported the Linux/Java-based Android platform, previously available only on ARM platforms, to the MIPS architecture. Its initial port is to RMI's MIPS-based Au1250 processor.

Android on Freescale QorIQ and PowerQUICC III

In the biggest announcement of the day, Mentor Graphics says it plans to add EA's Development System for Android to its "ESD product offering," enabling device OEMs to deploy Android or Linux on Freescale's PowerPC-based PowerQUICC III and newer, QorIQ multi-core networking processors. Presumably bringing to market a PowerPC Android port EA had already been working on, the Android deployment will help developers build Android-controlled networking and network appliances, storage, printing and imaging, multimedia, and industrial control applications, says the company.

The Android port to these Power Architecture (PowerPC) platforms will involve the following steps, says Mentor Graphics:

  • Integrating Android-specific Linux kernel patches (for 2.6.28)
  • Porting the Dalvik virtual machine underlying Android to Freescale's PowerQUICC and QorIQ, including architecture and build support and optimization for Dalvik acceleratio
  • Extending Android bionic run-time library and linker support to accommodate Power Architecture
  • Utilizing SPE APU, and/or Power Architecture FPU performance enhancement across all software modules
  • Integrating and testing board support and industry-specific device drivers, codecs, and other middleware
  • Supporting Power Architecture technology in the Android Software Development Kit (SDK) and Android targets in the customizable Development System
  • Platform and integration testing of Android stack components and shrink-wrap Android applications

The Android port will be based on the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) Android 1.5 ("Cupcake") release, says the company. The initial Mentor Graphics toolkit is said to support the Freescale MPC8536E (PowerQUICC III) development system, "complemented by customer-tailored support from Mentor Graphics."

Freescale QorIQ block diagram

(Click to enlarge)

Previewed in 2008, the MPC8536 is billed by Freescale as a "highly integrated PowerQUICC III with advanced power management." The QorIQ SoC, meanwhile, is considered a next-generation heir to the PowerQUICC III line for high-end networking and other demanding embedded applications.

Announced in June 2008, QorIQ is said to be pin- and software-compatible with PowerQUICC. Based on one to eight e500 cores clocked from 400MHz to 1.5GHz, QorIQ is fabricated with 45nm process technology, leading to greater claimed power efficiency. The SoC was expected to start sampling this summer.

Stated Kamal Khouri, senior manager, Platform Product Management for Freescale's Networking and Multimedia Group, "Our collaboration with Mentor Graphics allows OEMs to build smart, feature-rich devices based on Freescale processors using either their own value-added applications or shrink-wrapped software from the Android Marketplace."

Linux and Nucleus OS together on Marvell Sheeva

Mentor Graphics announced the availability of a combined open-source Linux and Nucleus OS deployment on the Marvell Sheeva MV78200 dual-core SoC. The dual OS support, which would appear to locate Linux on one core and the "fast, scalable and deterministic" Nucleus OS on the other, was co-developed by with Marvell, says Mentor.

Applications are said to include network controllers, switches and routers, high-performance storage, enterprise printers, DVRs, NVRs and video surveillance, and high-volume SMB gateways. As one example, Mentor suggests that Nucleus OS could be used for operational tasks "such as those required in printing drums and ink coverage for enterprise printers," whereas Linux would be used for user interaction and communication.

Announced in May 2008, along with the single-core MV78100 and MV76100 models, the dual-core MV78200 is based on the same "Sheeva" core used in the "Kirkwood" 88F6000 SoC. Kirkwood forms the basis for Marvell's popular new SheevaPlug Plug Computer reference design.

Marvell Sheeva MV78200 architecture
(Click to enlarge)

Based on Marvell's ARMv5TE-compliant Feroceon core, the Sheeva core also implements parts of the ARM-derived XScale micro-architecture, and is backward compatible to both, says Marvell. The MV78200 SoC can be clocked from 800MHz to 1.2GHz, and is equipped with an on-chip crossbar architecture that provides any-to-any connectivity for concurrent transactions among multiple logical units, says Marvell.

Stated Dr. Simon Milner, VP and GM of the Enterprise Business Unit, Consumer and Communications Business Group at Marvell, "The performance and real-time qualities of Mentor's Nucleus OS complement the power and flexibility of Linux, while their tools and services give our mutual customers a boost in product development."

Linux and Nucleus on ARM's Mali

In a separate announcement with ARM Ltd., Mentor Graphics announced a platform combining Linux running on an ARM1176 core with an integrated Mali-200 graphics processing unit (GPU) that itself tightly integrates the Nucleus OS Graphics User Interface (GUI). The platform also tightly integrates the Nucleus GUI with ARM's optimized OpenGL ES device driver, to enable embedded designers to better tap the Mali GPU's 3D accelerator for enhanced UI, says Mentor Graphics.

The Nucleus GUI is said to abstract the complexity of the OpenGL ES API to enable easier incorporated of sophisticated 3D effects such as lighting, spinning, fading, twisting and zooming "without any programming knowledge," says the company. Potential applications are said to include automotive, consumer, medical, and industrial devices.

Stated Ian Smythe, director of marketing, Media Processing Division, ARM, "With this development, the Nucleus Graphics GUI solution enables anyone designing a GUI to make full use of Mali graphics acceleration capabilities."

Further testimonials

Stated Gerard Andrews, OMAP35x product line manager, TI, "With the combined expertise from Mentor Graphics and Embedded Alley, we're confident that they will be able to deliver innovative and even stronger multi-OS/multi-core products that inspire new Linux- and Android-based designs."

Stated Pete Popov, CEO of Embedded Alley, "This is a huge win for our customers, who can now benefit from the combination of Embedded Alley's services and development systems with Mentor's products, services and outstanding support."

Stated Mentor Graphics' Perry, "Our investment in Embedded Alley, and its products, open source expertise, and services, will allow our customers to innovate and build better products with power savings, performance optimization, and reduced system cost and risk."


The Embedded Alley Development System for Android-based devices will be available starting in August, says Mentor Graphics. The Linux and Nucleus OS deployment on the Marvell Sheeva MV78200 dual-core SoC is said to be available now. No information was provided on the timing of the Linux/Nucleus OS ARM Mali technology, or of other future Mentor Graphics projects involving MIPs, RMI, or TI.

More information on the Mentor Graphics "Android/Linux development ecosystem for multi-OS and multi-core development," including demo videos, may be available here.

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