The driving force behind microprocessor evolution has, for decades, primarily been the needs of the IT sector and personal computing, the roadmap provided by leading manufacturers has guaranteed allegiance to a common architecture; support that has been mutually beneficial to all.
As the needs of traditional applications broadened, processor manufacturers responded, by extending and enhancing the core architecture while retaining code compatibility, allowing for easy migration as more powerful solutions became available. While the capabilities and functionalities evolved, however, one parameter above all others had to be preserved; increased performance. As a result of constant improvement in their performance, over the last decade or so these same processors have slowly but inexorably migrated to other applications, delivering a level of performance that now enables many established and emerging applications.
More recently the need to deliver that performance within tighter power budgets has become apparent, the cost of greater performance has traditionally been increased power, but as integrated circuits become more power-hungry their ability to dissipate the subsequent heat diminished. The performance they could provide was becoming physically limited by the power needed to deliver it, a trend that was unsustainable. In a bid to overcome this impending roadblock processor manufacturers had to radically re-engineer their fundamental manufacturing processes, a difficult challenge but one that has ultimately resulted in even greater architectural innovations; each one widening the sphere of potential applications.
The medical sector is one of the many applications that has benefited from processor innovations and greater focus on the particular requirements of the embedded market. Subsequently many of the features we have become accustomed to in one market are now being made available in others, providing the same productivity gains and improved user experiences.
Medical devices, for example, are predominantly designed to be uni-functional; perform one task very well. Their ability to perform that task — the efficacy of the device — can be measured by the quality of