Coldfire in the Industry




By Rich Chaikin






In 1994 the Coldfire board was developed to build on the success of Motorola’s 68k family of embedded processors.  The Coldfire architecture was developed specifically to meet the demand of improved price/performance, improved integratability, and improved debug-support.


Since 1979 the 68k/Coldfire board has been the architecture of choice throughout most of the industry and remains so today.  As you can see in the graph below, Motorola dominates the 32-bit microprocessor industry, with MIPS and Hitachi in 2nd and 3rd.



This family of processors is supported by a broad array of hardware and software tools, which is another reason Motorola has such control of the market.  When new processors come out, it is a pain for businesses to switch because they would also need to get new hardware and software that accompanies the microprocessor.  This helps companies like Motorola obtain a grasp on the market.  As you can see in the bar graph, the 68k/Coldfire family has grown dramatically in the past 10 years, especially when the Coldfire board was released.



Motorola’s main competition has been Hitachi’s SuperH architecture and the MIPS architecture, which is used by many companies.  Each of these architectures appeals to businesses for different purposes, all depending on the needs of the company and how cost effective it is.  In this report I will analyze the advantages of each board and try and come up with a valid conclusion on why Coldfire dominates the market.



Features and Uses


It is difficult to measure performance for a microprocessor, because each one is better for certain things than the other.  Many people go by how many MIPS, which stands for millions of instructions per second, a processor can reach.  In that case, the Hitachi SuperH would be the best board, but that is not an accurate assumption.  MIPS is a very good way of measuring performance on a board, but there are many different elements that you must consider.


The three boards have each have their own distinct features as well as many similar features.  They all include the standard peripherals you would expect on an embedded processor and they all try to achieve the highest performance possible while minimizing the cost to produce these boards.  Below is a list of some of the important features each company stresses to market their product.


Motorola Coldfire MCF5407 Features



Altera Excalibur (MIPS-Based) Features



Hitachi SuperH SH7750 Features




The next chart shows some different features of each board side by side.  The boxes that are highlighted means that that board is the best in that category.  As you can see in many of the categories, all of the boards are the best because they all contain that feature.




Motorola Coldfire

Alter Excalibur

Hitachi SuperH






257 MIPS @    162 MHz

240 MIPS @     200 MHz

360 MIPS @      200 MHz


16 kbytes instructions, 8 kbytes data

16 kbytes for instructions, 16 kbytes for data

8 kbytes for instructions, 16 kbytes for data

Ethernet Capabilities








3-D Graphics Capabilites




Sleep Mode





8 stage

 5 stage

5 stage

Interrupt Controller




Memory Management Unit (MMU)




Debug Module






As you can see from this chart and the features listed above, each processor has different features that are useful for different reasons.  The Hitachi SuperH, for example, is great for video gaming machines and multimedia devices because of its 3-D graphics engine.  The Altera is good for military use because of its capabilities to work with real-time operating systems.  The Coldfire board is best for networking because of its superior Ethernet capabilities.  Here is a list of some of the main uses of these three boards.



Motorola Coldfire MCF5407 Main Uses




Altera Excalibur Main Uses



Hitachi SuperH SH7750 Main Uses










After doing extensive research on these three boards and running some of my own tests on the Coldfire board, I realized there is no clear-cut “better” board.  It all depends on your needs, how much money you have, and what is most accessible at the time.  The reason the Coldfire architecture dominates the industry so much is because of its exceptional Ethernet features.  Networking has been the biggest trend in the technology field in the past 5 years or so, and the Coldfire is the perfect board for it.  The Coldfire is also the best value when you compare price and performance.  It is also has the most third-party licenses and is the most integratable with other products.  In my estimation the Coldfire is the best 32-bit embedded processor on the market.

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