By GRL Team on 2024. 05. 20

Navigating the Road Ahead: The Future of PCI Express® in Automotive

Vamshi Kandalla
GRL Chief Strategy Officer

Advanced computing systems are driving demand and innovation in the modern automotive industry. Already valued at US$57.5 billion in 2023, the global smart car market is expected to grow at a 17% CAGR to reach US$265.7 billion by 20321. However, system failures or unexpected glitches remain a major obstacle that developers must overcome to fulfill that market potential. Thankfully, Functional Safety (FuSA) enabled by PCI Express® (PCIe®) architecture can help mitigate these deadly hazards.

PCIe’s inherent capabilities in redundancy architectures enable superior error detection, correction, and reporting features that align with today’s stringent safety standards. Indeed, 
findings from the "PCI Express Market Vertical Opportunity" report by ABI Research2 predict that the total addressable market (TAM) for PCIe applications in automotive storage and non-storage functions will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53% from US$77.97 million in 2022 to an impressive US$3.61 billion by 2030. 

PCIe-based storage in automotive

Role of PCIe-based storage in automotive digital cockpits

In automotive digital cockpits, which leverage state-of-the-art technology to enhance driving comfort, terabytes of data are processed and stored. Regulatory mandates for data recording underscore the need for reliable high-speed data storage solutions. Currently, PCIe technology is favored for its easy integration and deployment path with quicker time-to-market. Transportation and storage of data are key considerations when implementing storage solutions, alongside considerations of compliance with protection and confidentiality regulations for data processing.

Boasting scalability and virtualization features, PCIe enables the construction of a modular processing architecture. By adding additional lanes to the PCIe interface, data exchange rates can be increased without overhauling the entire application. This capability allows for high transfer rates with minimal processor interaction. Moreover, developers benefit from virtualization support and extended features like SR-IOV (Single Root IO Virtualization) and ATS (Address Translation Services), which also address safety and security concerns.


Benefits of centralized NVMe/PCIe storage in automotive applications

Automotive IVI (In-Vehicle Infotainment) applications often utilize storage solutions based on the Universal Flash Storage (UFS) interface, owing to the adaptation of SoCs originally designed for mobile devices in automotive contexts. UFS has emerged as the successor to eMMC-based storage in smartphones.

PCIe-based solutions markedly outperform UFS-based counterparts in both sequential and random read and write operations (Figure 1), thus experiencing widespread adoption in next-generation automotive IVI platforms. For data storage and access, the PCIe interface offers unparalleled data-transfer speeds among storage solutions. Automotive-grade solid-state drives (SSDs) built on NVMe architecture perfectly suit this requirement, offering the highest data-transfer speeds available. Additionally, the PCIe interface protocol is significantly more efficient than alternative interfaces, presenting additional low-latency benefits compared to UFS.

Charts showing performance disparity between UFS-based and PCIe-based storage solutions

Figure 1: Performance disparity between UFS-based and PCIe-based storage solutions (source: PCI-SIG®)


Enabling autonomous driving with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) 

Guaranteeing driver safety at high speeds requires substantial computing power and real-time data processing due to vast amounts of data coming in from up to twenty sensor inputs across high-definition cameras, radar, and lidar. Through high computing power, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) can accurately process large volumes of data in real-time to accurately predict a vehicle’s surroundings and enable precise perception. PCIe technology plays a crucial role in meeting these computation demands by providing low-latency connectivity and processing capabilities3.


Future trends in automotive development

Market pressures and new regulations have also pushed demand for semiconductor-enabled technologies. However, developers must still grapple with shortening development cycles, enhancing cybersecurity, and advanced functionalities to integrate semiconductors successfully. Once again, PCIe’s ability to support centralized zonal architectures positions it as a robust and versatile solution to accommodate evolving system complexities and stringent cybersecurity standards.


Shortened development cycles

Even as automotive manufacturers race to match the rapid pace of their global competitors, stringent automotive safety standards and testing are still causing new vehicle technology to lag behind by 5 to 7 years. However, Chinese manufacturers are making progress in narrowing this disparity to a 3 to 5 year timeline4.

With PCIe's ability to support flexible link widths ranging from x1 to x16, automotive manufacturers can reduce automotive application development time and quickly adapt to new technological requirements. Moreover, PCIe’s built-in features such as error detection and reporting, alongside a broad ecosystem of interoperable off-the-shelf components further streamlines development processes and shortens time to market5.


Centralized zonal architecture

Centralized zonal architecture consolidates vehicle functions into fewer, more powerful Electronic Control Units (ECUs). This streamlines management and smoothens software updates while reducing complexity and maintenance costs. Fewer ECUs also means greater communication efficiency and enhanced system performance. This centralized architecture aligns seamlessly with modern smart automotive components such as ADAS, Over-The-Air (OTA) updates, and enhanced vehicle connectivity6.


Cybersecurity compliance

As automotive manufacturers continue to address security weaknesses in conventional anti-theft measures such as Radio Frequency remote unlocking systems, hackers inevitably shift their focus towards exploiting vulnerabilities within the vehicle's internal interfaces. New regulations are already evolving to address this. For example, the UN Regulation No. 155 on cybersecurity mandates cybersecurity management system implementation across the automotive value chain, ensuring the protection of software, systems, components, and IP.

Effective from July 2024, UN Regulation No. 155 legally requires automaker compliance as a prerequisite to participation in the EU market. With features like Integrity and Data Encryption (IDE), PCIe ensures hardware-level encryption and integrity checking on data packets transmitted over PCIe links, providing an additional layer of protection against sophisticated attacks targeting internal interfaces7.


Test your automotive designs at GRL

To check all the boxes in automotive certification and PCIe integration, look no further than GRL. As the first PCIe Authorized Test Lab approved by PCI-SIG®, we grant you a seamless path to compliance with PCIe specifications from 1.0 to 6.0, expertly harmonizing all components so that you can focus on designing the best products for your customers. Experience true compliance ease with end-to-end automotive connectivity and charging test services


About the author

As GRL’s Chief Strategy Officer, Vamshi Kandalla brings to GRL a strong track record of success with over 20 years’ experience in the semiconductor and systems industry. Vamshi holds a B.E. in Instrumentation Engineering and an MBA.


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  2. ABI Research. April 2023. PCI Express Market Vertical Opportunity.
Published by GRL Team May 20, 2024