To meet the continued pressure to reduce the size and power requirements of space-critical industrial, medical, and consumer applications designers are adopting standard Computer-on-Module (COM) platforms with extremely small form factors. As these standards become widely available design teams are able to purchase commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) modules that package the most complex portions of new product development so they can focus on the application specific features. With a shortened hardware design schedule and early access to a compatible software development platform, standardized COM technology has become the centerpiece of many new embedded development projects. Industry standard modules also provide developers with multiple vendors to insure uninterrupted availability.
One of the more recent COM standards, Qseven, provides the functional requirements for most embedded applications including graphics, sound, mass storage, network connectivity, and multiple USB ports. Packaged in a small, 70mm x 70mm (2.75” x 2.75”) form factor, Qseven modules are mounted onto an application specific carrier board through a single ruggedized MXM connector. Qseven is smaller than other COM standards such as COM Express or ETX but is limited to very low power processors such as the Intel® Atom™. The maximum power consumption is limited to 12 watts. Qseven is legacy free and features only the newest I/O technologies including:
- PCI Express, USB 2.0, ExpressCard, High Definition Digital Audio
- Serial ATA, LPC interface, Secure Digital I/O interface
- Gigabit Ethernet, Serial Digital Video Out (SDVO) Interface
- DisplayPort, Low Voltage Differential Signal (LVDS) Display Interface
- Controller Area Network (CAN) Bus
Targeting industrial applications in rugged environments, MSC Embedded recently announced a new Qseven platform family based on the Intel® Atom™ E6xx architecture. The MSC Q7-TCTC-FD modules offer extended graphics performance along with an integrated CAN bus that operated over the extended temperature range of -40 to +85°C (See figure 1). The Qseven platform is offered in four different computing performance variations ranging from the most economical model that integrates the 600 MHz Intel® Atom™E620 CPU up to the most powerful E680 CPU at 1.6GHz. A variety of displays can be connected via LVDS (18/24 Bit) with a maximal resolution of 1280x768 and via SVDO with 1920x1080 pixels. In the dual independent display mode two displays can be driven simultaneously. The module family offers a CAN bus, six USB 2.0 host ports and one USB 2.0 client, three PCI Express x1 lanes, LPC, high definition audio, and a Gigabit Ethernet interface. An optional 4 or 8GB flash drive connected via a SATA II interface is available as a system boot device. Pricing for the MSC Q7-TCTC-FD modules starts at $119.00 in volume quantities.
The Intel® Atom™E6xx series provides the modular framework to boost performance, lower power requirements, and enhance I/O flexibility for industrial COM applications and is the first Intel® Atom™ processor designed specifically for embedded systems including a 7-year life cycle commitment. One of the significant improvements over the previous generation is the integration of the display, audio, and memory interfaces onto the CPU resulting in higher system bandwidth while allowing designers to reduce component count and board area. An integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 600 2D/3D graphics engine provides hardware accelerated video decoding and encoding for MPEG4 part 2 and H.264 signals. The GMA supports LVDS displays with an 80 MHz pixel clock and SDVO displays at 160 MHz. The E6xx series also uses the open PCI Express standard for the processor-to-chipset interface allowing designers to create specialized I/O functions as needed.
Off-the-shelf standards such as Qseven modules with low power operation, built in video-processing, and scalability provide key components in the development of small or portable embedded devices. By choosing COTS technology based on advanced Intel® Atom™E6xx processor architecture, developers can bypass the most complicated portion of embedded design and shorten the time to market. If you are starting or have completed a small form factor Qseven design, please offer your suggestions and share your experience or questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. You can keep up with the latest technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on the Qseven Standard.
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