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May 22, 2008 Previous day Next day

A trend that is gathering steam -- more and more designers are demanding "off-the-shelf" embedded computer on module solutions to help them match the varying needs of specialized applications. But, there are many different Computer-on-Modules solutions out there. Let me help you wade through the growing array of Computer-on-Modules standards so you can discover the "right" fit for your application. .


For designers who have worked with them before, Computer-on-Modules have been proven to be ideal for a broad range of embedded applications, particularly in ones where other form factors such as add-on cards cannot be used. That's because system expansion and customization can be implemented on an application-specific carrier board. Together, the Computer-on-Module and carrier board deliver the functionality of a single-board computer. To learn more about Computer-on-Modules methodology, I recommend checking out the Computer-On-Modules Magazine.


To give you a quick history, the first open standard Computer-on-Module was the DIMM-PC with ISA bus. Then came the Embedded Technology eXtended (more commonly referred to as ETX) standard which was developed to provide an open standard to meet the needs of embedded industrial applications with PCI and ISA.



The ETX standard has evolved further with enhanced scalability and performance, the new ETX 3.0 specification offers all of the benefits of the original ETX standard while adding in 2x Serial ATA connectors without changing any of the ETX pins -- making new modules 100\% pin-to-pin backward compatible. Now, this is the long-term support that designers were waiting for the medical, gaming and entertainment, military and aerospace markets. The full ETX 3.0 specification is downloadable as well.



Even though ETX 3.0 modules offer considerable advancements now available from multi-core technologies, they don't offer PCI Express. Although other Computer-on-Modules, such as XTX, venture into this area, they are not backward compatible with ETX Computer-on-Modules thus requiring carrier board redesign. Additionally, they don't offer a lot of flexibility for more future technologies. That's where COM Express enters the scene.



High end applications that require high performance need the computing power provided by the COM Express open standard controlled by PICMG. By providing a new level of form, fit and function, COM Express modules help minimize current and future design risks. COM Express solutions allow the application of high-speed Computer-on-Modules for PCI Express Bus and PCI Express chipsets. These new solutions utilize 220-pin high-speed SMT connectors to deliver enormous performance capabilities. In addition, solutions based on COM Express offer almost twice the performance at the same frequency and generates comparable waste heat even in Computer-on-Modules that use the Intel® CoreTM Duo and CoreTM 2 Duo processors paired with the Intel® 945GM, GM965 and 3100 chipsets. For a PICMG-approved discussion about the origins of COM Express, check out the .



Recently, new Computer-on-Modules have been added to the landscape based on the Intel® Atom Z5xx series of processors. So that designers do not need to engage in unnecessary carrier board redesign, the nanoETXexpress COM Express compatible module specification (downloadable and review the spec for yourself) has been introduced by Kontron and is being proposed to PICMG as the approved compact implementation of the COM Express pin-out Type 1. An example is the Kontron nanoETXexpress-SP. This module should be good news for designers who are faced with the barriers due to size, performance issues or power consumption limitations. It's one less worry when application compatibility and expandability is ensured by adherence to PICMG Computer-on-Module standards.



What are your thoughts on the different Computer-on-Module standards that take advantage of new multi-core capabilities and how have they worked for you?







Christine Van De Graaf

Product Marketing Manager, Embedded Modules Division



Our customers are asking about it constantly. It has been gaining momentum for the past year and we believe it is a market changing product. It's incredibly small, fast, and low power. "It is going to change the face of embedded computing as we know it today," stated one long-time engineer.


"It" is the newly released ATOM processor from Intel that is unlike any processor Intel has produced before. A compact 13mm x 14mm processor complemented by the small 22mm x 22mm Intel system controller hub US15W. This processor-chipset combination consumes an astonishingly low 4.6W of power. Our COM Express design engineers lined up for early access to prototypes. But as we defined one of the first ATOM processor based COM Express designs- we realized this innovation required a balance of giving up features to match the gains in technology.


Intel has used its 45nm process technology and creative design techniques to shrink the chip size and reduce leakage and thereby the power, while keeping performance levels high. Even with these breakthroughs, chipset and power hungry features had to be cut to meet the power and size goals of the chips. The US15W doesn't contain the minimum IO to make a COM Express compliant module - it lacks SATA, PCI, x16 PCI Express, Ethernet, VGA, and TVOut. If Intel had included all these features, the resulting COM would be equivalent to an existing 965 Celeron-M COM Express module - big and power hungry.


Instead, the ATOM processor and US15W have enabled us to produce a micro-sized 85mm x 70mm COM module based on the ATOM processor that uses the Type 2 COM Express pin-out. The RadiSys Procelerant Z500 module adds Ethernet and SATA options plus a MicroSD socket and up to 1GB memory down - keeping the critical goals of size and power to a minimum. I believe the Procelerant Z500 is the most innovative approach to pairing the ATOM processor with the COM Express architecture. Our engineers kept the design focus aligned with the intent of the ATOM processor -size and power - enabling a new generation of ultra-small handheld applications using the x86 architecture. Check it out and see for yourself:





Jennifer Zickel

Product Manager, COM Express Product Line




Message Edited by serenajoy on 03-11-2009 08:11 PM

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