As competition heats up among embedded system manufacturers, designers are adopting off-the-shelf Computer On Module(COM) technology to reduce risk, lower development cost, and shorten the time to market. These pre-engineered plug-in computer modules allow development teams to focus their design efforts on a carrier board to deliver the unique functions of the embedded product. Although these modules offer substantial advantages, there is a significant hardware and software learning curve required when a new standard device is first adopted. To ease this initial education process, most COM manufacturers offer embedded development or starter kits with a sample carrier board, interconnecting cables, power supply, software, and user manuals to support their products.
In order to standardize the contents of these starter kits and shorten the time it takes to begin embedded application development, Wind River partnered with a host of COM vendors to introduce the On-Board Program. Participating processor board manufacturers receive software tools, documentation, and training in order to develop, test, and validate their own unique embedded starter kits. In addition to Wind River’s automated board support package (BSP) validation suite, technical support, and training, board vendors also receive optimized configurations of Wind River’s operating systems, development tools, embedded hypervisor, and graphics software. Kits include a bootable USB flash drive that immediately turns any host computer into a fully integrated development environment with no installation required and a custom startup guide with a set of step-by-step tutorials intended to make the developer productive in a matter of hours.
As a member of the Wind River On-Board Program, ADLINK Technology offers compatible starter kits for a number of their processor boards to speed application development. For example, the nanoX Computer-on-Module Starter Kit includes a COM Express Type 1/10 core module with a reference carrier board, a 10.1" LVDS panel, LVDS-to-TTL conversion board, an Advanced Digital Display 2 DVI card, power supply, heatsink, and cabling accessories (See figure 1). In addition to schematics, a design guide, and user manuals, the kit comes with a USB stick containing documentation, drivers, board support packages, and software libraries. Along with other ADLINK products, the nanoX Starter Kit supports the previously covered nanoX-TC COM Express compatible module featuring the Intel® Atom™ Processor E6xx series architecture in a new 84 mm x 55 mm “Ultra” form factor that is about the size of a typical credit card.
The carrier board for the nanoX Starter Kit is significant because it serves as a template or model for the embedded designer as he develops the application specific carrier module. The included nanoX-BASE is an ATX-size COM Express Type 1 and Type 10 Reference Carrier Board with an onboard PCI Express-to-PCI Bridge plus a range of peripherals to support multiple interface technologies. On-board peripherals include four PCI Express x1 slots, one PCI Express x16 slot, two PCI slots, a Serial Digital Video Out slot, one ExpressCard slot, one Secure Digital IO/MultiMediaCard slot, USB 2.0, Gigabit LAN, and Super I/O (See figure 2).
Along with a complete starter kit, the right architecture is also important in getting a fast start with a new processor board such as the nanoX-TC. The Intel® Atom™E6xx architecture provides a number of performance improvements and features such as integrated display, audio, and memory interfaces to simplify small form factor embedded designs. For example, the E6xx series combines the 45 nm processor core plus memory and display controller into one package to reduce the component count and lower overall power requirements. Also, the front side bus used in previous generations has been replaced with a four-lane PCI Express interface giving designers the option of replacing the companion chipset with custom or third-party circuitry.
The right combination of a comprehensive embedded development kit tailored to straightforward processor architecture offers designers a shortcut to carrier board design and software verification. The Wind River On-Board Program along with Intel® Atom™E6xx series architecture provides a multitude of features that can simplify embedded board design and reduce the time to market. If you are starting or have completed an embedded design utilizing an off-the-shelf processor board, please offer your suggestions and share your experience or questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. You can also keep up with the latest technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on Embedded Starter Kits.
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