Electronic Design

Little Board And Little Modules At Design West

Arm processors are cropping up in modules and motherboards. That and more on the board and module front from Design West 2012. Some of the products presented here are also covered on Engineering TV.

Kontron is starting to populate some of their boards and modules with Arm-based processors. The Kontron KTT20/pITX (Fig. 1) uses the popular Pico-ITX form factor but to date the Pico-ITX boards ran x86 cores. This board uses NVIDIA's Tegra 2 chip. The 1 GHz processor has a pair of ARM Cortex A9 cores and an NVidia GeForce GPU.

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Figure 1. Kontron KTT20/pITX runs a 1 GHz NVidia Tegra 2 processor.

The board comes with up to 1 Gbytes of DDR2 memory. Flash memory includes up to 512 Mbytes of NAND flash plus a microSD socket. It can drive up to two independent displays via single channel LVDS with backlight support plus a DVI-I interface. Resolutions up to 1920 x 1080 (DVI) and 1680 x 1050 (LVDS) pixels are supported. Audio support include SPDIF digital out for 5.1 sound plus stereo line-out and line-in plus a microphone input. Communication support include Gigabit Ethernet, five USB 2.0 ports and three RS232 ports. It has 24 configurable GPIOs. Expansion is available via a miniPCIe slot. The KTT20/pITX can be equipped with a battery charger for three Li-ion batteries. It can run off power supplies up to 15VDC.

VIA Technologies start up the pico-ITX form factor and before that the mini-ITX form factor. Super Micro Computers' (Supermicro) X9SPV-LN4 (Fig. 2a) mini-ITX motherboard is designed to handle the latest Intel processors as well as the forthcoming 22nm chips. The motherboard fits in a range of systems including the 1U SYS-5017P (Fig. 2b) from SuperMicro.

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Figure 2. SuperMicro's X9SPV-LN4 mni-ITX motherboard (top) fits into the 1U SYS-5017P system(bottom).

The X9SPV-LN4 features USB 3.0 headers, SATA DOM power connectors for flash modules, and support for software RAID. There are four Gigabit Ethernet ports. One can be dedicated to IPMI and remove KVM management. The remote KVM is supported using on-board VGA graphics. The expansion slot is for a x16 PCI Express Gen 3 board.

The SYS-5017P is a short 1U system. The motherboard and system are great for SMB server or other embedded devices.

VIA Technologies is at the show as well with plenty of pico-ITX, nano-ITX and mini-ITX boards but it is also moving into a new realm, COM Express. The COMe-8X90 (Fig. 3) is a COM Express Type 6 module. It can house a 1.2 GHz, dual core VIA Nano X2 E chip or a single core 1.6 GHz VIA Nano E processor. Both use the VIA VX900H Media System Processor with integrated VIA Chrome9 graphics processor that supports Windows HD DX9 2D/3D graphics as well as MPEG-2 and H.264 decoding. It has HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI and VGA outputs plus a CCIR656/601 camera input port.

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Figure 3. VIA Technologies COMe-8X90 is a dual core COM Express Type 6 module.

The COMe-8X90 has two SODIMM sockets handling up to 8 Gbytes of memory. Expansion includes x4 PCI Express Gen 2 plus a x1 PCIe Gen 2 port. The modules has Gigabit Ethernet, 9 USB ports, I2C, SMBus, SPI, GPIO and LPC ports. There are two SATA II ports for storage.

BeagleBoard BeagleBone has been available for awhile but, like the RaspberryPi, there was high demand. It is readily available now and was being shown at the Texas Instruments (TI) booth. The BeagleBone (Fig. 4) has a 32-bit TI Sitara AM3359 chip with a Cortex-A8 core. The board has 256 Mbytes of RAM and an SD card slot. The chip supports 3D graphics plus HDMI, USB, and Ethernet ports.

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Figure 4. .

The BeagleBone has many function similarities to the RaspberryPi board but I like the BeagleBone because of its expansion and mounting options. It makes the board a little larger but it still fits into an Altoids box. The original BeagleBones arrive in just such a case.

There are found mounting holes around the periphery of the BeagleBone. There are two headers as well that expose most of the peripheral interface pins. Third parties provide a range of add-ons and cases.

Processor boards have the glamor but peripheral boards make the difference especially for PC/104 stacks. Single board computers (SBC) pack in more peripherals and peripheral boards are packing in more as well. WinSystems' provides make of these SBCs and peripheral boards as well. Its PCM-SDIO (Fig. 5) provides 48 GPIO and four serial port interfaces.

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Figure 5. WinSystems' PCM-SDIO uses a Lattice FPGA to provide GPIO and serial ports.

The PCM-SDIO actually uses a Lattice FPGA to emulate 16C554 UARTs and WS16C48 parallel interfaces. The serial ports support RS-232, RS-422, and RS-485 signal levels.

The parallel I/O is set up to detect rising and falling edge transitions. It can latch the port and then interrupt the host. Outputs are open collector with pull ups. They can sink 12 mA. The board typically draws 250 mA. The PCM-SDIO operates from -40° to +85°C without the need for forced air cooling.

There were a lot more SBCs, modules and peripheral cards at the Embedded System Conference/Design West. More are incorporating Arm processors where x86 processors were the norm. Likewise, FPGAs are taking over chores with extra components being limited to discretes, drivers and buffers. PCI Express 3.0 is showing up in embedded systems along with USB 3.0.

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