System complexity is growing while time-to-market times are shrinking. A designer can cope by taking advantage of someone else's work. Buying a complete system and adding software is one approach, but most embedded solutions require more customization to give a company that edge. A number of different approaches are available, and the best solution depends on the application.
Need a compact package that uses the latest high-speed serial technologies like PCI Express and Serial ATA? Check out Radisys' Procelerant CE (Fig. 1). The 90- by 125-mm COM Express module assumes that a carrier board provides the custom connectors and peripheral support. Procelerant CE has a 2.0-GHz Intel Pentium M, Gigabit Ethernet, four SATA interfaces, four USB 2.0 interfaces, and high-performance graphics and audio. Pricing starts at $489.
COM Express is the new standard. But older standards like ETX cost less and offer the necessary support for a wide range of applications. Adlink's ETX-IV266 highlights this approach (Fig. 2). The $350 module handles a 933-MHz Pentium III M and delivers four USB 2.0 ports along with 10/100BaseT Ethernet, audio, and high-performance video.
Modules continue to shrink as well. The small-outline, dual-inline memory module (SO-DIMM) connector is a popular platform. Digi International's ConnectCore 9C provides connectivity in a compact package. The ConnectCore 9C runs an ARM9-based NS9360 that supports 10/100-BaseT Ethernet, 4 Mbytes of flash, 16 Mbytes of RAM, and up to four high-speed TTL serial ports(Fig. 3). The serial ports can handle I2C and SPI communication. The module also handles up to 55 GPIO pins.
Some modules can offer expansion capabilities. The Micro/Sys SBC4685 EPIC board provides expansion via a PC-104 card stack. The 4.5- by 6.5-in. board comes with a 700-MHz Pentium III, dual 100BaseT Ethernet ports, two USB host ports, and a CAN bus interface. It also has typical PC peripheral interfaces such as dual IDE, keyboard, mouse, audio, and graphics.
Mezzanine cards take the opposite approach by augmenting a standard carrier board. Mezzanine card standards exist for most major board standards, such as AdvancedTCA, CompactPCI, and VME. Mezzanine cards normally do not operate in their own environment, but the Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC) standard used with AdvancedTCA is an exception. The AMC cards will find a home in a small MicroTCA rack.
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