Electronic Design

Quad Core Tegra 3 Powers Mini-ITX Motherboard

Normally a motherboard announcement would fit into our product section but I think Kontron's new KTT30/mITX Mini-ITX (17 cm by 17 cm) motherboard (Fig. 1) stands apart. Kontron delivers a wide range of solutions from the KOPS800 digital signage platform (see Latest x86 Micros Great For Digital Signage) that is compatible with Intel's Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) to computer-on-module (COM) platforms.

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Figure 1. Kontron's KTT30/mITX Mini-ITX motherboard runs NVidia's Tegra 3 multicore system-on-a-chip (SoC).

Kontron's KTT30/mITX Mini-ITX motherboard is based on NVidia's 900 MHz Tegra 3 multicore system-on-a-chip (SoC). This is the same that powers Google new Nexus 7 tablet (see iFixit Tears Down The Google Nexus 7 Tablet). It has a 12-core GPU and its quad core Cortex-A9 computation engine also has a lower power Cortex core suitable for managing streaming video using on-chip acceleration hardware.

The Tegra 3 is a significant platform and putting it on a standard motherboard format opens a lot of embedded possibilities. It can handle many applications like digital signage that has been dedicated to x86 platforms like Intel's Atom. The low power, high performance characteristics of the Tegra 3 work very well in these kinds of environments.

A few things stand out with the KTT30/mITX. First it the lack of heat sinks since it only uses 7W. Second, the connector complement looks a little different that many Mini-ITX motherboards but on par with newer ones. This includes HDMI and and USB. No PS/2 connections here. There are audio connections as well. Third, the board is rather sparse with the Tegra 3 and memory chips taking up most of the space. Fourth, on-board expansion is much different. There is no PCI or PCI Express slot but there are lots of other options available including plenty of headers. Instead, there are three mPCIe sockets. One supports mSATA solid state drives (SSD).

Most of the storage options are designed to be small, on-board and targeting flash memory. The cPCIe/mSATA slot is just one option. There are two SD card sockets and a single SATA connection. The latter can handle hard disk drives. There is also a bootable eMMC chip on-board.

The board has up to 2 Gbytes DDR3L memory. The wired network interface is for 1G Ethernet. It has three USB connections including a Micro-USB connection. There are two serial port and three MIPI ports for CSI/DSI/camera interfaces.

There is a 5V system fan connector if needed. There is also a touch screen interface and a feature connector with 18 GPIOs. The real time clock (RTC) has an external battery.

The KTT30/mITX is a suitable platform for Linux and Android. It looks like it would supports Windows 8 RT but there have been no announcements and the operating system has not been delivered yet.

One of the features of the Tegra 3 is its 12-core NVidia GPU. It can drive displays up to 2048 by 1536 pixels and handle HD video easily but its the compute capability that may work with some interesting applications in the future. This could be very handy for image/video applications especially fed by the camera interface.

The Tegra 3 is the hot item for smart phones and tablets but Kontron looks to bring that excitement to the embedded world. I am definitely looking forward to checking it out because it should work well with most Mini-ITX case although there will likely be a good bit of air space because the board is so compact.

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