Gerhard Szczuka, Product Manager at Kontron explores the options available for creating greater efficiency for embedded x86 and new ARM designs

Products and services for gaining greater efficiency in developing and operating embedded systems should ideally be easy to implement to achieve a high level of customer acceptancy. New ARM boards and Computer-on-Modules from ­company’s such as Kontron are a ­significant step in this direction. Implementing innovative applications from concept to realisation, should be as efficient as with boards and module standards, based on x86 technology.

Earlier this year the company announced its first ARM processor board equipped with NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 processor, designed in the Pico-ITX form factor. The company then went on to more recently launch a Mini-ITX motherboard with a new embedded NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor.

Following this, Computer-on-Modules with NVIDIA’s Tegra 3, Texas Instruments AM3874 Sitara processor and Freescale’s iMX6 processor will become available from the company soon. Additionally, the company will be offering ­application-specific design variants and full-custom designs based on these building blocks.

Standardisation for efficiency

An important point in these product launches is standardisation of ARM designs. By using small Pico-ITX and Mini-ITX form factors, customers have a simpler task developing new ARM-based solutions, such as mini box PCs or integrating these boards into existing designs. This simplifies the design-in comparison to a full-custom design. Due to the lower TDP of the cooling solution, new designs can be implemented much easier.

The company’s KTT30/mITX with a Cortex-A9 Quad Core 900MHz processor and integrated GeForce GPU, has an energy consumption of lower than 7watts for the whole SFF board. This means that for mini box system designs, frequently no external cooling ribs are necessary and even the internal design is simpler, as not as much attention needs to be paid to creating a continuous cooling flow of air.

Also, due to the board’s low height of just 15.2mm, extremely flat systems can be built and mounted directly onto the back of the monitor and video panels, i.e. for HMIs or cost-efficient digital signage players.

For solutions that require a more individual interface range or a specific design, as do embedded motherboards in the standard formats such as Pico-ITX or Mini-ITX, ARM-based Computer-on-Modules are available. This offers efficiency gains for the design-in of ARM processor technology; Computer-on-Modules. which are standardised commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components, provide the ­computing core. Engineers can then concentrate on individual carrier board customisation. To make these COM efficiency advantages available for ARM and SoC designs too, optimised, new module specifications for this application field have been developed.

The company has submitted this new manufacturer-independent module specification for ARM and SoC processors for standardisation under the name of ultra low-power COM (ULP-COM) to the Standardisation Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET). The aim is to secure second source and ­further independent development of the ULP-COM standard.

Apart from its standardisation efforts the company has already such modules in development. These integrate the NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor platform. Computer-on-Modules with a Texas Instruments AM3874 Sitara processor and Freescale’s iMX6 processors will follow soon.

But the development of increasing efficiency is not limited to these new ARM and SoC architectures, the traditional x86 processors also offer massive opportunities. These opportunities result not only from advancements of the x86 processor technology but also from design efficiency of the embedded form factor itself.

With COM Express, and based on previously realised developments, OEMs can produce more efficient new designs. Leveraging latest x86 processors, they can now design new applications with less cooling requirements, more performance and innovative ­features quickly and simply, without having to leave the proven path of COM Express. This is, next to robust designs, one of the most important ­factors for this particular Computer-on-Modules standard.

Efficient re-usability of existing designs and the largest and most ­successful ecosystem worldwide for Computer-on-Modules, which also offer COM Express basics right up to COM Express mini offers an unprecedented bandwidth of scalability. OEMs, VARs and system integrators have thus one specification, which helps them make most efficient use of their once established designs for a complete range of applications.

The company’s latest launch for SFF applications with x86 processor technology is its COM Express mini module COMe-mCT10. This arrives at the same time as the company’s first COM Express module, that introduces x86 dual-core technology on a credit card sized footprint.

The new module is ideal for developers of small devices who want to take full advantage of the high level of standardisation and scalability of x86 technology and the COM Express standard. The company’s COMe-mCT10 Computer-on-Modules integrate on a 84mm by 55mm form factor, the latest Intel Atom processors N2600, N2800 or D2550 and up to 2GB of fast on-board DDR3 800/1600 system memory.

Applications based on the new module are well-suited to handheld mobile embedded systems, as well as small portable, in-vehicle or stationary devices such as POS/POI, infotainment, digital signage, gaming and medical devices.