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A recently developed board format is being targeted at low power, high performance applications

There is no shortage of board formats available to product designers – and it seems there is always room for a new configuration to be introduced.

One of the more recent formats to be unveiled is SMARC – short for Smart Mobility Architecture. The format was developed by SGET, the Standardisation Group for Embedded Technology. SGET was launched at Embedded World in 2012, with founding members including Advantech, congatec, Data Modul, Kontron, MSC and SECO.

At the time, Christian Eder from congatec, noted: "The fast pace of technological progress in the embedded market necessitates cooperation, even between competing companies. This is why we welcome the new consortium."

According to SGET, the SMARC format has been developed for use in applications that require low power, low cost and high performance. While it says SMARC modules will typically use ARM SoCs similar to those used in tablets and smartphones, there is also the opportunity to use x86 devices and other RISC CPUs. Whatever the processor, the module's power envelope is typically less than 6W.

Two module sizes have been defined – 82 x 50mm, or short, and 82 x 80mm. Each board features a low profile 314pin right angle connector with a 0.5mm pitch.

In the specification document, SGET compares SMARC with the COM Express format. It acknowledges that COM Express has been very successful and notes that the format exploits contemporary PC chipsets very well, as well as providing support for USB, PCI Express lanes, PCI Express Graphics, the LPC bus and the PCI bus. A further benefit, it says, is the presence of power pins supporting more than 100W.

SMARC, says SGET, targets lower power, small form factor systems, with a pinout optimised for features common to ARM CPUs, rather than those from the PC world. Outlining some of the benefits, SGET says features include parallel LCD interfaces; serial and parallel camera input; multiple I2C, I2S and serial ports; USB client/host mode; and SD and eMMC card operation.

While SMARC includes some features found in COM Express, says SGET, pointing to a limited number of PCIe, SATA and USB ports, the mix is different.

Modules are intended to operate from an input voltage in the range from 3V to 5.25V, allowing the use of lithium-ion battery packs, as well as fixed DC supplies. The power pins support a maximum of 5A or 15W at 3V. Typically drawing less than 6W during active operation, the boards are suited to fanless applications.

One of the latest companies to back the SGET's efforts is ICOP Technology, which has launched Qseven and SMARC boards in response to what it sees as rapidly growing demand for small form factor system designs.

Although SMARC has been developed with ARM based processors in mind, the first two modules are based on the x86 DMP Vortex DX2 SoC processor. Later this year, the company adds, more DMP Vortex SoC processors will be available on SMARC and Qseven modules.

Yin-Chen Chou, president and CEO of ICOP Technology's European operations, said: "We see a strong trend towards small form factor system designs requiring a dedicated set of individually located I/O interfaces. Both QSeven and SMARC modules deliver a sophisticated platform to meet this demand in a most efficient and highly cost effective manner. "The DMP Vortex SoC processors on SMARC and Qseven modules can deliver flexible I/O connectivity in combination with scalable ultra low power x86 performance. Consequently, DMP Vortex processor technology is a perfect fit for 'long tail' x86 deployments, as well as for all the new upcoming IoT connected ultra low power appliances."

Engelbert Hörmannsdorfer, SGET chairman, noted: "By 2017, VDC predicts a CAGR of approximately 15% for the Computer on Module and COM carrier market. As SMARC and Qseven are the latest form factor standards in this area, we expect to see much higher growth. ICOP Technology's designs will make a valuable contribution to this growth and we envisage new application areas for this x86 processor performance class." In his opinion, potential applications include smart meters, decentralised IoT data servers and edge devices.

ICOP's SMARC and Qseven modules are SGET compliant and come with a soldered DMP Vortex86DX2 x86 SoC running at up to 800MHz, along with 1Gbyte of DDR2 system memory. The modules enable fanless and rugged designs suited to use in temperatures ranging from -20 to 70°C. Integrated graphics support resolutions of up to 1280 x 1024 via VGA, LVDS and HDMI, whilst there is also support for storage media via a 1.5Gbit/s SATA interface, as well as SD and eMMC interfaces.

ADLINK Technology has also added a SMARC form factor module to its portfolio. ADLINK is not a stranger to the SMARC world, having previously released ARM based SMARC modules, such as the LEC-3517, as well as x86 platforms, including the LEC-BT.

However, rather than the x86 based SoC featured on the ICOP boards, the LEC-iMX6 features Freescale's i.MX6 processor, an ARM Cortex-A9 based device available in dual or quad core format and running at up to 1.2GHz. With up to 2Gbyte ofDDR3 memory, the LEC-iMX6 is said to deliver 'top of the line' performance, but with a power consumption suited to mobile applications.

The LEC-iMX6 has been designed with portable and small stationary systems in mind. ADLINK says potential applications range from industrial automation and medical systems to transportation and digital signage. It adds the module will be particularly suited to use in mobile systems requiring high performance graphics.

LEC-iMX6 modules can operate in temperatures ranging from -40 to 85°C, with a commercial grade variant suited for temperatures ranging from 0 to 60°C.

The ADLINK LEC-iMX6 has been developed using the short size 82 x 50 mm format. Each module supports LCD controllers for up to three independent displays, including 24bit TTL parallel, HDMI1.4a and single channel 24bit LVDS.

In addition, eMMC flash ranging from 4Gbyte to 64Gbyte is supported and this can be used as a boot device. There is a gigabit Ethernet port, as well as a PCIe x1 Gen2 port. Other features include two lanes of MIPI CSI camera interface, three USB 2.0 ports and up to 12 GPIO, one SD/MMC and a SATA 3Gbit/s port. There is also support for two SPI, one SMBus and one I2S port, as well as S/PDIF, CAN, UART and I2C interfaces.

Having unveiled its first SMARC format modules at embedded world 2014, SGET founding company Kontron added a further SMARC module to its portfolio at the end of last year. Called sXQU, the board is designed around Intel's Quark X1000 processor series. With the choice of X1000, X1010 or X1021 processors, the board – which comes in the 82 x 50mm format – supports up to 1Gbyte of DDR3 memory.

"The SMARC-sXQU provides greater flexibility at higher integration levels and is more efficient in use in terms of both cost and energy consumption," said Daniel Piper, senior EMEA marketing manager. "That makes it ideal for the next wave of smart interconnected devices, with which we can create extremely energy efficient IoT applications based on x86 technology."

Graham Pitcher

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