The most advanced System on Chip in the world is only so much inert silicon without the printed circuit board that supplies it with power, connects its interfaces and otherwise gives it a home where it can do its job. Vendors of Embedded Computing Board (ECB) products are sometimes overlooked, but without their System-on-Module (SoM) and Single Board Computer (SBC) solutions there would be a critical gap between silicon and product. Many embedded systems start their life based around a standard form-factor SoM or SBC. For some this is more than sufficient, whilst others may progress to a custom design if suitable. At ARM TechCon 2015, I did a brief walking tour to visit some of the ECB vendors present on the show floor.
First up is Technologic Systems of Fountain Hills, Ariz. They were displaying their product range, which covered the spectrum from the TS-4000 series System-On-Modules to the TS-7000 Single Board Computers. They also sold their SBC packaged with an integrated touch control panel as the TS-TPC-7000 series - ready to drop in as a complete system with human interface. Their SoM modules could be used with any of a wide range of application specific carrier boards, or integrated to a customer's own designed to work with their standardised form factor. Both modules and boards offered options with Freescale, Marvell Semiconductor and Microchip silicon. Technologic's flexibility in providing a variety of options in each form factor made for an impressive lineup.
I next had a look at Toradex. A Swiss outfit, Toradex focuses on the SoDIMM-sized SoMs with its Apalis and Colibri families. They offer a carrier board so customers can purchase a complete solution. We spent some time discussing software support, which is a critical part of the offering of most ECB vendors. Toradex provides boards support packages for Windows Embedded and Linux (based on the Open Embedded build framework), as well as a variety of additional libraries for just about any peripheral device a customer would want to integrate. Enabling rapid development is the name of the game here, so end users can focus on getting their system up and into production as quickly as possible. Toradex included silicon from Freescale, NVIDIA and Marvell. One offering was the Freescale Vybrid, including the VF6xx variant with heterogeneous dual core ARM Cortex-A5 and Cortex-M4. That is an interesting configuration!
The final 'industrial' ECB vendor I visited at TechCon was TQ Group. Alongside a comprehensive selection of SoM and SBC products, TQ also operates as an ODM solution provider, building custom systems for customers. Their product lineup reflects this, with a variety of form factors appropriate for different solutions. Their SoM families feature silicon from both Freescale and Texas Instruments, as do their SBC and Hardware Kit solutions. Being an ODM, TQ prides itself on the level of additional product development support they can provide their customers -- ranging from specific component delivery to full system design and production.
This wasn't the end of my journey: I also stopped by the Hardkernel booth to check out the latest Odroid platforms. While not an industrial ECB, Hardkernel is one of the few vendors offering single board computers powered by Samsung Electronics chips, including some that have appeared in the most top of the line smartphones of recent years. Hardkernel were highlighting the media and connectivity capabilities of the Odroid platform, with examples running as connected media centres and network storage controllers. Seeing mobile silicon applied to use cases like this makes it apparent just how much computing power we all have in our pocket these days.
Nice Writing. If you go to Embedded World 2016 in Germany, make sure to visit our booth TechNexion and check our PICO-i.MX6UL TechNexion Modules