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New group mulls tiny computer module specs

Sep 19, 2007 — by Jonathan Angel — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

A new standards group focused on small format board-level embedded computers was unveiled today at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston. The Small Form Factor Special Interest Group (SFF SIG) aims to “develop, adopt, and promote circuit board specifications and related technologies [but] not compete with existing trade organizations.”

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The group currently consists of five companies:

  • Octagon Systems, a manufacturer of single-board computers (SBCs) and small, rugged embedded systems
  • Samtec, a connector manufacturer that specializes in connectors for embedded SBC standards such as PC/104 and PC/104-Plus
  • Tri-M, an embedded SBC, system, and component distributor and manufacturer
  • Via Technologies, a manufacturer of x86-compatible CPUs and chipsets and small form-factor motherboards, and creator of a family of embeddable motherboard form-factors (mini-ITX, nano-ITX, pico-ITX, mobile-ITX)
  • WinSystems, a manufacturer of SBCs and small, rugged embedded systems

According to its announcement, the SFF SIG's purview will be international, and “board members, component vendors, system integrators and OEMs, the trade press, and any other interested parties are all equally welcome” to join. The group said its president will be unaffiliated with any single member company.

In the SFF SIG's announcement, Bob Burckle, vice president of SFF SIG member WinSystems, stated that the “SFF SIG is yet more proof of the growing strength and viability of the embedded market. It gives other form factors a standards-based organization in which to develop, promote and standardize new technologies for applications requiring embedded solutions.”

John McKown, president of Octagon Systems, another SFF SIG member, added, “this new group … is forward-looking and ambitious, something that is lacking with many legacy organizations.”

Working groups

No form-factor standards are currently owned by, managed, or committed to the SFF SIG, a spokesperson told WindowsForDevices. Initially, the group has established three working groups, having the following stated goals:

  • SBC Working Group — discussing new small form-factor single-board computers

  • Modules Working Group — creating a new specification for a small computer-on-module (COM) format

  • Stackables Working Group — developing a stackable interconnect technology for integration into a number of legacy SBC form-factors

The SFF SIG's brochure delineates two membership levels. Voting members, with dues of $4,000 per year, will be involved in promoting, supporting, and developing specifications. They will also review specifications that are submitted to the SFF SIG for adoption.

Non-voting members, with dues of $1,500 per year, get full access to specifications before they are available to the public. Comments, input, and feedback are welcome from non-voting members, but they cannot cast approval votes.

Overlap with PC/104 Consortium?

The SFF SIG appears to have substantial overlap with the activities and evolving mission of the venerable PC/104 Consortium, which was founded in 1992. Over the past several years, that group has expanded its domain beyond its original 3.6 x 3.9-inch self-stacking embedded computer module focus, into several small form-factor SBC specs including EBX and EPIC.

According to sources, the Consortium has struggled lately to define its future mission, as the embedded market has moved away from the legacy ISA (PC/AT) bus from which the original PC/104 spec was derived. Interestingly, all of the charter members of the SFF SIG have been long-term members of the PC/104 Consortium, suggesting that some of the Consortium's unresolved creative energies may have given birth to this new effort.

Further information

For further details on the SFF SIG's goals and membership categories, visit the group's new website here.

— by Jonathan Angel; LinuxDevices executive editor Rick Lehrbaum, who was the founding chairman of the PC/104 Consortium, contributed to this story.

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