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Proposed spec downsizes COM Express

Jul 26, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 6 views

Kontron has unveiled a proposal for a next-generation, small form-factor, embedded computer-on-module (COM) standard. Dubbed nanoETXexpress, it has a footprint just 39 percent of the PICMG (PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group) COM Express standard.

(Click here for larger image of nanoETXexpress concept)

The nanoETXexpress design derives from 2003's ETXexpress, created by Kontron and later adopted as the PICMG COM Express standard. In 2006, Kontron introduced a cut-down version of COM Express known as microETXexpress.

Comparison of COM form-factors
(Click to enlarge)

All three COMs share the same baseboard interface connector design and pinout, and have overlapping mechanical assemblies, as illustrated above. Footprints vary, as follows:
  • COM Express (ETXexpress):

    • basic form-factor — 125 mm x 95 mm (4.9 x 3.7 inches)
    • extended form-factor — 155 mm x 110 mm (6.1 x 4.33 inches)

  • microETXexpress — 95 x 95 mm (3.7 x 3.7 inches)
  • nanoETXexpress — 55 x 84 mm (2.16 x 3.3 inches)
Dirk Finstel, CTO of Kontron's embedded modules division, said “the nanoETXexpress specification will provide the ideal footprint for future applications, bearing in mind that forthcoming processor and system-on-chip (SoC) technology will be delivered in 45nm technology and beyond.”

Zeljko Loncaric, the company's marketing manager for embedded modules, declined to speculate when nanoETXexpress might be formally adopted by the PICMG, but said “we are the trend setter in building up new standards.” Documentation and specifications for nanoETXexpress will be available in the fourth quarter of 2007 to any companies willing to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), he added.

According to Loncaric, Kontron will launch its first nanoETXexpress-based COM in the second quarter of 2008. After that, he said, nanoETXexpress will be an open and unrestricted specification, with no patents or other limitations.

COM Express is a PICMG standard for small single-board computers (SBCs) that integrate processor, DRAM, and flash functions into a component-like “computer-on-module” (COM). COMs reduce the engineering effort required to build embedded electronics by supplying subsystems as a simple super-component. Supported operating systems typically include Linux, Windows XP, Windows XP Embedded, and Windows CE, as well as a number of specialized real-time operating systems (RTOSes).

No doubt, COM Express has felt pressure from the growing presence in the embedded market of the small form-factor mini-ITX (6.7 x 6.7 in.) motherboard standard, popularized by Via Technologies. Over the past several years, Via has introduced successive shrinks of that standard, including nano-ITX (4.7 x 4.7 in.), pico-ITX (3.9 x 2.8 in.), and mobile-ITX (3.0 x 1.8 in).

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