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COM Express a Win for Compact and Mobile Applications

Offering benefits as a modular, upgradable computing and graphics core, the COM Express form factor is attracting design wins especially in highly integrated and mobile military systems.


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Although Computer-on-Module (COM) notion has a long legacy, when it became married with PCI Express the resulting COM Express brought it to a new level. COM Express adds high-speed fabric interconnects to the mix, enabling a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. In contrast to other COM standards like ETX, ITX and EBX-COM Express was conceived by an open standards effort and ratified by PICMG. Those other COM offerings are open but they are creations of sole vendors. COM Express is a sure bet in many ways but especially because continual progression of semiconductor integration means that a single computing module like COM Express will only get more powerful. Meanwhile the argument for a two-board solution-COM module and baseboard-becomes stronger and stronger as complete system electronics are possible on a single baseboard. With that in mind, highly compact or mobile military applications in particular are looking to COM Express solutions.

Another advantage of COM Express is open the creation of its spec plans where inherent for the expansion of video and display capabilities, and it provides standard connector access for a variety of high-speed interfaces. The COM Express connector supports multiple video interfaces including DisplayPort, VGA, SDVO, HDMI and DVI. On the I/O side COM Express provides an added advantage in that it enables users to deal with transitions from legacy connectors. It offers native interface support for modern-day I/O interfaces. On top of offering more PCI Express and USB ports than PC/104-Express modules, additional connecters can be added for LAN, SATA, video, audio, USB and PCI Express, delivering maximum I/O flexibility to meet specific application requirements. Because signals don't have to pass through multiple connectors, the signal integrity remains intact.

A variety of processors are represented in the product Roundup displayed on the next couple of pages. Intel Atom and Core i7-based COM Express cards are well represented, along with "Skylake" Celeron and Freescale PowerPC QorIQ processor-based offerings. Also this year since the first emergence of Intel Xeon-D processors on COM Express. A handful of vendors however had no new COM Express products in the past 12 months and are therefore absent from this year's roundup.

In an example COM Express application, Roboteam chose a COM Express board from Kontron to use in its product ROCU-7 (Ruggedized Operator Control Unit): a handheld controller with a 7-inch monitor for operating ground robotic systems (Figure 1). According to Kontron, design required a small, flexible CPU that could easily be integrated into the new ROCU-7 control unit. A COM Express mini module provided greater than x86 performance on a credit card-sized footprint (55 x 84 mm).

Figure 1
Roboteam chose a COM Express board to use in its product ROCU-7 (Ruggedized Operator Control Unit): a handheld controller with a 7-inch monitor for operating ground robotic systems.

The COM Express Boards Roundup and Links to the full data sheets for each product are posted on the roundup part of this section. Click here for the roundup.