Full production nears with COM Express standard

PICMG is expected to release a final version COM Express standard in May 2005 and when it does, Kontron, PFU Systems (a Fujitsu company), and RadiSys expect to be ready with full production runs of compliant boards.


PICMG is expected to release a final version COM Express standard in May 2005 and when it does, Kontron , PFU Systems (a Fujitsu company), and RadiSys expect to be ready with full production runs of compliant boards. The three companies have beta-tested boards, and 18 other companies have worked on supporting carrier boards or other related components. That’s according to Kontron’s Christine Howe, product marketing manager, providing an update to Control Engineering in late April. (PICMG stands for the PCI Computer Manufacturers Group, a standards consortium with more than 400 participating companies; COM stands for computer on module.)

“Once the standard is finalized, it’s going to be easier to work with others to get product out there, without need for NDAs [non-disclosure agreements],” noted Howe. NDAs, necessary prior to standard finalization, tend to limit development and distribution, of course, as preproduction quantities remain small, generally 10 or fewer per beta customer, she suggests.

COM Express, at 95 x 125 mm, is called by the companies involved the “smallest state-of-the art embedded module,” with numerous connectivity and design options. It offers advantages over previous board form factors, including higher bandwidth through additional connectors, ability to take on new silicon, dual-core CPUs, PCI-64, room for legacy connections, Gigabit Ethernet (for fast connectivity), and more. It’s based on serial differential signaling with interfaces to PCI Express (data path), Serial ATA (for fast drives), USB 2.0 (for fast peripherals), ACPI (to optimize power management), LVDS, and Serial DVO. “Higher bandwidth for data exchanges will open up many new applications,” Howe says, including for test and measurement, industrial automation, security, and gaming. Kontron is following pin-out type 2, which offers the most flexibility, Howe says, among the 5 pin-out types. The recommended high-end processor is an Intel Pentium M 760/915GM .

Kontron’s brand name for its COM Express offering is ETXexpress . (That’s not to be confused with the Kontron-developed ETX board form factor, which varies in a number of ways. Among them, ETX only takes a PCI-32 chip, connector options differ, and, while offered by multiple companies, it hasn’t formally been approved by any group).

—Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief, Control Engineering, MHoske@cfemedia.com

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