ARM powers into ‘small’ embedded boards with Nvidia

Kontron is planning the launch of a range of embedded boards based on the Nvidia Tegra 2 ARM-based processor.


One of the first launches to be expected is the Pico-ITX board with Nvidia Tegra 2. More ARM-based mini-ITX boards and Computer-on-Modules based on the latest processors from Nvidia and Texas Instruments are also being developed.

Daniel Pieper, product marketing manager at Kontron writes:

The current performance level and low power consumption of ARM technology, which is applied in standard tablet applications, make it particularly interesting for embedded small form factor (SFF) applications. 

Our aim is to level out the technological barriers between ARM and x86 using scalable building blocks is very appealing to a large number of OEMs – as this means they can obtain very scalable platforms with completed Board Support Packages for all popular operating systems.

The hardware design on board level goes to demonstrate how easy the selection of the right CPU building blocks for the application can be. For example, the interface feature set of the Pico-ITX board which is currently being developed by Kontron with Tegra 2 from Nvidia is hardly any different from the Intel Atom or AMD Embedded G-Series designs which are already available. The major difference is to be found in the processor and consequently in its performance class.

A major difference is that ARM processors are more dedicated and thus offer less generic interfaces like SATA or PCI Express which in x86 designs are often used for connecting individual extension options. Having said this, many of the ARM SOCs have several UARTs, I2C and SPI interfaces.

So, theoretically speaking, the generic interfaces could be levelled out with additional components and some development effort. That would, however, also level out the valuable energy-saving advantages which make ARM designs so attractive: The need for cooling is reduced, fanless designs are possible which makes them more failsafe and results in a better MTBF. Developing and manufacturing the systems becomes easier – and the systems lighter in weight – due to the lack of heat pipes, cooling elements or fans.

But bringing back these generic interfaces is superfluous as, especially in SFF designs, the trend is towards less not more generic interfaces. Subsequently, the difference between the feature set of the Pico-ITX board is of little relevance. As the Pico-ITX format is standardized, the application-specific choice of the right x86 or ARM designs can be carried out within one single ecosystem – and no technological barriers have to be considered. The mechanical compatibility to the whole existing product portfolio is a major advantage and goes to simplify system design.

Apart from Windows CE 6 and Windows Embedded Compact 7 (WEC7) in particular Linux-based operating systems are supported on ARM products. VxWorks support is planned for TI processors.

These operating systems are relevant for applications which demand real time behaviour. Furthermore, support of an ARM-native version of Windows 8 is in the pipeline.

Daniel Pieper writes:

The Android operating system which is at home in the smartphone and tablet market is a must and with this Kontron will be opening the door to the vast market of networked multimedia-oriented applications based on ARM technology which this relatively young operating system caters for. The BSPs are validated right up to system level which enables OEMs to focus on the application without having to train accordingly and this minimizes time-to-market and TCO.

The Small Form Factor board in Pico-ITX format (100 mm x 72 mm), which is currently being developed, is equipped with a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual core processor with power consumption of 3W. I/O peripherals are 10/100Mbit Ethernet, five USB 2.0 ports and up to 24 configurable GPIOs the ARM Cortex A9 architecture-based mini-board has a slot for Micro SD cards and 512MB or 1GB 32bit DDR-2 memory.

Displays can be connected via DVI-I for analog and digital signal transmission and via a 24 bit LVDS converter.

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