Stalwart standards

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. That just about sums up the world of small form factors, as presented in this Summer edition of SFF. This by no means implies that our industry is stuck in neutral – far from it. In fact, you’ll read about changes in the SFF-SIG, PC/104 Consortium, and PICMG’s COM Express. But while technology evolves and brings better things to small form factors, they retain their backwards compatibility for as long as they can and remain the most popular way to achieve semicustom features at COTS prices.

First up, the SFF-SIG shouts “We’re not done!” by listing the group’s successes with SUMIT, COMIT, MiniBlade, Pico-ITXe, and my favorite, the credit card-sized Industry Standard Module (ISM). But they’re also working on bringing USB 3.0, PCI Express Gen 2, and new processors plus chipsets to their standards. Next up, the PC/104 Consortium makes a very good case for why PC/104 (and its three fundamental flavors) should form the basis of every semicustom system design. Designers should start with a custom carrier board that has a PC/104 interface, upon which more than 500 products from in excess of 59 member companies can be added. This concept forms the basis for this month’s cover theme: Carriers bring on modules.

And over at PICMG, what might be the industry’s most popular carrier concept – COM Express – gets an extreme makeover, along with a “cookbook” for new designers. RadiSys is one of the companies leading the charge to add new features (and remove obsolete ones) to form COM Express 2.0. Of note: USB 3.0 gets added, along with HDMI (video and audio with HDCP) and the royalty-free DisplayPort for internal and external display connections. Adding a SPI allows BIOS firmware hubs to be replaced with offboard flash devices. Unfortunately, this is one area where change is a must: Rev 2.0 will affect carrier boards and Type 2 COM designs. But for those not yet ready to change, congatec and PICMG have published the 160-page COM Express Design Guide (COMDG) after a grueling 18 months of work. Check out the article on page 16 for some examples and info on how to download this COM Express “cookbook.”

Elsewhere in this issue of SFF, 3M Electronic Solutions Division connects with SFF designers in “Small yet perfectly formed,” Mercury Computer Systems weighs in with “Overcoming design challenges for ultra-compact, rugged embedded computing,” and Parvus – one of the original rugged SFF “masters” – gets on the road with “Fine-tuning mobile router packaging for demanding vehicle applications.” As always, editor Don Dingee selects Editor’s Choice awards (see below), and our European correspondent Hermann Strass describes how programmable logic controllers are used to create 26 million books a year.

Hope you’re having a great summer, especially if you’re en vacances. Why not take SFF along with you?

Chris A. Ciufo