Embedded PC or ARM-based board?

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ARM-based platforms are a foreign proposition to most users of embedded PC boards. But it’s clear that in terms of performance at least, ARM solutions are now comparable with x86. So what are the other key considerations which might lead an embedded PC user to cross the divide?

The above is the first paragraph of my blog post on designspark.com, please read on…

[edit] Ah, the link is broken and the post seems to have been “cleansed” from Design Spark. Not to worry – I will append it below:

ARM-based platforms are a foreign proposition to most users of inserted PC boards. But it?s clear that vis performance at least, ARM solutions are now analogous with x86. So what will be the other key concerns which might lead an embedded Computer user to cross the divide?

The most evident underlying difference is quite basic. P.C boards depend on standard form-factors and bus interfaces, whereas very little in the way of standards is clear when looking at ARM-based boards. On first inspection, this might look like a clear advantage for embedded Computers, but when you look a bit more deeply , it?s not quite what it looks.

ARM microcontrollers are complete systems-on-chip (SoC). With the exception of memory, everything is on there the Ethernet MAC, the LCD controller, USB, UARTs, SD Card, CAN, Audio, touch? You mention it. So there isn’t any real point in defining standard bus interfaces to the external world when you start with a total system in itself. ? These system-on-chip micros offer a longevity of 10 years or more. So you buy a particular board or module with the intention of using it for the duration of the project. Against this, x86 boards may?have a market lifetime?as little as one or two years, and you rely on the standard interface and form factor to permit replacement within the project life cycle.

The COM (Computer-on-Module) is easily the most typical conveyance for ARM-based boards, which, because of the level of integration of the SoC may be credit-card, or even matchbox sized. In the ARM-based world the acronym SOM (System-on-Module) is sometimes used to distinguish the completeness of the solution from the COM. But just like a COM, a breakout or baseboard is then wanted to complete the solution.

There are plenty of SOMs to select from but there is a very limited choice of ARM-based SBCs out there, simply because of the large number and diversity of interfaces offered by a typical SoC. If you brought them all to connectors, the SBC would be a foot square, so better to bring a good selection of them to a single 200-pin SODIMM style interface (the most popular solution, though not using any standard pinout) and let the user customise the breakout.

If your inserted Computer is running Windows, whether the desktop or the inserted version (Windows Embedded Standard) there’s excellent news and bad news. The good news is that the licence cost of Windows Embedded CE or Compact 7will doubtless be less than a 10% of what you’re paying now. The bad news is that for the majority of situations, the programming environment is a subset, and so work must be done. In particular, your .NET applications will have to be shoehorned into .NET Compact Framework. If you?re using WPF, again subsetting into a special inserted version of Silverlight is needed.

A disadvantage of the ARM-based route is that unlike the embedded COMPUTER where once Windows is running you can develop your application without any special data, with Windows CE or Compact 7, you need a top quality Board Support Package (BSP) from the seller, and may need their aid, and even some coaching, to utilize a special tool called Platform Builder which mixes library parts of the OS, the BSP, plus your claim to form a production image. Remember all those interfaces on the SoC Well, the BSP is componentized and there is not any hypothesis that all the interfaces will be supported, or that the ones that are supported will work in the way you are expecting. So the production-readiness Of the BSP is as crucial as hardware features and price when selecting. Naturally, many ARM-based projects use Linux, and exactly the same necessities apply, though your seller may shrug his shoulders and point to the open-source community if you want more than they offer, which

isn’t actually beneficial. If you?re using Windows CE, you might rely on Microsoft’s well-managed qualification scheme? In which particular case picking a Windows Embedded

Gold Partner as your provider should be an effective minimum requirement.

Cost-wise, as volume increases, the ARM-based solution wins every time. ARM-based devices are inexpensive, and as quickly as your volume is enough to eclipse the engineering cost connected with producing a custom baseboard, you are winning all the way.

Another significant benefit of an ARM-based solution is energy usage. A typical platform will consume around 1W, so no fans required, and it’s brilliantly feasible

to make your own hand-held device. A small, fanless solution, can bring competitive advances. Even if not handheld. As an example, being able to offer hours of power-failure backup thru a tiny integrated battery will beat a rival who relies on an expensive external UPS. Small systems are also much easier to ruggedize.

By | 2017-05-19T13:12:00+00:00 June 1st, 2012|Compact 7, Windows Embedded CE 6.0|0 Comments

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