SYSTEM-ON-MODULE: COMPACT POWER FOR EMBEDDED SYSTEMS DESIGN
The world is getting smarter and more connected, which means more computing power is being placed into smaller devices. What used to be confined to large desktop computers is now available in your back pocket thanks to system-on-module platforms. If you want to use one of these modules in embedded systems design, you’ll need to design or buy a custom carrier board to support your module. Going this route with a system-on-module provides many benefits and lets you leverage proven hardware in a small footprint.
WHAT IS A SYSTEM-ON-MODULE?
A system on module is a board-level device that incorporates multiple components into a single package. These packages are similar to a system-on-chip as they integrate multiple functions and components into a single product. These modules can then be installed in a custom carrier board, which provides power, connectors, and access to other components. A typical system-on-module includes a processor (MCU, FPGA, etc.), on-board memory, standard digital interfaces (GPIO/UART/SPI/I2C, etc.), and other components as required.
A system-on-module may sometimes be called a computer-on-module, which basically applies the ideas in a system-on-module to a computer system. Computer-on-module manufacturers design these components as miniature computers on a board the size of a RAM stick. These modules also connect to a carrier board, allowing them to interface with peripherals over standard interfaces. A range of carrier boards are already on the market for specific computer-on-modules, or a designer can create a custom board with a range of peripherals.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH SOMS AND CARRIER BOARDS?
A system-on-module could be designed to perform just about any function, and many system-on-module products are available on the market.
Major manufacturers have created system-on-module products to support applications ranging from data acquisition to 5G connectivity.
The carrier board provides an opportunity to expand the functionality of a system-on-module beyond its built-in components.
You might be debating whether to build or buy a carrier board for a system-on-module.
Designers should consider the risks and benefits of each approach.
Learn more about the tradeoffs of building or buying carrier boards.
You don’t need to be a professional PCB designer to create a carrier board for your system-on-module.
Learn more about modular carrier board design for system-on-modules.
Take a look at carrier boards for popular system-on-modules.
WHY CHOOSE A SYSTEM-ON-MODULE FOR YOUR PROJECT?
Designing your own carrier board for a system-on-module offers the perfect balance between customization, fast design time, and reliability. Using a system-on-module offers the following benefits:
Reduce design time and risk:
Using an existing module with a carrier board cuts out a large amount of design time by leveraging an existing solution. This also helps reduce the risk of product failure as commercially-available SoMs have been extensively qualified.
Carrier boards give you full control over peripherals, which isn’t available with many single-board computers.
Focus on your firmware and software stack:
By eliminating a complex portion of the hardware design, you can focus on developing your firmware and software stack to provide the functionality you need.
When there is a new version of a module available, you or your customer can simply pull off the old module and install the new one. This extends the overall lifetime of a system and ensures the end user has access to the newest technology.
Learn more about the trade-offs of building or buying carrier boards.
Because system-on-module boards can be easily customized, a powerful, versatile hardware platform can be quickly deployed for a range of applications. Some use cases include prototyping for startups, educational demonstrations, product evaluation, and NPI.
USE CASES FOR SYSTEM ON MODULES:
USING A SYSTEM-ON-MODULE FOR EMBEDDED SYSTEMS DESIGN:
A single-board computer (SBC) is one alternative to a system-on-module or development board.
These proven products can run a standard or customized operating system (such as a custom Linux kernel) in a small package.
Compared to a single-board computer, the carrier board for a system-on-module offers much greater customizability while potentially offering the same level of computing power.
The table below shows a comparison of single-board computers and system-on-modules.
SINGLE BOARD COMPUTERS VS SYSTEM ON MODULES
Some single-board computers are available as computer-on-modules, so they will have the same footprint as a typical system-on-module. Some popular examples are the Jetson Nano from NVIDIA and the Raspberry Pi CM3+.
Learn more about popular single-board computer platforms.
Custom carrier boards and development boards are available for computer-on-modules or system-on-modules. This gives you a standard set of peripherals with a proven computing platform in a compact product.
Learn more about development boards for SOMs and COMs.
If you’re ready to use a system-on-module for embedded systems design, the design tools in Upverter can help you quickly create a custom carrier board for your system.
You’ll have access to a broad range of industry-standard COMs and popular modules, and you don’t need to be a PCB design expert to create production-grade hardware.
If your system needs additional functionality, you can include wireless connectivity, an array of sensors, high resolution cameras, and much more.
Take a look at some Gumstix customer success stories or contact us today to learn more about our products, design tools, and services.