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In the past 12 months, COM Express has emerged as one of the common formats among new small form factor product rollouts. The Computer-on-Module (COM) concept has found a solid and growing foothold in military embedded systems. COM Express adds high-speed fabric interconnects to the mix. COM boards provide a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. A single COM Express module can provide the same processing and graphics performance as alternative solutions, like a multiple PC/104 board stack. The future of COM Express looks solid, but its acceptance in military applications is so recent that it’s too soon to predict how strong a stake it will hold. However it is being actively considered and is used in numerous programs already. For example, COM Express was leveraged by Synexxus for its Electronic Keel (EKeel) system. EKeel is a highly ruggedized data distribution system used in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles (Figure 1).
Electronic Keel (EKeel) is a highly ruggedized data distribution system used in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.
Military system developers have three COM Express module sizes to choose from to suit their individual application requirements. All signals are maintained on the carrier card, where additional connectors can be added as required per specific applications. As a macro-component, COM Express enables technology insertions without a large time or monetary investment, and supports easy upgrades through multiple product lifetimes. When COM Express was created, the spec planned for the expansion of video and display capabilities, and it provides standard connector access for a variety of high-speed interfaces. The COM Express connector supports multiple video interfaces including DisplayPort, VGA, SDVO, HDMI and DVI. This allows designers to take advantage of the latest graphics capabilities without having to worry about affecting performance.
COM Express also is designed to cope with transitions from legacy connectors and offers native interface support for modern-day I/O interfaces. On top of offering more PCI Express and USB ports than PC/104-Express modules, additional connecters can be added for LAN, SATA, video, audio, USB and PCI Express, delivering maximum I/O flexibility to meet specific application requirements. And since signals do not have to pass through multiple connectors, the signal integrity remains intact.
In June PICMG announced the adoption and availability of the 2.1 revision of the COM Express specification. According to PICMG, the COM Express Revision 2.1 specification allows developers to focus on their specialized I/O requirements, without concern for the complex interactions of CPUs, RAM, chipsets and other basic elements that occur on the module. This revision adds new features and module sizes, and helps ensure that COM Express modules are prepared for future processors and high-speed I/O evolution while accommodating backward compatibility with older modules. Significant enhancements of the COM Express Revision 2.1 specification include standardization of new and smaller module sizes, extended power supply range and support of the latest graphics interfaces. USB 3.0 and CAN Bus support are also included.