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How baseboard design will impact telecoms

COM Express Type 7 has enabled the design of highly scalable server type modules that offer multicore parallel processing and exceptional

As the embedded electronics world eagerly awaits the release of the new Computer on Module (COM) standard, COM for High Performance Computing (COM HPC), Martin Frederiksen reflects on how its predecessor, the COM Express Type 7, will continue to impact on baseboard designs in telecoms for many years to come 

The UK’s telecoms market is one of the largest in Europe and as an industry has performed better than most during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a recent report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), business investment in the sector fell by just 0.6% in the year ending April 2020, compared with the wider British economy that shrunk by more than 10.4% in the first three months to April 2020. 

Mobile and broadband connectivity has played a crucial role throughout the lockdown period; ensuring up to 50% of the UK’s workforce can work remotely from home. 

So vital, in fact, has telecoms become in recent months, that its millions of workers have been granted key worker status and proven crucial in providing society and the economy with essential services. 

Continuous demand for better connectivity, power and performance drives developments in the sector, not only in terms of processing capability but in the hardware needed to deliver it. 

The evolution of the COM Express standard epitomises this drive for development. The first generation of COM Express was defined by the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG), a consortium of equipment and system vendors, component suppliers, and end users in the embedded computer market, in 2005.

The standard was updated in 2010, 2012 and in 2017, which saw the introduction of COM Express standard Type 7. 

COM Express Type 7 has enabled the design of highly scalable server type modules that offer multicore parallel processing and exceptional networking capabilities in a single platform. It is this scalability that makes the COM Express Type 7 ideally suited for meeting the increasingly demanding processing requirements for telecoms applications at the edge. 

As an example, buses, passenger trains and airplanes demand increasingly smart transportation technology such as on-board connectivity for media stations, automated security systems or app-connected passenger systems. 

In each of these cases, traditional data centres are unable to support the widely distributed and isolated nature of the applications. 

Earlier COM Express modules could not support the bandwidth requirements for on demand, in-flight media systems, which are now installed as standard on most domestic aircraft. COM Express Type 7, in contrast, provides greater capacity for data transmission and opens up greater potential for connected transportation applications in the future. 

Furthermore, as data transmission requirements continue to increase, the COM allows for efficient upgrades thanks to its modular design and scalability, providing a cost effective and efficient option instead of having to replace the full embedded system.

Type 7 also allows effective and ever-higher performance platforms in a Small Form Factor (SFF) and offers system designers the flexibility to assign multiple tasks on a single board computer (SBC) using dedicated processors for each one, significantly increasing performance.

How effective the overall COM-based system performs depends substantially on how well the baseboard is designed, which has a direct correlation to data processing and transmission speeds. Recab designs boards to maintain the highest level of signal integrity and to be compatible with computer components from leading brands including congatec and Connect Tech.

One of our most popular ‘off-the-shelf’ carrier boards for Type 7 modules is congatec’s conga-X7/EVAL evaluation carrier board. It features 4 x 10 Gigabit Ethernet SFP+ interfaces, which can be equipped with optical (XFP) or copper transceivers as well as a Gigabit Ethernet port. 

For those requiring a higher end, high performance specification, Connect Tech offers a COM Express Type 7 + GPU Embedded System that combines Intel D (Server Class) and Intel Atom C300 x 86 processors with high-end NVDIA Graphics Processing Unit. 

Recab UK has a range of baseboard designs that can accommodate products and components from multiple manufacturers to meet specific requirements. 

Additionally, Recab has the expertise and capabilities to provide a bespoke embedded system design service. 

The COM Express Type 7 standard is well established as the COM of choice for many, in particular in the telecoms sector because of its scalability and increased capacity combined with performance. Even after the launch of the COM HPC the popularity of Type 7 is set to continue with many opting for the proven, more mature option.

Martin Frederiksen is managing director of embedded computer systems provider Recab UK.

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