Linux and Coming Full Circle

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

In terms of technology, the line between embedded computing and IT/desktop computing has always been a moving target. Certainty the computing power in small embedded devices today have vastly more compute muscle than even a server of 15 years ago. While there’s many ways to look at that phenomena, it’s interesting to look at it through the lens of Linux. The quick rise in the popularity of Linux in the 90s happened on the server/IT side pretty much simultaneously with the embrace of Linux in the embedded market.

I’ve talked before in this column about the embedded Linux start-up bubble of the late 90s. That’s when a number of start-ups emerged as “embedded Linux” companies. It was a new business model for our industry, because Linux is a free, open-source OS. As a result, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. This market disruption spurred the established embedded RTOS vendors to push back. Like most embedded technology journalists back then, I loved having a conflict to cover. There were spirited debates on the “Linux vs. RTOS topic” on conference panels and in articles of time—and I enjoyed participating in both.

It’s amusing to me to remember that Wind River at the time was the most vocal anti-Linux voice of the day. Fast forward to today and there’s a double irony. Most of those embedded Linux startups are long gone. And yet, most major OS vendors offer full-blown embedded Linux support alongside their RTOS offerings. In fact, in a research report released in January by VDC Research, Wind River was named as the market leader in the global embedded software market for both its RTOS and commercial Linux segments.

According the VDC report, global unit shipments of IoT and embedded OSs, including free/non-commercial OSs, will grow to reach 11.1 billion units by 2021, driven primarily by ECU-targeted RTOS shipments in the automotive market, and free Linux installs on higher-resource systems. After accounting for systems with no OS, bare-metal OS, or an in-house developed OS, the total yearly units shipped will grow beyond 17 billion units in 2021 according to the report. VDC research findings also predict that unit growth will be driven primarily by free and low-cost operating systems such as Amazon FreeRTOS, Express Logic ThreadX and Mentor Graphics Nucleus on constrained devices, along with free, open source Linux distributions for resource-rich embedded systems.

Shifting gears, let me indulge myself by talking about some recent Circuit Cellar news—though still on the Linux theme. Circuit Cellar has formed a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos.com. LinuxGizmos is a well-establish, trusted website that provides up-to-the-minute, detailed and insightful coverage of the latest developer- and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems and IoT devices—and the software technologies that make them tick. As its name in implies, LinuxGizmos features coverage of open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (such as Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

LinuxGizmos.com was founded by Rick Lehrbaum—but that’s only the latest of his accolades. I know Rick from way back when I first started writing about embedded computing in 1990. Most people in the embedded computing industry remember him as the “Father of PC/104.” Rick co-founded Ampro Computers in 1983 (now part of ADLINK), authored the PC/104 standard and founded the PC/104 Consortium in 1991, created LinuxDevices.com in 1999 and guided the formation of the Embedded Linux Consortium in 2000. In 2003, he launched LinuxGizmos.com to fill the void created when LinuxDevices was retired by Quinstreet Media.

Bringing things full circle, Rick says he’s long been a fan of Circuit Cellar, and even wrote a series of articles about PC/104 technology for it in the late 90s. I’m thrilled to be teaming up with LinuxGizmos.com and am looking forward to combing our strengths to better serve you.

This appears in the April (333) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos.com Form Strategic Partnership

Partnership offers an expanded technical resource for embedded and IoT device developers and enthusiasts

Today Circuit Cellar is announcing a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos.com to offer an expanded resource of information and know-how on embedded electronics technology for developers, makers, students and educators, early adopters, product strategists, and technical decision makers with a keen interest in emerging embedded and IoT technologies.

The new partnership combines Circuit Cellar’s uniquely in depth, “down-to-the-bits” technical articles with LinuxGizmos.com’s up-to-the-minute, detailed, and insightful coverage of the latest developer-  and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems, and IoT devices, and the software technologies that make them tick. Additionally, as its name implies, LinuxGizmos.com’s coverage frequently highlights open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (e.g. Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

Circuit Cellar is one of the electronics industry’s most highly technical information resources for professional engineers, academics, and other specialists involved in the design and development of embedded processor- and microcontroller-based systems across a broad range of applications. It gets right down to the bits and bytes and lines of code, at a level its readers revel in. Circuit Cellar is a trusted brand engaging readers every day on its website, each week with its newsletter, and each month through Circuit Cellar magazine’s print and digital formats.

LinuxGizmos.com is a free-to-use website that publishes daily news and analysis on the hardware, software, protocols, and standards used in new and innovative embedded, mobile, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  The site is lauded for its detailed and insightful, timely coverage of newly introduced single board computers (SBCs), computer-on-modules (COMs), system-on-chips (SoCs), and small form factor (SFF) systems, along with their software platforms.

“The synergies between LinuxGizmos and Circuit Cellar are great and I’m excited to see the benefits of this partnership passed on to our combined audience,” said Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief, Circuit Cellar. “LinuxGizmos.com has the kind of rich, detail-oriented structure that I’m a fan of. Over the many years I’ve been following the site, I’ve relied on it as an important information resource, and its integrity has always impressed me.”

“I’ve been a fan of Circuit Cellar magazine since it was first launched, and wrote a series of articles for it in the late 90s about PC/104 embedded modules,” added Rick Lehrbaum, founder and Editor-in-Chief of LinuxGizmos.com. “I’m thrilled to see LinuxGizmos become associated with one of the computing industry’s pioneering publications.”

“I see this partnership as a perfect way to enhance both the Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos brands as key information platforms,” stated KC Prescott, President, KCK Media Corp. “In this era where there’s so much compelling technology innovation happening in the industry, our combined strengths will help inform and inspire embedded systems developers.”

Read Announcement on LinuxGizmos.com here:

Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos.com join forces

Non-Standard SBCs Put Function Over Form

Compact, Low-Power Solutions

A rich set of single board computer products fall into the non-standards-based category. These SBCs offer complete embedded computing solutions suited for applications were reducing size, weight and power are the priorities.

By Jeff Child,  Editor-in-Chief

While standard form factor embedded computers provide a lot of value, many applications demand that form take priority over function. The majority of non-standard boards tend to be extremely compact, and well suited for size-constrained system designs. Although there’s little doubt that standard open-architecture board form factors continue to thrive across numerous embedded system applications, non-standard form factors free designers from the size and cost overheads associated with including a standard bus or interconnect architecture.

In very small systems, often the size and volume of the board takes precedence over the need for standards. Instead the priority is on cramming as much functionality and compute density onto a single board solution. And because they tend to be literately “single board” solutions, there’s often no need to be compatible with multiple companion I/O boards. These non-standard boards seem to be targeting very different applications areas—areas where slot-card backplane or PC/104 stacks wouldn’t be practical.

Non-standard boards come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some follow de facto industry standard sizes like 3.5 inches, while others take a twist on existing standards—such as ATX, ITX or PC/104—to produce a “one off” implementation that takes some of the benefits of a standard form factor. There are also some company-specific “standard” form factors that offer an innovative new approach. The focus in this article is on commercial SBCs for professional applications, not modules for hobbyist projects.

ARM-Based Boards

In terms of sheer numbers of SBC products, Intel processor-based solutions tend to dominate. But in recent years, non-standard SBCs based on ARM embedded processors are increasing mindshare in the industry. In a recent example of an ARM-based solution, Technologic Systems in December starting shipping its newest SBC, the TS-7553-V2 (Photo 1). The board is developed around the NXP i.MX6 UltraLite, a high-performance processor family featuring an advanced implementation of a single ARM Cortex-A7 core, which operates at speeds up to  696 MHz. While able to support a wide range of embedded applications, the TS-7553-V2 was specifically designed to target the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sector.

Photo 1
TS-7553-V2 is developed around the NXP i.MX6 UltraLite, an advanced implementation of a single ARM Cortex-A7 core, which operates at speeds up to 696 MHz. The board specifically targets the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sector.

The TS-7553-V2 was designed with connectivity in mind. An on-board Xbee interface, capable of supporting Xbee or NimbleLink, provides a simple path to adding a variety of wireless interfaces. An Xbee radio can be used to link in with a local
2.4 GHz or sub 1 GHz mesh networks, allowing for gateway or node deployments. Both Digi and NimbleLink offer cellular radios for this socket, providing cellular connectivity for applications such as remote equipment monitoring and control. There is also the option for a cellular modem via a daughter card. This allows transmission of serial data via TCP, UDP or SMS over the cellular network. The TS-7553-V2 also includes an on board WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 option, providing even more connectivity.

Design-To-Order SBCs

As a provider of design-to-order embedded boards, Gumstix comes at non-standard SBCs from a different perspective than traditional off-the-shelf SBC vendors. Gumstix’s latest ARM-related focus was its announcement in October about its adding the NXP Semiconductor SCM-i.MX 6Quad/6Dual Single Chip System Module (SCM) to the Geppetto D2O design library and the Gumstix Cobalt MC (Media Center) development board (Photo 2). The NXP SCM-i.MX 6D/Q [Dual, Quad] Core SCM combines the i.MX 6 quad- or dual-core applications processor, NXP MMPF0100 power management system, integrated flash memory, over 100 passives and up to 2 GB DDR2 Package-on-Package RAM into a single-chip solution.

Photo 2 — The Gumstix Cobalt MC single board computer shows off some of the best multimedia features of the NXP SCM with CSI2 camera, native HDMI, and audio, and connects over Gbit Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Using Gumstix’s services, embedded systems developers can, in minutes, design and order SCM-powered hardware combining their choices of network connection, communication bus, and hardware features. During the design process, users can compare alternatives for features and costs, create multiple projects and receive complete custom BSPs and free automated documentation. Designers can go straight from a design to an order in one session with no engineering required.

Read the full article in the February 331 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

Fanless EPIC SBC Handles Extreme Temps

AAEON has launched the EPIC-BT07W2 SBC that supports the EPIC form factor and features an industrial-grade thermal range of -40°C to 85°C. The EPIC-BT07W2 is a fanless solution like the rest of AAEON’s EPIC line, and provides high environmental resilience with its wide-temperature design. The CPU is located at the solder side of the board to facilitate further thermal solutions, and comes with a rugged aluminum heat spreader that provides maximum airflow and temperature control. A heatsink is also available as an accessory.

tio_170919_7nks33PCI-104 architecture expansion enables daughter boards to be stacked atop on the main board, minimizing lateral space and facilitating maximum flexibility, as well as supporting legacy IO. The EPIC-BT07W2 can be seamlessly integrated into pre-existing hardware such as panel screens and mini PCs. It is also ideal for IoT uses, and is designed for minimum maintenance and maximum ruggedness.

Features include:

  • Onboard Intel Atom E3845/ Celeron J1900, N2807 Processor SoC
  • DDR3L 1,333 MHz SoDIMM x1, Up to 8 GB
  • LVDS 24-bit Dual Channel
  • Dual Display Configuration: VGA+ LVDS, VGA + HDMI or HDMI + LVDS
  • SATA 3.0 Gb/s x 1, mSATA/ MiniCard x 1, Micro SD Slot x 1 (E3800 Series Only)
  • USB 3.0 x 1, USB2.0 x 5, RS-232 x 4, RS-232/422/485 x 2 (COM2, COM3)
  • MiniCard x 1, SIM x 1, PCI-104 (Optional)
  • 16-bit Digital IO/LPT, SMBus x 1, I2C (Optional)
  • Audio 2 Ch, 2 W Audio Amp., TPM (Optional), Touch Controller (Optional)
  • 9-24V DC Wide Range or 12 VDC Power Input
  • SoC Processor on Solder Side Design

AAEON | www.aaeon.com

Emulating Legacy Interfaces

Do It with Microcontrollers

There’s a number of important legacy interface technologies—like ISA and PCI—that are no longer supported by the mainstream computing industry. In his article Wolfgang examines ways to use inexpensive microcontrollers to emulate the bus signals of legacy interconnect schemes.

By Wolfgang Matthes

Many of today’s PC users have never heard of interfaces like the ISA bus or the PCI bus. But in the realm of industrial and embedded computers, they are still very much alive. Large numbers of add-on cards and peripherals are out there. Many of them are even still being manufactured today—especially PCI cards and PC/104 modules for industrial control and measurement applications. In many cases, bandwidth requirements for those applications are low. As a result, it is possible to emulate the interfaces with inexpensive microcontrollers. That essentially means using a microcontroller instead of an industrial or embedded PC host.

Photo 1 - The PC/104 specifications relate to small modules, which can be stacked one above the other.

Photo 1 – The PC/104 specifications relate to small modules, which can be stacked one above the other.

To develop and bring up such a device is a good exercise in engineering education. But it has its practical uses too. Industrial-grade modules and cards are designed and manufactured for reliability and longevity. That makes them far superior to the kits, boards, shields and so on, that are intended primarily for educational purposes and tinkering. Moreover, a microcontroller platform can be programmed independently—without operating systems and device drivers. These industrial-grade boards can operate in environments that consume considerably less power and are free from the noise typical of the interior of personal computers. The projects depicted here are open source developments. Descriptions, schematics, PCB files and program sources are available for downloading.

Fields of Use

The basic idea is to make good use of peripheral modules and add-in cards. Photo 1 shows examples. Typical applications are based on industrial or embedded personal computers. The center of the system is the host—the PC. Peripheral modules or cards are attached to a standardized expansion interface, that is, in principle, an extended processor bus. That means the processor of the PC can directly address the registers within the devices. The programming interface is the processor’s instruction set. As a result, latencies are low and the peripheral modules can be programmed somewhat like microcontroller ports—without regard to complicated communication protocols. For example, if the peripheral was attached to communication interfaces like USB or Ethernet, that would complicate matters. Common expansion interfaces are the legacy ISA bus, the PCI bus and the PCI Express (PCIe) interface. …

We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.
Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!

 

PC/104 Card Features DMP Vortex DX-3 SoC

WIN Enterprises has announced the MB-83310, a PC/104 module featuring the economical DMP Vortex86 DX3-9126 processor which is mounted onboard. Power consumption of the dual-core SoC is only approximately 6W. The unit supports multiple VGA-LVDS displays with a maximum resolution of 1920×1440 at 60Hz. Operating systems support includes Microsoft Windows and Linux. The device is ideal for IIoT domain gateways, home IoT gateways, thin clients, and NAT Routers.

WIN Enterprises MB-83310 Editors

The board meets the PC/104 Specification 2.6 and supports the PC/104+ and PC/104 connector onboard. On board memory includes 2 Gbytes of DDR3L 1333. Its dual LAN connector with 2×10 pin header (1 x GbE,1 x Fast Ethernet). I/O consists of 4x USB 2.0, 2x COM Port (COM2 Port is RS-232/422/485, COM1 (RS232 only). For mass storage, there is 1x SATA Port (1×7 Pin),1xM.2 Socket (2242 only). The board’s DC 5V Power input is AT/ATX mode select by jumper. Operating temperature ranges from -20° C to 70° C.

WIN Enterprises | www.win-ent.com

Don’t Miss Circuit Cellar’s Analog & Power Newsletter

Analog & Power is where stuff gets real. Converting signals to and from analog is how embedded devices interact with the real world. And without power supplies and power conversion, electronic systems can’t do anything. Circuit Cellar’s Analog & Power MFG_IB048E096T40N1-00themed newsletter is coming to your inbox tomorrow.

This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op-amps, batteries and more.

               Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your “Analog & Power” themed newsletter issue tomorrow.

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Remember, our new enhanced weekly CC Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

Microcontroller Watch. This newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

IoT Technology Focus. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) phenomenon is rich with opportunity. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

Embedded Boards. This content looks at embedded board-level computers. The focus here is on modules—Arduino, Raspberry Pi, COM Express, and other small-form-factor —that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up production volumes.

PC/104-Plus SBC Features On-Board TPM Security

Versalogic is now shipping the “Liger”-a new high-performance PC/104-Plus single board computer (SBC). Based on Intel’s Kaby Lake processor, Liger combines high performance processing and high performance video with moderate power consumption (12 to 14 W typical). It features hardware-level security using an on-board Trusted Platform Module (TPM) security chip, and backwards compatibility with systems using PC/104-Plus (ISA or PCI) expansion.

PR_EPM-43_HI

Liger is designed for applications which require extreme CPU and video processing performance in a compact 108 x 96 mm (4.3 x 3.8″) PC/104 footprint.The Liger’s on-board TPM security chip can lock out unauthorized hardware and software access. It provides a secure “Root of Trust” processing environment for defense, medical, and industrial applications that require hardware-level security functions. Additional security is provided through built-in AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) instructions.

Versalogic | www.versalogic.com

Don’t Miss Circuit Cellar’s Newsletter: Embedded Boards

Board-level embedded computers are a critical building block around which system developers can build all manor of intelligent systems. Circuit Cellar’s Embedded Boards themed newsletter is coming to your inbox tomorrow. COM Express mm

The focus here is on module types like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, COM Express, and other small-form-factor modules that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.

Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your “Embedded Boards” themed newsletter issue tomorrow.

Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:

Remember, our new enhanced weekly CC Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

Analog & Power. This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op-amps, batteries, and more.

Microcontroller Watch. This newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

IoT Technology Focus. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) phenomenon is rich with opportunity. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

Client Profile: SCIDYNE Corp.

About SCIDYNE
SCIDYNE has been designing and manufacturing electronic products for more than two decades. Headquartered in the United States, SCIDYNE serves both domestic and international OEM customers by being a trusted and reliable source of high-quality embedded system products. SCIDYNE’s line of PC/104 peripherals can be found in many diverse and demanding applications (e.g., industrial automation, medical equipment, and aerospace). Recent trends in the embedded market including the growing maker culture, powerful low-cost development platforms, and collaborative development has provided additional opportunities to offer new products designed especially for these segments.

Scidyne-xmem

Why Should Circuit Cellar Readers Be Interested?
The XMEM+ plugs onto an ordinary Arduino MEGA2560 and boosts available SRAM to over 512K. By increasing SRAM, the MEGA becomes much more capable in sophisticated applications. The SRAM is organized as 16 banks of 32K each. On-board high-speed logic simplifies bank-switching management. The active 32K bank seamlessly follows the internal 8K SRAM making 40K available at any time. Also included is a fixed 23K expansion bus for prototyping off-board parallel circuitry. Buffered control, data, and address signals are fully accessible. The operating logic level for all buffered signals is configurable as 3.3 or 5 V for proper translation when working with modern mixed voltage circuitry. The XMEM+ operates at the full 16-MHz system clock speed. Additional details are available at: www.scidyne.com/hpb7699.html.

Low-Power Micromodule

The ECM-DX2 is a highly integrated, low-power consumption micromodule. Its fanless operation and extended temperature are supported by the DMP Vortex86DX2 system-on-a-chip (SoC) CPU. The micromodule is targeted for industrial automation, transportation/vehicle construction, and aviation applications.
The ECM-DX2 withstands industrial operation environments for –40-to-75°C temperatures and supports 12-to-26-V voltage input. Multiple OSes, including Windows 2000/XP and Linux, can be used in a variety of embedded designs.

AvalueThe micromodule includes on-board DDR2 memory that supports up to 32-bit, 1-GB, and single-channel 24-bit low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) as well as video graphics array (VGA) + LVDS or VGA + TTL multi-display configurations. The I/O deployment includes one SATA II interface, four COM ports, two USB 2.0 ports, 8-bit general-purpose input/output (GPIOs), two Ethernet ports, and one PS/2 connector for a keyboard and a mouse. The ECM-DX2 also provides a PC/104 expansion slot and one MiniPCIe card slot.

Contact Avalue Technology for pricing.

Avalue Technology, Inc.
www.avalue.com.tw