Mini but Mighty
An impressive amount of computing functionality can be squeezed on to a small form factor board these days. These tiny board-level products meet the needs of applications where extremely low SWaP (size, weight and power) beats all other demands.
There was a time when building a complete embedded computer required a PC motherboard-sized PCB with processor, memory modules and I/O cards. But, over the years, semiconductor integration evolved, enabling more and more functionality on a board-level computer. Today you see powerful levels of functionality shrunk down to one or a handful of chips. Leveraging that trend, makers of board-level embedded computers are now able to design computing modules that now occupy extremely small form factors. Many of these are non-standard form factors. Non-standard form factors free designers from the size and cost overheads associated with including a standard bus or interconnect architecture.
One exception to this “non-standard“ form factor trend is the Open Standard Module (OSM) form factor for solderable compute modules. The open source OSM standard was developed by an SDT.05 working group within the Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET), the group behind the SMARC form factor. OSM is notable for its small footprint and capacity to be soldered directly onto a baseboard (Figure 1).
For purposes of this product round-up, we’ve selected representative products that are the smallest available on the market—most under 50mm × 40mm, and going as tiny as 29.5mm × 29.5mm. Note that side by side comparisons should take into account that some of these products are meant to be used as compute modules attached to an I/O baseboard, while others are true complete single board computers (SBCs). These tiny form factor boards seem to be targeting very different applications areas—areas where slot-card backplane or PC/104 stacks wouldn’t be practical. Many of the boards in this article’s product gallery are based on processors like NXP’s i.MX8M Mini and STMicroelectronics’ STM32MP1.
Applications that require these tiny embedded boards included a wide variety of systems. Included are systems such as professional handheld devices, automation and audio/video streaming devices, scanning/imaging, building automation, smart home, machine vision, autonomous drones, portable instrumentation with HMI and medical devices.
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • NOVEMBER 2020 #364 – Get a PDF of the issue
Tiny Module Sports Arm-Based STM32MP157
Exor Embedded’s NanoSOM nS02 is a module that runs real-time Linux on the 800MHz version of STMicroelectronics’ dual-core, Cortex-A7 based STM32MP157. It provides up to 1GB DDR3L and 32GB eMMC. It is designed to be soldered directly onto the main carrier board, without the use of expensive connectors that will reduce reliability of the system.
• STM32MP1 Dual Cortex -A7 plus M4 MPU with 3D GPU
• Up to 1GB DDR3L, up to 32GB eMMC
• Dual 10/100 Ethernet ports
• 2x USB 2.0 host, 1x USB OTG
• 24-bit RGB LCD parallel or 2-lane MIPI-DSI interfaces
• 12-bit camera input
• 3.3V input, battery and superCAP support
• 0 to 70°C operating temperatures
• Form factor: 25.4mm × 25.4mm × 3mm
NanoSOM nS02 datasheet
OSM Standard Module Serves Up i.MX8M Mini
The OSM-MX8MM from F&S Elektronik Systeme is a prototype i.MX8M Mini-based module that is the first product to adopt a proposed Open Standard Module (OSM) form factor for solderable compute modules. The open source OSM standard was developed by an SDT.05 working group within the Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET), the group behind the SMARC form factor.
• NXP i.MX8M Mini SoC
• Up to 8GB LPDDR4
• Up to 32GB eMMC or up to 512MB SLC NAND flash
• MIPI-CSI camera interface
• 4-lane MIPI-DSI
• 4x UART, 4x I2C, 2x SPI
• Up to 32x DIO plus single CAN, SD, I2S audio
• 0 to 70°C operating temperature, -20°C to 85°C optional
• Form factor: OSM standard: 30mm × 30mm
Soldered-Down Module Supports Industrial Temps
Ka-Ro Electronics’ QSMP module is a QFN-style, soldered-down module with industrial temperature support. The board features a Cortex-A7 based STM32MP1 with up to 512MB DDR3L, 4GB eMMC and an optional dev kit. The QSMP supports three of the six variants of ST’s STM32MP1. One of these models has -40°C to 85°C temperature range—the others support -25°C to 85°C.
• STM32MP1 series processors, six variants
• Up to 512MB DDR3L
• Flash storage: 4GB eMMC or SLC NAND
• Temperature: 25°C to 85°C (eMMC) / -40°C to 85°C (NAND)
• PMIC and GbE controller
• 2.0, SD, 3x UART, 2x I2C, 2x SPI, PWM, SAI
• QFN package for direct soldering to carrier
• Form factor: 27mm × 27mm × 2.3mm
Tiny Module Features NXP i.MX8M Mini
Keith & Koep’s Myon II CPU module sports the NXP i.MX 8M Mini processor. This CPU is produced in 14nm LPC FinFET technology, which allows high operating frequencies with low power consumption. The board is well suited for handheld and IoT devices. Other features include eMMC expansion, GbE, MIPI-DSI and CSI and up to -40°C to 85°C support.
• NXP i.MX 8M Mini with Arm quad-core Cortex A53
• Up to 8 GB LPDDR4, 8-bit wide eMMC
• MIPI DSI or LVDS
• 2x USB2.0 OTG, PCIe, 2x SDIO, SPDIF I/O
• I2S, audio-Interface, 4x UART, I2C, SPI, QSPI, GPIOs, PWM
• 10/100Mb/1Gb Ethernet
• Voltage supply: 3VDC to 5VDC
• Op. temperatures: -40°C to 85°C, -25°C to 85°C or 0 to 70°C
• Form factor: 48mm × 32mm × 4.2mm
Myon II datasheet
Tiny Module Powered by
TI Sitara Processor
The MYC-C335X-GW from MYIR is the fourth AM335x CPU Module designed by MYIR especially for gateway applications. It is powered by Texas Instruments’ 800MHz AM3354 Arm Cortex-A8 processor which features PowerVR SGX530 for 2D and 3D graphics acceleration. In addition to a DDR3L RAM memory, the MYC-C335XGW is equipped with a Nand flash or an eMMC flash.
• Up to 1GHz TI AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 Processor
• 256/512MB DDR3L
• 256MB Nand flash, 4GB eMMC, EEPROM
• Power management IC (TPS65217C)
• Two 0.8mm pitch 80-pin board-to-board expansion connectors
• Supports Linux 4.14.67
• Supports -40°C to +85°C temperature operation
• Form factor: 50mm × 40mm
Low-Cost Petite Module Sports Cortex-A7 SoC
SigmaStar’s IDO-SOM2D01 is a compute module that runs Linux on SigmaStar’s own dual-core, Cortex-A7 SSD201 SoC clocked to 1.2GHz. The SSD201 SoC has 64MB of built-in DDR2. The tiny 29.5mm x 29.5mm IDO-SOM2D01 costs only $10. The module offers 128MB to 2GB flash, dual LAN controllers, Wi-Fi/BT and an HD-ready DSI interface.
• SigmaStar’s dual-core, Cortex-A7 SSD201 SoC
• 128MB to 2GB SPI NAND flash
• Dual 10/100 LAN controllers
• USB 2.0 host, 4-lane MIPI-DSI
• Audio line-out, AMIC and DMI
• 4x UART, 2x I2C, 4x PWM, SDIO 2.0, I2S, SPI and GPIO
• SSW0101B Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module
• Form factor: 29.5mm × 29.5mm
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.