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M.2 Card and RPi-Based Gateway Deliver Real-Time Ethernet

Written by Eric Brown

Hilscher has launched a cifX M.2 expansion card equipped with its netX 90 Real-Time Ethernet controller. It has also begun shipping a netPI gateway for $445 (see farther below). Demonstrated at Embedded World earlier this year, the NetPI Real-Time Ethernet gateway combines a Raspberry Pi 3 with Hilscher’s “netHAT 52-RTE.” The Germany-based Real-Time Ethernet technology firm also recently announced a netX 90 Starterkit (see farther below).

cifX M.2 (top) and cifX overview
(click images to enlarge)

The cifX M.2 card (CIFX M223090AE) uses an M.2 A+E-key 2230 form factor to add real-time communications to “PC-based systems,” which suggests that perhaps only x86-based systems are supported. Supported OSes include Windows, Linux, INtime, RTX, and QNX. There is also a C Toolkit for custom device drivers.

cifX M.2

The 30 x 22mm card enables IPCs, HMIs, and robotics systems to support Real-Time Ethernet and Fieldbus networks. The product includes all necessary hardware and software components, including protocol stacks, device drivers and network connectors, says Hilscher.

The cifX M.2 is equipped with the same dual Cortex-M4 based netX 90 multiprotocol communication chip found on other Hilscher cifX cards (PDF), which are available in mini-PCIe, PCIe, PCI, cPCI, and PC/104 form factors. It also supports the same protocols and application interfaces.

The cifX M.2 card lets you choose among loadable firmware for PROFINET IO-Device, EtherNet/IP Adapter, EtherCAT Slave, and OpenModbus/TCP, followed in Q4 2020 by CC-Link IE Field Basic and Ethernet POWERLINK Slave. (Note that Hilscher has not yet updated its terminology to designate hierarchy in computing systems per the Internet Systems Consortium’s recommended “primary and secondary.”) Other future cifX M.2 features expected from 2021 onward include additional firmware options, more card and key formats, and OPC UA and MQTT functionality.

The cifX M.2 cards are available in five preconfigured models for EtherCAT-Slave (EtherCAT-Secondary), EtherNet, PROFINET, PROFIBUS, and Open ModBus/TCP. Each is available with an external card that includes dual Real-Time Ethernet ports.


netX 90 Starterkit

Hilscher recently announced a netX 90 Starterkit based on its NXHX 90-JTAG development board. The kit ships with 15 netX samples and the NetX Studio IDE, which integrates a GCC compiler, Python-based WAF built scripts, an Open OCD debugger, and a flasher.

No further details were provided for the netX 90 Starterkit. However, Hilscher notes: “Your application can be loaded onto the board and run with our protocol stacks and, for instance, combined with the licence-free Linux board support package.”

netPI ships

The Raspberry Pi 3 based netPI system that was revealed back in March is now shipping for $445. Now called the netPI RTE 3, the gateway/controller is equipped with a netHAT 52-RTE dual Real-Time Ethernet RPi HAT with a netX 52 controller chip.


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NetPI RTE 3 and software architecture
(click images to enlarge)

Both the HAT and the full netPI computer support Real-Time Ethernet protocols like PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, and EtherCAT. The netPI enables the Raspberry Pi 3’s WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI port, and four USB ports. The Pi’s 10/100 Ethernet port is exposed in addition to dual Real-Time Ethernet ports.

NetPi detail view
(click image to enlarge)

Expansion for GPIO and serial bus signals such as I2C and SPI is enabled via a mini-PCIe interface, and there’s an open bay for inserting mini-PCIe expansion modules. The system also supports RPi expansion boards via the 40-pin connector.

Bundled firmware integrates Docker to provide separate containers for Raspbian and a Yocto Project based real-time kernel. (For more details, see our earlier NetPi story.)


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Further information

No pricing or availability information was provided for the cifX M.2 card. More information may be found in Hilscher’s announcement and
product page.

More on the netPI RTE 3 may be found on the new product page and Amazon shopping page, where the system sells for $445 including free shipping.

This article originally appeared on on July 27, 2020.

Hilscher |


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M.2 Card and RPi-Based Gateway Deliver Real-Time Ethernet

by Eric Brown time to read: 3 min