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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Kontron to enter ARM PC and board market with new format

Major German manufacturer will also make ARM tablet and box PCs 
By Nick Flaherty

One of Europe's major embedded manufacturers is to add a new format of ARM-based boards and PCs boxes to its Intel and AMD-based product range. Kontron describes this as a strategic move into the ARM architecture, enabling a new breed of embedded scalable building blocks for application-ready platforms with low-power consumption. 
The first products planned for 2011 will be in the module and board form factors. Under development at Kontron is a new module format, optimized for ARM System-On-Chip (SOC) processor types. The modules will enable ARM processors, single, dual and quad core, to be used in most vertical market applications. Following the initial release, Kontron then plans to expand its SBC family, as well as tablet and box PCs and HMIs. All Kontron ARM-based products will be available as standard solutions or as customer-specific designs as required.
"ARM- and RISC-based solutions have been part of our product range for quite a long period of time. Our strategic focus, however, was mainly x86 processor technology. Now we are extending our product range significantly with the addition of ARM", said Dirk Finstel, CTO of Kontron."By doing this, we are creating building blocks which will enable us to serve our embedded computing customers even more comprehensively. Along with the extremely energy-efficient, stationary solutions we will be placing a special focus on mobile solutions with excellent battery power-saving characteristics, which will be an ideal extension to our x86 portfolio."
A new line of Computer-on-Modules is being defined to allow the usage of ARM from single core to future quad core processors. This highly integrated ARM SOC silicon leaves a gap between the interfaces provided and what can be routed through a standard module connector. A classic PC chipset has a large number of PCI-Express lanes and USB ports. In contrast to this, the ARM SOC provides multiple UART, I2C, SDIO ports and less PCIe and USB interfaces. To allow optimum interface usage a new definition deems necessary. Kontron has selected a rugged card edge / gold finger connector solution to enable access to an industry proven connector model allowing low profile options.
To ensure improved time-to-market, Kontron is committed to enabling the ARM-based products to work with the most relevant operating systems. In addition to Windows CE 6/7, Linux operating systems such as QNX, Green Hill and VxWorks (including Hypervisor) will also be supported to focus on high reliability and real time computing. In addition, Kontron's ARM products will be ready for Windows 8 at the time of introduction.
"Due to the increase in software support beyond the boundaries of x86 technology by companies such as Microsoft, many of our customers also want to branch out on the processor technology they use," said Finstel. "Porting existing and new solutions between RISC and CISC architectures can be carried out with increased ease. The actual processor architecture is becoming less relevant as a decision criterion. Price, power consumption and performance per watt are now amongst the most important factors. One can also say that - after the revolution which x86 technology triggered off - a new era has begun in which, thanks to the extensive software support, the boundaries of processor technology are disappearing as the software eco-system has been extended to further technology platforms. This is why it is a logical step for us to launch solutions for ARM and RISC technologies which are very closely related."
Along with the corresponding hardware platforms, Kontron will be focusing heavily on software support and additional services such as customization, driver adoption and porting applications. Application engineers will benefit from an efficient migration path while at the same time significantly reducing costs. The first Kontron ARM-based module early field testing platforms will be available before the end of 2011, with SBCs, tablet computers, box PCs and HIMs following in 2012.
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