Posts Categorized: Topaz
The Topaz Development kit uses the surface-mount LGA module, but we also have a SO-DIMM form-factor module for projects where a plug-in module makes more sense. Sample quantities of both of these modules are also in stock.
If you are in North America you may have B-cycle in your city. B-cycle is a bike sharing system that tracks your ride and records distance, duration, calories burned and carbon offset. Topaz enables the data gathering and transfer at the kiosks from the bike to the B-cycle servers.
When choosing a System on Module (SoM) for a new project, you quickly find that there are some which follow a standard, and others which don’t. On the standards side, you may have heard of Q7 or SMARC. Proprietary modules use SO-DIMM connectors, board-to-board connectors or modules like our Topaz and Quartz products have no connector at all and solder directly to a board.
This post explores some of the reasons why we at Device Solutions have gone the proprietary non-standard path, and why we think standards don’t work for ARM and don’t deliver on the benefits you expect from a standard.
Why choose a standard?
For processor modules, having a second or third supply option sounds attractive. Obsolescence is a big problem and using a standard module to avoid this sounds like a compelling reason to go down that road. In fact it does work very well – for x86 based modules. However x86 chips are very well defined compared to the huge variation in features found on ARM based parts.
Why standards don’t work for ARM
ARM devices are used for a huge variety of applications, with an equally diverse set of requirements. If you have ever taken a close look at a Freescale i.MX part, you will see a lot of different functions and no single application makes use of them all.
This creates some big problems when trying to map an ARM chip to a standard interface. The challenges are:
- Wide range of features, and not enough pins to expose them all.
- Multiplexed features – which feature do you pick for a particular pin?
- Functions change between chip generations and there may be no slot on the standard interface for a new feature. A good example of this is display interfaces – these have evolved from parallel TFT and chips have this interfaces along with LVDS, VGA or HDMI and now MIPI.
Designing with a standard ARM module
All this is not to say that ARM modules based on a standard don’t work at all. They do, but they might not do everything you expect (or need) them to do.
The first thing to check is, can you access all the features on the chip that you need? Make sure anything you think you might need is available. It is painful to get half-way through a design only to find you can’t get at a vital signal!
Using a standard module for second source reasons
This is where things get tricky and your design effort may effectively double. Because of all the reasons above, you can’t rely on two different standard ARM modules to give you exactly the same signals on the interface. It is important to identify what module you are going to use as a second source at the design stage. Every signal will need to be analysed and your base-board may need to have different build options for each module to get it working. Often this proves to be impossible because some vendors don’t share module schematics.
An alternative to second sourcing
Often the reason for having a second source is continuity of supply. Rather than invest in extra engineering (which is expensive and time consuming enough!), we suggest you ask the module vendor if they have an escrow service for their design files. This way should there be a problem for whatever reason, you will still have access to the module.
If you have made it this far, you will see that there are some issues with the current ARM based modules that follow a standard. Our advice is to choose a module that is the best fit for your design, and to solve second sourcing issues by other means.
There are a lot more details we haven’t gone into around this issue. Contact us if you would like to know more.
Finding replacement components for a design that is in production is no fun, and having to re-design a product because of an obsolete component can be expensive and damaging for a business.
Here are 2 ways Device Solutions modules help minimise this problem:
1. Freescale Longevity Programme
All our products are based on Freescale processors that are part of their longevity program. This guarantees availability of the key component of our modules for at least 10 or 15 years from first production. For our current products, this means availability until:
- 2023 for Quartz (Vybrid – 10 year program)
- 2026 for Opal (i.MX53 – 15 year program)
- 2024 for Topaz (i.MX25 – 15 year program)
2. We take care of component issues on the module
Using a module isolates you from the most common components that go end-of-life in a design.
Memory is one of the worst offenders when it comes to revisions and changes. It is also a difficult one when it comes to supply issues, but we won’t cover that here.
Whenever there is a change, we will notify existing customers and give them an option to qualify the updated module before we ship the new version. If software changes are required, these are taken care of by the operating system.
The Topaz module includes a Freescale i.MX25 (400MHz ARM926), 64MBytes mobile DDR, 128MBytes NAND flash, Freescale Power Management IC and Ethernet PHY. Like Meridian, Topaz is a surface mount module. This is easy to mount on new hardware and scales well in volume production.
Topaz includes 10/100 Ethernet (just add a MagJack), USB Host and High-Speed OTG ports, LCD controller, Touch-controller, ADC, SD card, CAN, 5x serial ports, PWM, One-Wire, SPI, I2C, Security and more. Check out the product page and data sheet for all the technical details.
For Topaz, we worked with partners to support Windows CE and Linux, as well as the .NET Micro Framework. We are shipping today with Windows CE 6.0 R3 in conjunction with GuruCE. The .NET Micro Framework and Linux are in development.
Topaz is ideal for portable applications as it uses low-power memory and can be powered from a LiIon cell. For HMI applications, the built-in LCD and touch-screen controllers make it simple to connect a variety of display types. For automotive applications, Freescale supply specific variants of the i.MX25 and these are supported by the Topaz module.
The Development Kit is great for evaluating the Topaz CPU module and development devices.
It includes 10/100 Ethernet, Serial, USB host and OTG ports, SD card and audio out. All other signals are available on 0.1” interface headers for easy connection.
You have a choice of LCDs for use with the kit:
|4.3” 480×272 TFT LCD with touch-screen.|
The development kit is priced at US$299 and the LCD kits are US$199 for the 4.3” option and US$299 for the 7” option. These are available from our web shop now, and will be with distributors in the next 2-3 weeks.
Sometimes it’s easier to watch than read…
If you are looking to design a product with a long life-time, one of the big questions you consider is component availability. Having to re-design in 3 years just to account for an end-of-life part is an unnecessary cost and drain on resources. Designing with a CPU module takes away a lot of this pain (and transfers it to us!). We manage the availability risk for the components that go into the module, and can re-design if necessary, while keeping the interface to your board the same as before.
The only really hard part to manage is the processor – without the i.MX25, we couldn’t really make Topaz! Fortunately, Freescale have a longevity program that clearly indicates how long a part will be supported for. In the case of the i.MX25, this is 15 years from launch. You can look this up here – filter on MX25 to find it quickly.
The new update includes a fully configurable GPIO driver and updated SDK libraries. There is also access to CAN, SPI and GPT drivers from your application.
The update page includes an image you can flash into your Topaz (using the Topaz Flasher application), a getting started guide, and a binary Board Support Package (BSP) which you can use to create a custom Windows CE image. GuruCE can also support the BSP in source form along with custom development services and support. Pricing for these options is on the GuruCE Topaz web page.
If you are doing .NET Micro Framework development, then this new book from Sean Liming and John Malin is essential for your (virtual) bookshelf. Covering the basics of application development from the processing loop, through to graphics and networking, it is a valuable reference and time-saver. There are over 40 projects so you are never short of an example on how to actually do something! Several of these are specifically for Device Solutions hardware, including graphics examples on the Topaz i.MX25 Development Kit.