FPGA kit enables quick evaluation with flexible I/O

Kontron COM Express starter kit features Altera Cyclone IV GX FPGA and two HSMC boards.


The Kontron COM Express starter kit uses an Altera FPGA.FPGA evaulation kit from Kontron uses Altera Cyclone.At the SPS/IPC/Drives trade show, Kontron introduced the new COM Express starter kit featuring the Altera Cyclone IV GX FPGA. It provides all the required components to evaluate board designs with open-definable I/Os. With this kit, OEM developers can explore FPGA-based dedicated applications, thus reducing the overall R&D costs and time to market for purpose-built platforms.

For developers looking to build an application that relies on I/O unique to the application, the Kontron COM Express FPGA starter kit can help optimize overall development. The components can be assembled in minutes, so testing can proceed straight to programming on the platform that consists of the selected computer-on-module and the individual high-speed mezzanine cards (HSMC) to carry out the physical interfaces. OEMs can develop dedicated full-custom SBC designs or individual custom carrier boards for scalable x86 based COMs, both with I/Os integrated in Altera's transceiver-based FPGA, Cyclone IV GX. As a design partner, Kontron offers development and manufacturing services that include, but are not limited to, revision management and industry-specific certifications including ITAR and ISO 13485 - a certification necessary for the design and manufacturing of medical devices. FPGA-based I/Os on x86 processor platforms are applicable to many target markets since FPGAs can universally map to nearly all I/Os.

Due to the FPGA-based implementation of I/Os in Altera's FPGAs, customers can use a high level of flexibility that allows upgrades and modifications without any changes to the board layout. This will change the options of the x86 platforms' development and structure. Only the FPGA configuration and the mechanical implementation of the interfaces define the individual I/Os. This enables the use of one uniform hardware platform in various applications, reducing development efforts, time-to-market, and overall total cost of ownership. OEMs also benefit from the improved long-term availability of the developed solution.

"Legacy interfaces currently are a very important domain not served by today's chipsets. Examples include: ISA, CAN, RS232, and PCI. Moreover, industrial Ethernet configurations such as Profibus, Ethercat, Ethernet POWERLINK, etc., are very important IP cores as well, that can all be implemented in the Altera Cyclone IV GX FPGA. In addition, we are also addressing customized individual solutions and existing proprietary platforms that so far are not based on x86 technology," explains Dirk Finstel, CTO of Kontron AG. "Ideally, we also can use such platforms for highly reliable and long-term-available embedded system solutions in nearly all markets. Among other things, they will be used in military technology, for trains and aircraft, for medical technology, in industrial automation, and in many other applications where high long-term availability plays a decisive role."

"The partnership with Kontron to develop the first FPGA-based starter kit for x86 designs shows the benefits of FPGA technology for x86 embedded computer systems," said Michael Samuelian, director of the industrial and automotive business unit at Altera. "We see a trend growing with the manufacturers of board-level products, such as Kontron, who is implementing the standard I/Os for x86 technology. The benefits of using FPGAs with processor boards and I/O boards prove the flexibility, performance, and power advantages of Altera's FPGAs."

The relationship between Kontron, Intel and Altera provides customers with complete embedded processor and FPGA solutions with flexible I/O. These fully validated and verified solutions consist of various form factors which include the processors, FPGAs, IP Cores, drivers, board support packages (BSPs), and support for various operating systems (e.g. Windows, VxWorks, Linux, etc.). Kontron's Global Software Design Center also offers FPGA programming as an optional software service for customers.

Feature overview

The main component is the COM Express FPGA Baseboard for pin-out Types 1, 2, and 10 COMs such as the Kontron ETXexpress, microETXexpress, or nanoETXexpress modules. The Altera Cyclone IV GX FPGA is designed into the carrier board and the specific I/Os are configured via enclosed IP bit streams. The configuration of the FPGA is possible through the enclosed USB-Blaster download cable and the physical interfaces are brought about by two HSMCs; one communication board and one mass storage and video board. The kit also includes an ATX PSU and mounting kit.



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Edited by Peter Welander, pwelander@cfemedia.com

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