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Kontron spins SMARC COMs for Sitara, i.MX6, Tegra 3 SOCs

Apr 16, 2013 — by Eric Brown 2,135 views

Kontron launched a “SMARC Starterkit” featuring a carrier board and seven-inch touchscreen for three new ARM modules adhering to the SMARC standard. The three supported COMs are built around TI’s 800MHz Sitara AM3874, Freescale’s 1.2GHz multicore i.MX6, and Nvidia’s 1.2GHz quadcore Tegra 3 SOCs, and they’re all backed by embedded Linux and Android support.

Kontron’s 314-pin SMARC (formerly ULP-COM) standard for ARM Cortex-based computer-on-modules (COMs) was recently ratified by SGET, offering up a compelling new development platform for embedded Linux and Android designs. SMARC is designed for low-power (2 to 6 Watt) mobile and embedded devices. It supports configurations commonly found on ARM Cortex gizmos, including a wide variety of serial I/O, CAN buses, cameras, and touchscreens. SMARC modules are already on the way from Kontron-competitors Fortec AG, Adlink, and others, but not surprisingly, Kontron was first out of the gate.


SMARC formats
(click to enlarge)

Kontron’s new COMs all use SMARC’s basic 82×50 mm form-factor (there’s also an 82×80 mm profile; click image at right for a larger view), and house ARM Cortex-A8 or –A9 processors.

Left to right: SMARC-sA3874i, SMARC-sAMX6i, SMARC-sAT30

The industrial-focused SMARC-sA3874i is built around the Cortex-A8 based Sitara AM3874 from Texas Instruments (TI), offering a single core clocked to 800MHz. The SMARC-sAMX6i provides a Freescale i.MX6 SOC with a choice of one, two, or four 800MHz Cortex-A9 cores. The SMARC-sAT30 features a 1.2GHz, quadcore Nvidia Tegra, a SOC more commonly found in high-end smartphones and tablets than in general embedded gear.

Due to the markedly different architectures of these processors — welcome to the wild world of ARM — the specs sheets are quite different. We’ve included two block diagrams below (none was available for the SMARC-sA3874i ), as well as links to datasheets at the end. Meanwhile, here are some highlights for each of SMARC COM, followed by details on the new SMARC Starterkit. While each module offers different video and graphics capabilities, they all support 18/24-bit parallel LCD and single-channel LVDS, and HDMI, and all but the Sitara module also supports dual displays.


The SMARC-sA3874i is built around the Cortex-A8 based Sitara AM3874, the high-end, 3D-accelerated model of the three Sitara AM387x SOCs TI introduced in 2011. It also provides video acceleration, but lacks the TI C64x+ DSP supplied by the pin-compatible, HD-video ready DM8148/8168 SOCs. The AM3874 draws less than 2 Watts, and is designed for fanless industrial automation, networking, and communications.

Kontron’s SMARC-sA3874i COM
(click image to enlarge)

The SMARC-sA3874i clocks the 1GHz-capable Sitara to 800MHz, supporting it with 1GB or 2GB of soldered DDR3 RAM. Up to 32GB NAND flash is optional, says Kontron.

A gigabit Ethernet port and dual USB 2.0 ports (one of them OTG) is available. Interfaces expressed through the 314-pin SMARC connector include PCI Express (PCIe), dual CAN bus ports, four UARTs, four I2C, four I2S, and two SPI. Also provided are SATA and GPIO connections, and a 10-bit parallel camera input.

The module offers commercial (0 to 70° C) or industrial (-40 to 85° C) temperature ranges, and runs on a 3V to 5.25V power supply. Linux, Android, and Windows CE6 and WES7 are all supported.


The SMARC sAMX6i is one of several recent COMs supporting Freescale’s i.MX6, including the new CompuLab CM-FX6. Kontron’s offering gives engineers the flexibility of choosing between one, two, or four Cortex-A9 cores. All come clocked to 800MHz, but the datasheet also lists potential clock speeds of 1GHz and 1.2GHz.

Kontron SMARC-sAMX6i COM and its block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

All three models support up to 2GB of pre-installed DDR3 memory, but the single-core version starts with 512MB while the other two start at 1GB. The single-core model also lacks its siblings’ SATA support. A flash drive of up to 64GB is also said to be available. The modules enable dual display support, 3D acceleration, and 1080p encoding.

Gigabit Ethernet is available along with three USB 2.0 interfaces (one of them OTG), says Kontron. Other I/O includes five I2C, two I2S, and two SPI, as well as SPDIF, SDIO, and WDT links. The COM also provides dual CAN ports, a dozen GPIO, dual serial RX/TX connections, and dual serial UARTs. A camera interface is also supplied, as well as three PCIe x1 lanes for wireless expansion.

The SMARC sAMX6i can typically run on 5 Watts, and uses a power supply of 3V to 5.25V, says Kontron. Like the SMARC-sA3874i, it can also run on Li-Ion batteries and supports both commercial and industrial temperature ranges. Unlike the other modules, it offers an optional heatspreader version. Operating system support is listed as Linux, Android, and WEC7.


Buyers who need top multimedia performance, but do not require extended temperature support or CAN bus connections should check out the SMARC-sAT30 COM. The module is one of a select group that incorporate a quadcore Nvidia Tegra 3, such as the Toradex Apalis T30. The Cortex-A9-based Tegra 3 is clocked here to 1.2GHz, and adds a fifth, 500MHz Cortex-A9 companion core for running background tasks, as well as a 12-core GeForce GPU.

Kontron SMARC-sAT30 COM and its block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The SMARC-sAT30 comes standard with 1GB or 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a 16GB solid state drive (SSD) that can be expanded up to 64GB. The COM furnishes gigabit Ethernet, a PCIe lane, and three USB 2.0 connections (one OTG), along with SD Card and eMMC support. Additional I/O includes dual SPI, five I2C, three I2S, four UARTs, and 12 GPIO interfaces. A SATA port, and SPDIF and WDT connections are also available.

The power profile is similar to that of the SMARC sAMX6i, with 5 Watt consumption, and support for 3V to 5.25V supplies and battery power. No extended or industrial temperature range is available, however. Linux and Android 4.x (ICS) are supported, says Kontron.

SMARC Starterkit

The SMARC Starterkit supports all of the above SMARC modules with a 210 x 200 mm carrier board and seven-inch, 800 x 480 backlit touchscreen, both rated for industrial temperatures. A variety of cables are also provided.

SMARC Starterkit and its SMARC baseboard
(click images to enlarge)

The Starterkit features an SD slot, an SDIO interface to an optional microSD connector, LVDS and HDMI links, a gigabit Ethernet port, and a seven-port USB hub. An unstated number of serial ports are provided, along with a CAN bus interface, CSI and parallel camera ports, and even a SIM Card slot and an accelerometer. Options include a PCIe slot and dual mini-PCIe sockets. A 100-240V AC power supply is provided, but a battery is not included.

No pricing for the SMARC modules or Starterkit were available, but all the products appear to be in production. More information may be found on Kontron product pages for the SMARC Starterkit, the SMARC-sA3874i , the SMARC sAMX6i, and the SMARC-sAT30, respectively.

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