Time is money and shouldn’t ever be wasted. This motto applies to everything, including building technology. That is why System-on-Modules are all the rage right now, as it offers all the features you need without the need to invest time designing, finding, and assembling the components yourself. If this is something that’s new to you, don’t fret! Our team of development experts is here to help you with the essential guide to understanding SoMs.
What is an SoM?
Before we get to other details, let’s start from the very beginning. A System-on-Module is a small package with all the main components of an embedded processing system. This includes the processor cores, communication configurations, and memory blocks on one small production-ready printed circuit board (PCB). Basically, an SoM is an entire CPU architecture all in one small package. This approach allows SOMs to be embedded into end systems ranging from complex robots to home security cameras.
But, a System-on-Module is not to be confused with System-on-a-Chip (SoC). An SoC is an array of key computer components all assembled on a chip. A SOM is board-based and can include much more components, and a SOC may be one of these. So keep this in mind when choosing what to embed in your technologies!
Blade servers are what originally led to the creation of SoMs. These small servers were created to minimize power usage and save storage space. The sleek design of blade servers was applied to assembling SOMs. Only the components required for the purpose of function are all together in a small package. Yet this doesn’t get in the way of them being used in many applications, most of which we will discuss in a bit.
Why Use an SoM?
Now that you know and understand what an SoM is let’s get started on discussing why these should be used in embedded systems.
The top reason why SoMs are so great is the time-saving aspect. Designing your product based around a SoM takes much less time than it would to design an entire system from scratch. Typically building the CPU infrastructure is what consumes the most time when it comes to creating embedded systems. Instead, you can leverage an SoM to save time and effort that could be better spent elsewhere.
SoMs offer a whole range of processor features and speeds in the same packages. So companies can provide the same carrier board with multiple speeds, and customers can easily design custom carrier boards that meet all their needs without the need to think about the processor and memory individually. The problem of complicated custom cables is also eliminated, as most companies will offer pre-wired connectors that are a match to off-the-shelf cables. With simple process upgrades and downgrades, anyone can build the system of their dreams without spending their whole budget and tons of time.
Another reason is the advancement of semiconductor technologies. To design a micro-processor subsystem or an FPGA subsystem also takes a lot of time and care. Semiconductors are becoming increasingly advanced, meaning there is a lot of information and small details to consider during the building process. By instead using a SoM like the i.MX8M Plus, you can spend this time really focusing on the personality of your product and leveraging the complexity.
An SoM helps bring down the development cost of making an embedded system. Just as we mentioned, time is money, and by spending much less time on the design work, most of the engineering expense is eliminated.
Using an SoM reduces the risk of an end-of-life product based on a flash chipset or CPU going EoL. The system can start running again, all with a simple swap without any changes to the carrier board. Most SoMs, including those from the i.MX8M series, have a longevity of 5+ years, so customers won’t have to worry about spending budget on boards every year.
Common Applications of SoMs
SoMs are being used in every field, some expected and others unexpected.
Software and Hardware Development
Edge computing and local processing of data without latency can be achieved using SoMs. These remove the need for expert hardware experience and knowledge by providing an intuitive design that anyone can apply. And software developers who interact with vision applications will truly appreciate the easily configurable sensors provided by SOMs.
Any hardware developer knows that production must be completed as fast as possible, so limited resources should be focused on the highest impact tasks. A SOM provides field-programmable gate array (FPGA) performance and flexibility without all the hassle of PCB design and integration.
The most common application of System-on-Modules is security cameras. Many of the best SoMs, such as the i.MX8M Plus, provide 4K vision and video processing, making them so great for this application. Most high-edge systems take advantage of video analytics, and this can be done easily with SOMs. These security cameras not only record video but also use machine learning to categorize and analyze what they see, offering accurate real-time data constantly.
Machine vision is the basis of many tasks the modern economy relies on such as inventory inspection, fault detection, signature recognition, and more. These require an embedded system that will analyze data live and offer sensor capabilities. SOMs can be used to apply machine vision without sky-high prices.
SoMs are the future of embedded system development. The examples listed above are only a few of the hundreds of applications. Especially during the pandemic, home automation is high on the list of peoples’ priorities, and most of these smart devices are made with SoMs. Head over to Solid Run and check out the iMX8M series SoMs to start building your dream system today!