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Recently, Kontron AG (München, Germany) announced the development of a new COM (Computer-on-Module) standard called ULP-COM. The “ULP” portion of the standard’s title is an acronym for Ultra Low Power. Historically, the COMs industry has been quite x86-centric, with only about 5% of modules shipped using another type of processor (usually RISC).
The ULP-COM standard, which is similar to PICMG’s COM Express standard (COM.0) in some ways, targets the market for small form factor, low power mobile devices that are suitable for harsh industrial environments. The standard has been designed around ARM processors and SoCs that require 5 watts of power or less. These processors have less overhead and lower pin counts than their x86 counterparts. ULP-COM modules have different feature sets than their COM Express siblings as well. A fairly detailed overview of the new standard can be found here.
Kontron’s involvement with the COM industry goes back many years. Perhaps the first COMs on the market were the DIMM-PC devices developed and marketed by JUMPtec AG, one of the earliest Kontron acquisitions. Other significant early entrants to this market included Ampro Computer (now part of ADLINK Technology) with their Encore series of modules, and Advantech Co., Ltd. with their SOM-144 modules. Kontron, along with several other industry participants, was also a member of the PICMG committee that developed the COM Express standard in 2005. The COM Express “basic” form factor was largely based on the ETX modules offered by Kontron and Advantech (among others).
Somewhat surprisingly, the ULP-COM specification has not been placed under the purview of PICMG, but under a new organization called SGET (Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies e.V.). This group, which currently boasts 24 members, does not present itself as an industry trade association, but rather as a “registered association to drive standardization of embedded computing technologies.” Fourteen of the member companies are suppliers of computer boards and already have some involvement with COMs. Industry “heavyweights” Kontron, Advantech and ADLINK are members, as are a number of smaller (mostly German) suppliers. A few have announced product releases. The organization has a web site and a Facebook page.
Within the last few years COMs, as a product type, have reached maturity and become a significant market estimated as being over US$ 450 million in 2011. Their primary use has, to date, been in short run, limited production devices, often of the hand-held variety. The new ULP-COM family should fit into the ecosystem quite well. We applaud Kontron and the other consortium members for their vision.