DH electronics GmbH
scroll Scroll Down down

In times of digitalization, System on Modules are indispensable. The small embedded computers can be plugged or soldered onto a carrier board and enable a significantly shorter time-to-market than a single-board computer. At the same time, it is a major challenge for developers to integrate the SOMs into new or existing products.

The choice of SOM form factor plays a decisive role here, as there is a choice between standardized form factors, e.g. SGET Open Standard Module (OSM), vendor-specific and individual form factors. In addition, pricing, long-term availability and the BSP support offerings of the different vendors play an important role.
With our SOM selection guide, we will present the advantages and disadvantages of these three form factor types and provide some guidance for your next decision.

At the field level, you will find a wide range of sensors and actuators that can be installed, for example, in water meters, heating controls, access control centers or machines and systems. These sensors and actuators record various measured values and transmit them to the IoT gateway. There, the data is either pre-filtered or sent directly to the cloud, where the actual data processing takes place. Here, the measurement data is mostly collected, processed and analyzed before a specific command is triggered.

Most of the data processing takes place in the cloud, which is a cost-effective solution for a low volume of non-sensitive data. However, it is important to keep in mind that high bandwidth is required and that critical data should sometimes be processed more at the edge level to stay within the corporate network. Our IoT gateway can be used for both variants with data processing in the cloud or at the edge.

In the future, SOMs can also be equipped with a neural processing unit (NPU). This will allow even faster and even more complex computing operations to be performed. In summary, all information moving through an IoT ecosystem - from any IoT device to the cloud or vice versa - passes through an IoT gateway. 

An IoT gateway is a physical device or virtual platform that connects sensors, IoT modules and smart devices to the cloud.  It can be used for simple data filtering and enables visualizations and complex data analyses. The specific application areas for IoT gateways can vary widely, but include, for example:

  • Building automation, fleet management, other enterprise IoT applications.
  • IIoT applications such as maintenance and asset management
  • Process industry, manufacturing or smart grid
  • Consumer-facing applications such as home automation

All DHCOR modules are equipped with a dedicated PMIC. We do NOT use discrete power management on our SOMs because we need to be able to provide all low power mode functions. These are needed in almost every new project to defy climate change. In addition, the PMIC has the advantage that you only need to provide a single 5V supply on the motherboard. All other required voltages are generated by it. The PMIC provides several power rails that are fed back to the mainboard. This offers the advantage that these rails can be used, e.g. on the baseboard, to supply all connected components and thus reduce costs, since only the 5V supply is needed. In addition, some PMIC power rails can be switched off when the system goes into low power mode. Thus, our DHCOR solution enables a true low-power optimized motherboard design.

On our DHCOR's we have a small 2MByte SPI boot flash where we store the preprogrammed bootloader. But such a small memory is not enough to store a real operating system like Linux on it. The reason why we don't equip our DHCORs with a large flash memory is that we want to give the customer the possibility to choose the flash memory that perfectly fits the new design. 

One option is to use eMMCs (embedded Multimedia Card), which are very popular but also bring some challenges, but they can be easily worked around.

  • The first challenge is the very small footprint of an eMMC, which often requires a complex and expensive PCB design, but which can be worked around using our trick. Many pins of an eMMC are not connected at all according to the JEDEC standard and you can use these unconnected pins to bridge them. Many of the wires are routed across the pins instead of between them. With this simple trick, the PCB design remains simple despite eMMC.
  • Another challenge is that eMMCs can be quickly discontinued by manufacturers. We also solve this problem for our customers by taking care of lifecycle management. Since we also use eMMCs in our DHCOM System on Modules, we have to take care of the qualification of the new eMMCs anyway and are happy to pass this information on to our DHCOR customers, so that there is no additional effort for customers.

Our DHCOR modules contain all complex components and are also optimized for automated production. We therefore recommend this variant for medium to large quantities. In addition, our power management enables a true low-power optimized motherboard design.

  • With a size of 29 x 29 mm, the DHCOR modules are very small and therefore space-saving. 
  • Solder is already applied to the LGA pins, resulting in easy and safe manufacturing.
  • The SOC itself is part of the DHCOR and we have done the complex DDR memory interfacing on our SOM.
  • All DHCOR modules are equipped with a dedicated PMIC for power management. We do NOT use discrete power management on our SOM's because we need to be able to provide all low power mode features.
  • On our DHCOR's we have a small 2MByte SPI boot flash where we store the pre-programmed bootloader. But such a small memory is not enough to store a real operating system like Linux on it.  Our customers get the possibility to choose the flash memory freely.
  • We recommend the use of eMMC flashes and also provide some tips on how to use them in another FAQ.

The pluggable DHCOM product family is a fully pin-compatible family with a special range of functions. Besides the components of the DHCOR family, the DHCOM family has some more components to offer. Here is a short overview:

  • We have included an optional micro SD socket. 
  • The Ethernet PHYs are included.
  • The flash memory is already integrated.
  • All new DHCOM modules are equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth.
  • We have an optional temperature compensated RTC available. 
  • We use the well known SODIMM-200 socket
  • On some DHCOM modules we also have an additional highspeed socket on the bottom side to which we can connect e.g. PCIe. Both connectors offer the full functionality of the DHCOM family, which is always compatible with each other.

Furthermore, we have developed an innovative cooling solution for pluggable DHCOM modules, which makes space- and cost-intensive heat sinks unnecessary.

Solderable DHCOR modules Pluggable DHCOM modules
Access to all SoC functions through individual pinout Compatible and scalable family concept
Solderable, no connector required Pluggable, fits SODIMM-200 sockets
Smallest design for medium to high volumes Flexible design for small and medium volumes

Our customers can fully concentrate on their essential task and do not have to deal with the design of a highly complex computer module. The main advantages for the user are obvious:

  • Our SOMs are ready for immediate use and enable a short time-to-market. The term "time to market" refers to the period from product development to placing the product on the market. During this phase, only costs are incurred and no sales are generated. It is therefore immensely important to make this phase as short as possible. This is exactly where the biggest advantage of a System on Module lies. A shorter development phase - both in hardware and software design - is made possible at all thanks to the immediate availability of a computer module together with the appropriate software.
  • The fact that you can also save time and therefore money is a nice, not insignificant side effect. In addition, a SOM usually significantly reduces the complexity of the carrier board's layer structure, which leads to further savings in development and unit costs.
  • In addition, the user has the flexibility to easily select the processor of his choice from a SOM series. In the case of compatible System on Module series - such as our DHCOM family - processor upgrades or downgrades can thus be carried out easily.

Conclusion: The use of SOM accelerates the product launch, saves time and costs and gives the user the necessary flexibility in product design.

What is a SOM?

  • A System on Module (SOM) is a small embedded computer that is soldered or plugged onto a carrier board. All relevant functional units are located on the module, such as processor and graphics unit, working (DRAM) and program memory (NOR, NAND, eMMC), as well as clock and power management and a variety of communication interfaces (Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, SPI, I2C, UART, etc.).
  • A SOM encapsulates the essential parts of an embedded computer and, unlike a single board computer (SBC), is not a ready-to-use system.
  • The missing components, such as power supply, connectors and other necessary components must be placed on the SOM carrier board.
  • The application areas of System on Modules are mainly in the field of multimedia human-machine interface (HMI) as well as in automation, robotics and communication.

Why are SOMs so popular?

With the advancing digitalization and the rapidly increasing demands for ever more powerful and smaller embedded computers, the complexity of these systems is rapidly increasing. To make this development manageable for the user, more and more functions are being integrated into System on Chips (SoC) by the leading semiconductor manufacturers. Our goal as a SOM manufacturer is to accommodate the critical timings of the high-speed components as well as the very high number of connections in the smallest possible space and to produce the SOM in high quality and quantity.

In addition to the IoT Gateways, our Human Machine Interfaces can also be quickly, easily and cost-effectively adapted to individual needs using a modular system. Customers can choose between variants with and without an anodised aluminium frame and freely select the system on module used. The choice of SOM in particular allows for maximum flexibility and scalability, as interfaces, computing power and GPU performance can be adapted according to current requirements. In combination with different installation and printing variants, this results in a wide range of possible applications for the DHMI family. Adaptation to a new display is also easy thanks to the separate display interface board, thus enabling greater independence from the display manufacturer.