What are SoMs and why are they so essential?
Time is money and should never be wasted. This motto applies to everything, including building technology. This is why modular systems are all the rage right now, as they provide all the functionality you need without having to invest the time to design, find and assemble the components yourself. If this is something new to you, don’t worry! Our team of development experts are here to help you with the essential guide to understanding SoMs.
What is an SoM?
Before we get into other details, let’s start from the very beginning. A System-on-Module is a small package with all the main components of an on-board processing system. This includes processor cores, communication setups, and memory blocks on a small production-ready printed circuit board (PCB). Basically, an SoM is a complete CPU architecture in a small package. This approach allows SOMs to be integrated into end systems ranging from complex robots to home security cameras.
But, a System-on-Module should not be confused with System-on-a-Chip (SoC). An SoC is a collection of key computer components, all assembled on a chip. A SOM is board based and can include many more components, and a SOC can be one of them. So keep this in mind when choosing what you want to integrate into your technologies!
Blade servers are at the origin of the creation of SoMs. These small servers were created to minimize power consumption and save storage space. The elegant design of the blade servers was applied to the assembly of the SOMs. Only the components necessary for the function are all in a small box. Still, that doesn’t prevent them from being used in many applications, most of which we’ll talk about in a moment.
Why use an SoM?
Now that you know and understand what an SoM is, let’s start discussing why they should be used in embedded systems.
The main reason SoMs are so great is the time saving aspect. Designing your product based on an SoM takes much less time than designing an entire system from scratch. Usually, building the CPU infrastructure is what takes the most time when it comes to building embedded systems. Instead, you can take advantage of an SoM to save time and effort that could be better spent elsewhere.
SoMs offer a whole range of features and processor speeds in the same packages. So companies can deliver the same carrier card at multiple speeds, and customers can easily design custom carrier cards that meet all of their needs without having to think about individual processor and memory. The problem of complicated custom cables is also eliminated, as most companies will offer pre-wired connectors that match commercial cables. With simple process upgrades and downgrades, anyone can build their dream system without spending all of their budget and time.
Another reason is the advancement of semiconductor technologies. Designing a microprocessor subsystem or an FPGA subsystem also takes a lot of time and care. Semiconductors are more and more advanced, which means there is a lot of information and little details to take into account during the construction process. Instead, using a SoM like the i.MX8M Plus, you can spend that time really focusing on the personality of your product and taking advantage of the complexity.
An SoM makes it possible to reduce the development cost of manufacturing an embedded system. As we mentioned, time is money, and by spending much less time on design work, most of the engineering expense is eliminated.
End of life risk
Using an SoM reduces the risk of an end-of-life product based on a flash chipset or processor going to end of life. The system can start working again, all with a simple exchange without any modification to the carrier card. Most SoMs, including those in the i.MX8M series, have a lifespan of over 5 years, so customers won’t have to worry about spending a budget on cards every year.
Common applications of SoMs
SoMs are used in all areas, some expected and some unexpected.
Software and hardware development
Edge computing and non-latency local data processing can be achieved using SoM. These eliminate the need for expert hardware knowledge and experience by providing an intuitive design that anyone can apply. And software developers who interact with vision applications will really appreciate the easily configurable sensors provided by SOMs.
Any hardware developer knows that production needs to be completed as quickly as possible. Therefore, limited resources must be focused on the tasks with the greatest impact. A SOM provides the performance and flexibility of a Field Programmable Door Network (FPGA) without all the hassle of PCB design and integration.
The most common application of modular systems is security cameras. Many of the best SoMs, such as the i.MX8M Plus, provide 4K vision and video processing, which makes them so perfect for this application. Most advanced 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, consistently delivering accurate data in real time.
Machine vision is the basis of many tasks on which the modern economy relies, such as inventory inspection, fault detection, signature recognition, etc. These require an on-board system that will analyze live data and offer sensor capabilities. SOMs can be used to apply machine vision without exorbitant costs.
SoMs are the future of embedded systems development. The examples listed above are just a few of the hundreds of applications. Especially during the pandemic, home automation is high on people’s priority list, 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!