Kontron has introduced the new COM Express starter kit featuring the Altera Cyclone IV GX FPGA. It provides all the required components to evaluate board designs with open-definable I/Os. With this Kontron COM Express FPGA starterkit OEM developers can get an immediate start in the development of FPGA-based, dedicated applications, thus reducing the overall R&D costs and time to market for their purpose-built platforms.

For developers looking to build an application that relies on I/O unique to the application, the Kontron COM Express FPGA starterkit is the right tool to optimise overall development. The components of the starter kit are assembled in minutes allowing the user to move directly to programming on the platform that consists of the selected computer-on-module and the individual high-speed mezzanine cards (HSMC) to carry out the physical interfaces.

OEMs can use the starterkit to develop dedicated full-custom SBC designs or individual custom carrier-boards for scalable x86 based COMs, both with I/Os integrated in Altera’s transceiver-based FPGA, Cyclone IV GX. As a design partner, Kontron offers development and manufacturing services that include, but are not limited to, revision management and industry-specific certifications including ITAR and ISO 13485 – a certification necessary for the design and manufacturing of medical devices. FPGA-based I/Os on x86 processor platforms are applicable to many target markets since FPGAs can universally map to nearly all I/Os.

Due to the FPGA-based implementation of I/Os in Altera’s FPGAs, customers profit from a high-level of flexibility that allows upgrades and / or modifications without any changes to the board layout. This will change the options of the x86 platforms’ development and structure. Only the FPGA configuration and the mechanical implementation of the interfaces define the individual I/Os. This enables the use of one uniform hardware platform in various applications, reducing development efforts, time-to-market and overall total cost of ownership. OEMs also benefit from the improved long-term availability of the developed solution.

“Legacy interfaces currently are a very important domain not served by today’s chipsets. Examples include: ISA, CAN, RS232 and PCI. Moreover, industrial Ethernet configurations such as Profibus, Ethercat, Ethernet POWERLINK, etc., are very important IP cores as well, that can all be implemented in the Altera Cyclone IV GX FPGA. In addition, we are also addressing customised individual solutions and existing proprietary platforms that so far are not based on x86 technology,” explains Dirk Finstel, CTO of Kontron.

“Ideally, we also can use such platforms for highly-reliable and long-term available embedded system solutions in nearly all markets. Among other things, they will be used in military technology, for trains and aircraft, for medical technology, in industrial automation and in many other applications where high long-term availability plays a decisive role.”

“The partnership with Kontron to develop the first FPGA-based Starterkit for x86 designs shows the benefits of FPGA technology for x86 embedded computer systems,” said Michael Samuelian, director of the industrial and automotive business unit at Altera. “We see a trend growing with the manufacturers of board-level products, such as Kontron who is implementing the standard I/Os for x86 technology. The benefits of using FPGAs with processor boards and I/O boards prove the flexibility, performance, and power advantages of Altera’s FPGAs.”

The relationship between Kontron, Intel and Altera provides customers with complete embedded processor and FPGA solutions with flexible I/O. These fully validated and verified solutions consist of various form factors, which include the processors, FPGAs, IP cores, drivers, board support packages (BSPs) and support for various operating systems (e.g. Windows, VxWorks, Linux, etc.). Kontron’s global software design centre also offers FPGA programming as an optional software service for support packages (BSPs) and support for various operating systems (for example Windows, VxWorks, Linux, etc.).

Kontron’s global software design centre also offers FPGA programming as an optional software service for customers. In addition, Kontron also offers complete design and production services with the revision controls, supply chain management, regulatory test services and industry-specific requirements.

The feature set in brief

The Kontron COM Express FPGA starterkit includes all components needed for a quick start. The main component is the COM Express FPGA Baseboard for pin-out Types 1, 2 and 10 COMs such as the Kontron ETXexpress, microETXexpress or nanoETXexpress modules. The Altera Cyclone IV GX FPGA is designed into the carrier-board and the specific I/Os are configured via enclosed IP bitstreams. The configuration of the FPGA is possible through the enclosed USB-blaster download cable and the physical interfaces are brought about by two high-speed mezzanine cards (HSMCs), one communication board and one mass storage and video board. An ATX PSU and mounting kit complete the elements of the Kontron Starterkit.

The first evaluation models of the Kontron COM Express FPGA starterkit are available now. Series production is planned for Q1 2011.