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Quarterly Bulletin
SMARC – Computer-on-Module - Technology Overview

The Smart Mobility ARChitecture (SMARC) form factor has since its introduction in 2012 gained a lot of attention and use in the embedded market thanks to the rapid growth of ARM-based computer-on-modules. In recent years more and more embedded companies have joined the supervising consortium SGET to support the standard and offer their own SMARC modules. The reason for SMARCs popularity can be found in many of the factors that distinguish it from the competition.

The main reason for SMARC`s popularity is the extremely compact design with dimensions 82 mm × 50 mm for compact low-power designs and 82 mm × 80 mm for designs with higher performance and greater cooling requirements. The compact size, together with the initial focus on ARM-based solutions and low power usage of 2W to 6W during active use, makes the SMARC standard suitable for many space-constrained fanless embedded applications. 

MXM connectors for reliable performance

SMARC Computer-on-Modules have a 314 pin MXM 3.0 contact on the PCB of the module which is plugged in via a connector on the application-specific carrier board.The connector generally has a height of 4.3 mm and is also used for MXM 3.0 graphic cards making it inexpensive, well proven and highly available. MXM connectors also has good track record of being reliable in demanding environments including humidity, vibrations and temperature changes. These characteristics make SMARC modules suitable for rugged embedded applications.

Module form factor comparison

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A size comparison of Com Express, SMARC and Qseven module form factors.


Carrier boards make the difference

The SMARC modules are used together with an application-specific carrier board. The size and form of the carrier board is developed with the end product in mind making it fully custom for the customer’s requirements. The application-specific carrier board contains the required interfaces and can integrate additional features like audio, touch control, Wi-Fi, camera and more.


The emergence of SMARC

The increasing popularity of small carrier board dependent modules in recent years is largely related to the growing complexity in the processor industry. Processors´ complexity came to a point where one could question using in-house development of hardware, even at big production volumes. The use of standardized computer boards (COTS, Computer-Off-The-Shelf) increasingly became the choice to consider even for industrial use. However, a company wanting to put an exclusive product on the market will need a variety of functions and interfaces; and this speaks against the use of standardized products.

This situation was the breeding ground for the idea to use a readymade computer module mounted on an application-specific carrier board, like SMARC. The SMARC module generally contains the CPU, chipset and memory and is often standardized to be used in products from different companies. The hardware as a whole is made unique and exclusive by adapting the functionality and interfaces on the carrier board to the requirements of the end-product.



As the SMARC standard has developed during its first years on the market, manufacturers have seen an increasing need to revise the standard. Version 2.0 of the SMARC embedded standard was therefore released by SGET in June 2016 to cater to these requirements. The new version contains a revised pinout to better suit today’s requirements and offer better support and compatibility for X86 platforms. Intel’s progress in power efficiency in recent years in its X86-based processors has made them suitable for use in the SMARC form factor. The SMARC 2.0 standard is better adapted to exploit the interfaces supplied by both X86 and ARM-based processors.

Other changes and new  interfaces in SMARC 2.0 include a second channel LVDS, a second Ethernet port, IEEE1588 Trigger Signals, a fourth PCI Express Lane, extra USB ports (now up to 6x USB 2.0 + 2x USB SS signals), x86 power management signals, eSPI and DP++.

SCM120 is a module compliant with the SMARC version 1.0 specification and based on the Freescale i.MX6 Series SoC with ARM Cortex™-A9 CPU.

Hectronic and SMARC

Hectronic is, as the leading designer and manufacturer of embedded solutions in the Nordic region, well equipped to deliver SMARC-based systems and boards to our customers’ requirements, both as standard and fully custom products. Hectronic´s in-house hardware and software departments help customers reach their goals by developing boards and products matching the customers’ requirements. Unlike Hectronic, many other companies outsource parts of the development process, making future product support and further development more of a risk.

Do you have a project that’s about to start or is planned for the future? Are you considering using a computer on module but don’t know what form factor to go for? Give us a call or send an email to see what Hectronic can offer in terms of embedded solutions that are tailored to your requirements.

If you are looking for more information, don’t hesitate to contact our sales department at +46 18 660 700 or send an email to sales@hectronic.se.


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