Improved specifications meet application demands

Open systems have the advantage of being the creation of many minds with many perspectives on what should be done. Therefore, many of these systems were originally developed to be general in their applicability, and found deployment applications like machine control and instrumentation. However, many of these systems have also migrated to industries that traditionally embraced only purpose-built and proprietary architectures based the belief that no open standard adequately met their needs. PICMG has been very busy of late trying to bridge this gap, and has released, or is about to release, a number of significant specifications to both improve existing platforms and adapt them to new market spaces,

CompactPCI Express

Based on and first released in 2005, CompactPCI Express is a modular instrumentation and standard pioneered by National Instruments. A new revision, Revision 2.0, was released in March and adds higher speed data channels, including 5 Gbps and 8 Gbps PCI Express. CompactPCI Express adds instrumentation clocks and triggers to basic CompactPCI, and is largely plug compatible with both the CompactPCI and the PXI standards.

Physics Design Guide (PDG.0)

The “Big Science” community likes the High Availability (HA) architecture of (), , and the Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC) because, in many cases, they need equipment that can keep running in the event of individual card or subsystem failure. You can’t just shut down a large accelerator like the one at CERN to replace something, and radiation levels prohibit human presence when the machines are running. In April, PICMG released its Design Guide for Physics (PDG.0), which provides guidance for using the aforementioned platforms to collect what can be hundreds of thousands of data acquisition channels with sub-nanosecond resolution and synchronization.


MicroTCA was originally developed to provide a lower cost, smaller size platform that maintained the HA features of ATCA. It is becoming popular not so much for commercial telecommunications, but rather for military apps that require extreme ruggedness and performance at a lower price point than some other standards that address this market. Last year, PICMG released the MicroTCA.3 standard, which defined a hardened, conduction cooled system for extreme and mobile environments. In May, the MicroTCA.2 variant was completed and released, and it details the design of hybrid air/conduction cooled systems that are well suited for many applications and cost less to build than purely conduction cooled ones.

Figure 1: MicroTCA.2 is a hybrid air/conduction cooled specification designed for extreme environment applications.

COM Express Carrier Design Guide Revision 2.0

Small form factors play an important role in embedded systems, and there are lots and lots and lots of solutions available. These small form factors proliferate for two main reasons. First, many high-volume applications are so cost sensitive that only the bare minimum of features can be afforded. Second, it is often hard to abstract the physical signals provided by processor chipsets from the user interface – the chip guys change these interfaces regularly for their own reasons, and that makes keeping a fresh standard difficult.

The PICMG Carrier Design Guide subcommittee has been working on an update, and the latest revision (Revision 2.0) is in the final balloting process. The updated revision includes examples for the newest interfaces available in COM Express, including DisplayPort, SuperSpeed USB 3.0, PCI Express Gen3, and CAN. Veteran COM Express module and carrier designers maintain the Design Guide to ensure that all the best tips and tricks are included. Schematic examples are provided from known working designs to help baseboard engineers minimize risk and maximize interoperability. The Design Guide is an invaluable resource for COM.0 carrier designers that want to get it right the first time. This should be completed by mid-summer of this year.

*Both of the design guide specifications are or will be available for download from the PICMG website (