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Compulab cm-x270 kernel updated to 2.6.29 in OE

The cm-x270 kernel support in OpenEmbedded has just been updated to version 2.6.29.

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Wi2Wi W2CBW003 Wifi/Bluetooth module review

The Wi2Wi W2CBW003 is a highly integrated module that provides both Wifi and Bluetooth radios for embedded designs. This module is ideal for embedded designs, as it provides a lot of functionality in a small package and includes standard interfaces like SPI, SDIO and serial that connect with most embedded CPUs. With the availability of modules like the W2CBW003 and standard drivers in the Linux kernel, including radio functionality in an embedded device is very doable, even for low volume products. Wi2Wi provides an evaluation board for the W2CBW003 with a SDIO connector, UART connector, and BT Audio Connectors. For this review, the eval board was connected to a Marvel PXA270 ARM processor, and evaluated with current Linux and associated software.

W2CBW003 Overview

The W2CBW003 module integrates both WiFi and Bluetooth functionality in a 12mm x 12mm x 1.6mm package. The WiFi portion is based on the Marvell 88W8686, and the Bluetooth on the CSR BC04. Both of these components are well supported by Open Source software. Some other features include:

  • Separate Antennas for WiFi and BT.
  • ROHS compliant
  • Single Supply at 3.3V
  • 802.11g support (54Mbps)
  • Both SPI and SDIO interfaces for WiFi
  • UART interface for BT
  • PCM audio interface for BT

Pictures of the module and the demo board are shown below.

img_1798_small

img_1800_small

Evaluation System Configuration

The test software included with the Wi2Wi eval board is for a Windows PC, is provided in binary format only, and was not used in this review. For this review, I plugged the W2CBW003 demo board into a Compulab cm-x270 board (PXA270 cpu) running a 2.6.29-rc7 Linux kernel and a recent OpenEmbedded Angstrom distribution. With the exception of the Marvell Wifi Firmware, all software in this setup is Open Source and is available in the Linux kernel, and as packages in the OpenEmbedded Project.

When booting the kernel, you will see the following messages:

mmc0: new SDIO card at address 0001
libertas_sdio mmc0:0001:1: firmware: requesting sd8686_helper.bin
libertas_sdio mmc0:0001:1: firmware: requesting sd8686.bin
libertas: 00:19:88:06:0b:2e, fw 9.70.3p25, cap 0x00000303
eth2 (libertas_sdio): not using net_device_ops yet
libertas: PREP_CMD: command 0x00a3 failed: 2
libertas: PREP_CMD: command 0x00a3 failed: 2
libertas: eth2: Marvell WLAN 802.11 adapter

The “command 0x00a3 failed” messages are harmless, and have to do with features that are not supported. After the system boots, you will now see a new ethX network device:

root@cm-x270:~# ifconfig -a
...
eth2      Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:19:88:06:0B:2E
          BROADCAST MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
          RX packets:65902 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:1758 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
          RX bytes:13550002 (12.9 MiB)  TX bytes:251627 (245.7 KiB)

The “iwlist eth2 scanning” command will list available access points.

Connecting to Open WiFi Networks

A connection to an open wifi network can be accomplished by placing the following in /etc/network/interfaces:

/etc/network/interfaces:
iface eth1 inet dhcp
    wireless_mode managed
    wireless_essid any

And now execute “ifup eth2”:

root@cm-x270:~# ifup eth2
udhcpc (v1.13.2) started
run-parts: /etc/udhcpc.d/00avahi-autoipd exited with code 1
Sending discover...
Sending select for 192.168.1.115...
Lease of 192.168.1.115 obtained, lease time 86400
run-parts: /etc/udhcpc.d/00avahi-autoipd exited with code 1
adding dns 208.67.222.222
adding dns 208.67.220.220

root@cm-x270:~# iwlist eth2
iwlist: unknown command `eth2' (check 'iwlist --help').
root@cm-x270:~# iwconfig eth2
eth2      IEEE 802.11b/g  ESSID:"bec3"
          Mode:Managed  Frequency:2.437 GHz  Access Point: 00:18:39:C1:AD:4A
          Bit Rate:1 Mb/s   Tx-Power=13 dBm
          Retry short limit:8   RTS thr=2347 B   Fragment thr=2346 B
          Encryption key:off
          Power Management:off
          Link Quality=84/100  Signal level=-37 dBm  Noise level=-87 dBm
          Rx invalid nwid:0  Rx invalid crypt:14707457  Rx invalid frag:0
          Tx excessive retries:58  Invalid misc:3   Missed beacon:0

WPA Secured WiFi Networks

The OpenEmbedded console image includes the WPA Supplicant packages which is used to manage wireless connections to secured networks. To set up the system for WPA encryption, modify the following files:

/etc/network/interfaces:
iface eth2 inet dhcp
   wpa-conf /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf
   wpa-driver wext
/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf:
ctrl_interface=/var/run/wpa_supplicant
ctrl_interface_group=0
eapol_version=1
ap_scan=1
fast_reauth=1

network={
      ssid="bec"
      proto=WPA2
      key_mgmt=WPA-PSK
      pairwise=CCMP TKIP
      group=CCMP TKIP
      scan_ssid=1
      psk="ascii passphrase"
      priority=10
}

Then, execute “ifup eth2”, and you should see something like:

root@cm-x270:~# ifup eth2
WPA: Configuring Interface
udhcpc (v1.13.2) started
run-parts: /etc/udhcpc.d/00avahi-autoipd exited with code 1
Sending discover...
Sending select for 192.168.1.115...
Lease of 192.168.1.115 obtained, lease time 86400
run-parts: /etc/udhcpc.d/00avahi-autoipd exited with code 1
adding dns 208.67.222.222
adding dns 208.67.220.220
root@cm-x270:~# iwconfig eth2
eth2      IEEE 802.11b/g  ESSID:"bec"
          Mode:Managed  Frequency:2.412 GHz  Access Point: 00:40:10:10:00:03
          Bit Rate:1 Mb/s   Tx-Power=13 dBm
          Retry short limit:8   RTS thr=2347 B   Fragment thr=2346 B
          Encryption key:<too big>   Security mode:open
          Power Management:off
          Link Quality=64/100  Signal level=-68 dBm  Noise level=-89 dBm
          Rx invalid nwid:0  Rx invalid crypt:-1463809279  Rx invalid frag:0
          Tx excessive retries:22524  Invalid misc:3   Missed beacon:0

Other Observations

With the above networks, the bec access point was much further away than the bec3 AP, so you will notice the difference in link quality. “iwlist eth2 rate” can be used to list the current connection rate. When the network is idle, it sits at 1Mb/s. When downloading a large file, it will climb to 36 or 54Mb/s, depending on link quality.

Production Issues

The review demonstrates that it is fairly simple to set up a demo quality Embedded Linux system with WiFi. Some of the issues that would likely need addressed for a production system include link management, test software for certification, and power management.

There are several ways to programatically control WPA Supplicant including linking to the wpa supplicant control interface, or using DBus. There are several WiFi management applications available including Gnome NetworkManager (used in desktop systems), and connman which seems a little better suited for embedded systems.

Unless you use a completely pre-certified module + antenna solution, you will likely need to do some level of agency certification. As many products use a custom antenna, this is an important issue to consider and plan for. While Marvell provides test software and firmware, it will likely require some work, as their software is designed to be used with their in-house drivers rather than the libertas driver which is available with modern kernels.

Also, if you want to minimize the power usage, some work will be required to figure out the power modes supported, and how to implement/control them. With this module, the Wifi and BT portions run off the same crystal, so if you only want the BT active, you will need to actively power manage the Wifi portion to a low power state instead of completely disabling it.

Conclusion

TheW2CBW003 module is an attractive solution for products that need WiFi functionality. With the availability of modules like this, and mainstream open source software, the technology is available to about anyone, including low volume manufacturers. Standard interfaces such as SDIO make it possible to interface this module with about any modern ARM processor that can run Linux. Software support in the Linux kernel, wpa supplicant, and the Linux wireless tools provide the needed software support to implement a very complex system with relatively little effort.

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GTK performance on PXA270 vs. OMAP3

Several of my customers have built applications using the GTK+ tookit.  While GTK+ works fairly well for what we have done, I have been wondering how the performance compares on the new Omap3 processors from TI. As we are evaluating the OMAP3 for several projects, I did a simple comparison with an existing application.  Below is a video that shows a fairly complex application running on both a PXA270, and a OMAP3530.  While the PXA270 gets the job done, the result on the OMAP3 is much more pleasing.  With that advent of a OMAP3 module available for $117 in volume, it seems like the OMAP3 will be a popular solution for upcoming Embedded Linux projects.

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Compulab cm-x270 kernel update to 2.6.24

The kernel support in OpenEmbedded for the Compulab cm-x270 has been updated to version 2.6.24.  The 2.6.24 kernel opens up several possibilities including better real time and high resolution timer functionality, an improved SD Card driver, and a full SDIO stack with support for SDIO Wifi devices.  Also included is a patch to set the default framebuffer depth to 16 for several commonly used displays.  Xfbev really does not like when you give it a 8-bit framebuffer when it is expecting 16, and typically returns a very unhelpful error message like: “error: Invalid argument”.

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Linux 2.6.23 for the Compulab cm-x270

Updated 2.6.23 kernel patches for the Compulab cm-x270 are now available in OpenEmbedded:

http://www.openembedded.org/filebrowser/org.openembedded.dev/packages/linux/linux-2.6.23/cm-x270

The cm-x270 support in OpenEmbedded has undergone a lot of clean-up in recent weeks.  Now is a good time to give OpenEmbedded a try if you need a full featured Linux distribution for the cm-x270.

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Howto load Openembedded on the Compulab cm-x270 computer module

There are quite a few people using (or would like to use) OpenEmbedded on the Compulab cm-x270.  The cm-x270 is a high performance, low cost computer module that can be used with a custom baseboard in embedded systems (see http://bec-systems.com/web/content/view/62/9/ for a review).  I get a lot of questions on how to load OpenEmbedded on this system, so this howto attempts to detail a procedure that can be used to load OpenEmbedded.

The NAND Flash wrinkle

The Linux solution provided by compulab includes a proprietary NAND flash driver.  Most developers are interested in using standard Linux MTD drivers with the JFFS2 filesystem, but its not readily obvious how to flash a JFFS2 NAND image using the cm-x270 bootloader.  Fortunately, you can boot a small Linux image stored in NOR flash, and then use standard MTD utilities to then flash the NAND jffs2 image.

Creating the needed images

For this method, you need to generate two images: a small image to run from NOR flash, and a larger full featured image that will run from NAND flash.  Because you only have about 2.3MB of NOR flash, you want to use uclibc in the NOR image as it is much smaller.  A base Linux image that will boot into a shell using uclibc and contains a few utilities is about 1MB in size, which leaves plenty of space for custom apps should you need them in this partition.  The local.conf settings to build this image are:

MACHINE = "cm-x270"
DISTRO = "angstrom-2008.1"
ANGSTROM_MODE = "uclibc"
IMAGE_FSTYPES = "jffs2 tar cpio.gz"

At this point, “bitbake angstrom-minimal-image-with-mtd-utils”, and OE will generate a “minimalist-image-mtdutils-cm-x270.cpio.gz” image that can be programmed into the NOR ramdisk partition using the cm-x270 bootloader, and tftp download.  A kernel will also be built that should be programmed into the kernel partition.

To build the NAND image, simply remove the ANGSTROM_MODE line, and “bitbake angstrom-console-image”.  This will generate a “console-image-cm-x270.rootfs-summary.jffs2” that can be programmed into NAND flash.

Programming Images

Loading the software onto the cm-x270 is a multi-step process.  The first step is to the load the kernel image and the minimalist-image into NOR flash using the cm-x270 bootloader and tftp.  After this is accomplished, run the following commands to boot into the NOR flash rootfs:

  • ramdisk on
  • bootos

If successful, you will be presented with a prompt — log in as user root, and no password.

You now need to download the jffs2 NAND image into RAM on the cm-x270.  One way to do this is to use the tftp download feature in busybox:

tftp -g -r console-image-cm-x270.rootfs-summary.jffs2 <tftp server IP>

At this point you can program the jffs2 image into NAND flash:

  • flash_eraseall -j /dev/mtd3
  • nandwrite /dev/mtd3 console-image-cm-x270.rootfs-summary.jffs2

After programming completes, reboot the system and enter the following in the cm-x270 bootloader:

  • ramdisk off (this will disable the initramfs in NOR flash)
  • bootos

At this point, your system should boot into the main NAND rootfs.  With a little imagination, it should be obvious that you can do a lot of neat things with this type of setup by extending the functionality in the NOR rootfs including field upgrades and system recovery.

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Compulab cm-x270 NAND flash eraseblock sizes

If you are having trouble mounting a JFFS2 file system on a Compulab cm-x270 module, you may have a device that has a NAND flash with 16KiB eraseblocks.  All of the devices I have personally used to date have had 128KiB eraseblocks, but I just helped a cm-x270 user through some flash issues and after much pain discovered the eraseblock size was 16KiB on his module.  A variable has been added to the cm-x270.conf file in OE to set the eraseblock size that can be overridden in your local.conf file if you are using OpenEmbedded to generate jffs2 images:

http://git.openembedded.net/?p=openembedded.git;a=blob;f=conf/machine/cm-x270.conf;h=3c21c546b1320914c9b5d2c44e7332782fc58748

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Linux 2.6.22 for the Compulab cm-x270

I just completed porting the cm-x270 Linux kernel patches to the 2.6.22 kernel.  Kernel build is available in OpenEmbedded.  Patches are available in the OE tree:

http://www.openembedded.org/filebrowser/org.openembedded.dev/packages/linux/compulab-pxa270-2.6.22

Shortly I will be making 2.6.22 the default kernel for the cm-x270 in OpenEmbedded and posting instructions on how to use JFFS2 with the NAND flash on the cm-x270.

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Compulab EM-X270 Review

The EM-X270 is a full featured computer board from Compulab (http://www.compulab.co.il/x270em/html/x270-em-datasheet.htm) designed for handheld/mobile applications.  The board includes options for about anything you might need in a portable system including a PXA270 processor, GSM radio, GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth, Audio, SD/MMC, USB, battery circuitry, and the list goes on.  The EM-X270 is designed to give you a big head start in designing a handheld computing device, and can significantly reduce time to market and design costs.  This article provides a high level overview of this product, how it might be used, and lots of photos.

EM-X270 Overview

The EM-X270 is a computer board about the size of a display you might find in a typical PDA.  While the size is probably a little large to be used in consumer devices like phones and PDAs, it seems like a nice size for slightly larger products used in vertical industries.

em-x270_1

As already mentioned, the EM-X270 includes about all the base features you might need in a mobile computing device.  An expansion connector is also included that allows you to easily add custom circuitry to the system.  The stack-up between the EM-X270 and an expansion board is shown below:

em-x270_2

The EM-X270 differers from most other embedded computer modules in that it is a little more application specified, and quite a bit more circuitry is included in the design such as power supplies, battery charging circuitry, radios, etc.

Why EM-X270?

Why are we interested in the EM-X270?  If all you need is a generic handheld computer, there are plenty of options from PDAs to off-the-shelf industrial handhelds.  However, if you need a handheld that provides some additional features not typically found in existing devices, then you can use the EM-X270 plus a custom baseboard and packaging to add your high value features.  Depending what you need to add, the expansion board can be a simple 4 layer board which is very easy to design and manufacture.  All of the complex PCB design and assembly is already done for you on the EM-X270 module.  This allows low to moderate volume manufactures design products where they would not otherwise have the time and budget for designing a full custom processor board.   Some example applications might be handheld products for the medical, industrial, and test and measurement industry.

Compulab’s pricing model is also very interesting.  Compulab will custom build EM-X270 modules with just the options you need.  The base price without any extra features (such as radios) is $122 for 1000 pieces.

The EB-X270 Evaluation Kit

Compulab provides a EB-X270 Evaluation kit for getting started with EM-X270 development.  Like their other Evaluation klits, is is very full featured and very well done.   An extender board is provided that adds Ethernet, JTAG, and several other useful connectors for development.

em-x270_3

The eval kit also includes all necessary cables, a display, battery, etc.

em-x270_4

Software for the EM-X270

Compulab provides software support for both Windows CE and Linux.  This includes very up-to-date support for kernel version 2.6.23.  EM-X270 machine support has also been included in the OpenEmbedded project for building full featured Linux images.  This combination will drastically reduce development costs compared to solutions provided by many other vendors.  All too often, single board computer vendors provide an ancient kernel, a hacked up root file system and call it a “Linux BSP”.  Actually, any time the term “Linux BSP” is used, you should probably be a bit wary.  A much more attractive solution for those of us building products using Linux is for processor and module vendors to say “our products are supported in the mainstream kernel and OpenEmbedded sources”.  Compulab is doing it right.

OpenEmbedded provides many interesting options for devices like the EM-X270.  One of the most interesting might be the ability to run the OpenMoko software on industrial devices.

Compulab provides a Linux demo image built with OpenEmbedded that runs the GPE Palmtop Environment.  The method for loading this image is interesting, and similar to the method I have been using for some time with systems based on the cm-x270 module (http://bec-systems.com/web/content/view/82/9/) in that it used mtd-utils from a running Linux system to erase and write to the NAND flash.  The bootloader in the EM-X270 is able to boot a kernel and rootfs directly from a USB Flash disk.  This “LiveDisk” image, as Compulab calls it, contains a small utility that programs an image from the USB flash disk directly into NAND flash.

As with any modern Linux based embedded system, there is a lot going on in a very small package.  Managing this complexity effectively requires some amount of experience.  Stay tuned for future articles that discuss using OpenEmbedded to build software for the EM-X270.

Additional Photos

em-x270_5

em-x270_6

em-x270_7

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Compulab cm-x270 PXA270 module review

We are in the process of supporting a customer who is designing a product that uses the Compulab cm-x270 “Computer-on-module”.  The cm-x270 is a small computer module 66x44x7mm that contains an Intel PXA270 ARM processor similar to those found in many PDAs or smart phones.  This review provides an overview of the cm-x270, why it was selected, and how we are using it.

Project Needs

For this project, we needed a low cost embedded computer that could drive a VGA (640×480) color display.  The graphical user interface for the device was fairly advanced, so we were also looking at a system that could run a modern OS with an advanced graphical toolkit.  After discussing the display requirements with the customer, we concluded that we needed a 32-bit processor with a LCD display controller.  As there was some custom circuitry needed, a configuration where the customer could design a custom baseboard and use an off-the-shelf computer module seemed optimal.  The schedule was also very aggressive and we did not have the time or budget to develop a full custom processor board.

CM-X270

After researching a number of computer modules, we chose the cm-x270 from Compulab.  The cm-x270 is a module that includes the following components:

  • Intel PXA270 ARM processor (up to 520Mhz)
  • 802.11b Interface
  • up to 128MB SDRAM
  • 128-512MB NAND flash
  • up to 4MB NOR flash
  • PCMCIA
  • PCI
  • Serial Ports
  • Touch panel controller (UCB1400)
  • Host and Slave USB
  • and other features …

For more details visit the compulab web site (http://http://www.compulab.co.il ).  The cm-x270 provides a very impressive number of features in a very small space.

Below is a picture of the cm-x270 mounted on the Compulab SBC-X270 baseboard with a VGA display.  The system is running the GPE Palmtop Environment built with OpenEmbedded.

cm-x270-002

Low Cost

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the cm-x270 is the cost.  When ordering in volume, Compulab will build the module with only the components you need.  For prototyping, you can order a standard offering with all components populated.  Starting a price of $50, it is the lowest cost module we found.  The configuration we will be using costs around $98 in 2K quantities (64MB DRAM, 4MB NOR Flash, 512MHz + 128MB NAND Flash + Audio/Touchscreen + RTC).  Eventually, we may be able to reduce some of the features and get the price down around $70 per module.

At this price, the cm-x270 provides a very cost effective way to develop a low volume product (a few thousand per year) with advanced features provided by the PXA270 processor.

Documentation

The bootloader and hardware design of the cm-x270 is proprietary.  Compulab does not supply schematics for the design or source code to the bootloader.  The documentation provided is adequate and provided all the information we needed to complete the design.  Compulab also provides schematics for their development baseboard, which is helpful.

Bootloader

The cm-x270 bootloader provides typical features found in an embedded processor bootloader, including: a serial console, NAND and NOR flash programming, download images from a tftp server, downloading images over a USB connection to a PC, and a number of other configuration commands.  The tftp download works very well and is fast.  The USB download is much slower, but is convenient for systems that do not have a network connection.  The USB download requires a windows PC with a specific version of Microsoft ActiveSync installed, which is unfortunate.  A more general solution that uses something like libusb (http://libusb.sourceforge.net/) instead of ActiveSync would be preferred as it could then run on both Windows and Linux computers.

Linux Support

Compulab provides a fairly complete port of the 2.6.16 Linux kernel for the cm-x270 in the form of a kernel patch.  Most of the peripherals we tested seem to work with the following exceptions:

  • The SD card driver is not preempt safe.  In this application, we need kernel preemption turned on to meet certain real-time requirements.
  • The Touch driver contains a small bug that does not allow applications using it to exit properly

Overall, support is pretty good and enabled us to get started with development quickly.

NAND Flash Driver

As the Compulab module only provides 4MB of NOR flash, using the NAND flash is a requirement when implementing a full featured Linux system with an advanced graphical user interface.  Compulab provides a binary module that is linked into a kernel driver to support the NAND flash.  This driver provides a block interface on which standard filesystems like ext2 can be used.  The NAND driver has worked fairly well, although we have seen several cases where we get I/O errors if we remove power to the device without shutting down the system properly.  The way to recover is to do a low level format the NAND flash.  This should not be an issue with this product as we will have a backup battery that will be used to power the system during shutdown if power is removed.  We may eventually move to an open source JFFS2 flash driver as time permits.

The proprietary NAND driver presents an additional wrinkle in that the driver cannot be linked into the kernel due to GPL licensing requirements.  One solution is to boot a small root file system from NOR flash that includes the NAND driver module, and then proceed to boot from NAND flash.

GNU/Linux Root File System

Compulab provides an example root file system (I think based on Debian) and suggests using scratchbox to build applications.  We looked at it briefly, but then decided to build our own rootfs using OpenEmbedded for the following reasons:

  • We can easily add additional packages from the extensive OpenEmbedded catalog as needed.
  • Allows us to have an rootfs independent of the module — we can more easily move to other processor modules or architectures in the future.
  • OpenEmbedded provides us with mechanisms for package management and building complete images that include our applications and tweaks to the OS.

For more information on OpenEmbedded, read our “Introduction to OpenEmbedded “.  With OpenEmbedded, we were able to quickly build a toolchain and a root file system that included the kdrive version of Xwindows and GTK+ libraries.  This rootfs fits in less than 32MB of flash disk space, which is much smaller than Compulab’s OS image.

We have also added machine configuration files to the OpenEmbedded project to support the cm-x270: http://www.openembedded.org/repo/org.openembedded.dev/conf/machine/compulab-pxa270.conf

Design Support

Compulab seems mainly interested in customers who are interested in purchasing modules in volume.  They do not sell low cost development boards such as LogicPD’s $500 board.  Compulab requires you to purchase a fairly high cost development system ($1900) in order to get started.  Part of this cost is to pay for Compulab’s support costs.  For companies who do not have experience designing systems with PXA270 class processors, we highly recommend getting some up-front help from someone who has experience with these systems.  Even though the module takes care of a lot of the design complexity, it helps to have a detailed understanding of the PXA270 and associated components, as you still need to interact with them.  Consulting companies like BEC Systems can provide assistance in the form of hardware design reviews and Linux OS support to accelerate projects and help avoid costly mistakes and delays.  As Compulab designs only the module, there is only so much they can do when you run into problems — as shown in the next section.

Issues Encountered

Overall, the project using the cm-x270 has gone well.  The only real challenge we have faced is a latch-up issue with the ITE PCI controller on the cm-x270 module.  It appears that this part is very sensitive to the characteristics of the 3.3V supply to the module.  After a considerable amount of debugging and testing, we were able to solve this problem with some filtering and slowing down the rise time of the 3.3V supply.  This is a good example of where a project can get difficult very quickly when things don’t work as expected.

Summary

So far, the cm-x270 has worked very well in this project.  With its low cost, it is a very attractive option for companies wanting to implement advanced functionality in their products, but don’t have the time, sales volumes, or experience to justify a full processor board design.  Feel free to post comments about your experiences using embedded computer modules.