Frank Urbe
Frank Urbe
Senior Manager, SST EMEA
Published: July 21, 2023

In recent years, we often hear about Make or Buy, Time to Market, Scalability, and Cost optimization. Customers very often are talking or considering the “buy solution” of a computer module when using these phrases. Before diving in into the details, we need some definition.


A Single Board Computer (SBC) is a complete computer on a single printed circuit board, including the clock, microprocessor, RAM, flash memory, Ethernet, and I/O controllers.

A Computer On Module (COM) or a “System-On-Module" (SoM) typically does not have I/O sockets for direct connection to peripherals. They must be plugged into the main board (often called Carrier Board or Base Board), which completes the I/O pathways to the outside world.

This approach is very common because an end customer can focus on developing the core competence (e.g., POS, factory automation, medical) as below:

  • A customized baseboard with specific I/Os
  • An add-on card (e.g., M.2 form factor on the baseboard)
  • Software running on the baseboard

Form Factors

It is easier said but the devil is in the detail. While an SBC is driven by the application itself, customers are developing the solution based on the requirements of the selected fitting SoM that varies in several circumstances. This section gives an overview of acronyms and major form factors. Major form factors are defined by SGET. SGETs major focus is Arm architecture, therefore we are looking carefully at SGETs initiatives.

SGET “Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies”

SGeT Logo

The Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies – or in short SGET – is an international not-for-profit association of companies and organizations that collaboratively develop independent specifications for embedded computer technology. SGET e.V. is a registered technical, scientific, and educational association organized under German law. The purpose is to provide a platform to define and market open industry standards for embedded technologies.

SGET Goals:

  • Provide a platform to grow embedded industry specifications with low overhead and high performance
  • Truly globally oriented, not limited to Europe
  • Define market industry standards without bureaucracy
  • Free access and download to all specifications without limits
  • Broad and open organization
  • Independent specification/working groups for embedded technologies (Hardware, Software, Systems, Interfaces, Mechanics, …)

Since 2021, Renesas is a member of SGET e.V. It is important that Renesas and SGET share our experiences in MPU designs as well as get feedback from the field on what is required.

SMARC “Smart Mobility ARChitecture”

The SMARC® (“Smart Mobility ARChitecture”) is a versatile small form factor computer module in definition targeting applications that require low power, low costs, and high performance.

The modules will typically use Arm SoCs similar to or the same as those used in many familiar devices such as tablet computers and smartphones.

Two module sizes are defined: 82mm x 50mm and 82mm x 80mm.

  • The module PCBs have 314 edges with a low profile 314-pin 0.5mm pitch right angle pin connector
  • Third Spec in discussion
    The latest Spec is 2.1, and currently, SGET is working on a new smaller form factor.
Comparison between Full and Half Size SMARC Modules
Figure 1. Comparison Between Full and Half Size SMARC Modules

OSM (Open Standard Modules™)

The idea of all Open Standard Modules™ is to create a new, future proof and versatile standard for small-size, low-cost embedded computer modules, combining the following key characteristics:

  • Completely machine processible during soldering, assembly, and testing
  • Different possible packages for direct PCB soldering without a connector
  • Pre-defined soft- and hardware interfaces
  • Open-Source in soft- and hardware

The Open Standard Module™ (OSM) specification allows for developing, producing, and distributing embedded modules for the most popular MCU32, Arm and even x86 architectures. For a growing number of IoT applications, this standard helps to combine the advantages of modular embedded computing with increasing requirements regarding costs, space, and interfaces. This standard also enables different form factors, such as SMARC and proprietary to be created, and help developers to easily scale their development.

Formfactor Variation based on OSM Standard
Figure 2. Form Factor Variation Based on OSM Standard

Proprietary Form Factors

Most used modules are still based on proprietary. Even OEM customers are developing and producing computer modules for themselves to separate the processing unit from the application and split development into two different groups. Proprietary solutions allow either to focus on a specific SoC without losing any features of an SoC or focus on specialties, which can be driven by the application or the focus of one major feature, e.g., shrinking the size.

Benefit for Customers

The major benefit of using SoMs or SBCs, is the split of needed knowledge and resources. When buying a SoM or a SBC, MPU design knowledge is not needed as this is outsourced to an MPU specialist. The headache of fast interconnect, the high-speed connections, and the selection of fitting companion chips are gone.

Renesas provides two partner programs to support your development. The RZ Partner Ecosystem program delivers ready-to-go partner solutions based on RZ MPUs to accelerate your board development. On the other hand, the Preferred Partner Program is a hardware-centric partner program where our partners deliver ready-to-use hardware (incl. the BSP) featuring Renesas RZ family MPUs plus Renesas analog, sensors, and connectivity. With both our partner programs, customers can reduce the focus on the hardware and can focus on differentiating their products. Both partner programs deliver solutions and hardware for applications ranging from consumer solutions to all kinds of industrial applications including medical devices.

Visit the Renesas RZ Partner Ecosystem Solutions and Preferred Partner Program to find the right solution and right partner.

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