Xilinx Aims to Speed Up System Design with Gen3 RF SoM
One method of accelerating system design is with a system-on-module (SoM). The newest XRF16-Gen3 Xilinx-based SoM from AVNET has improvements worth evaluating.
Last week Avnet released details on their new XRF16-Gen 3 RFSoC System-on-Module (SoM) for Multi-Channel RF Applications, based on the Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ Gen3 RFSoC.
It is a 16-channel 6-GHz direct conversion radio module designed for applications in phased-array radar, 5G telecommunications, electronic warfare, and medical imaging.
The XRF16-Gen3 is the newest generation RF SoM from Avnet. Image used courtesy of Avnet
This system follows the recently released XRF8-Gen3 SoM, an 8-channel 5-GHz SoM, based on the UltraScale+ FPGA.
In this article, it's essential to know why you might choose to select a system-on-module, what benefits Xilinx's new SoM offers over the Gen2 model, and other comparable SoMs in the industry today.
Advantages of Using an SoM
An SoM (also known as a single-board computer) is a small form-factor 'drop and deploy' computer system with onboard CPU, memory, peripherals, and other elements traditionally found in PC architectures.
Unlike the many development kits available, the XRF16-Gen SoM at $24,995 (USD) is not for the 'hobbyist' electronics market. So, the question becomes, what are the advantages of a system-on-module?
The three main advantages to using an SoM are its availability, validation of designs, and NRE savings.
First, the system is available as a consumer-off-the-shelf (COTS) product. This availability is key to ensuring a pipeline of available units for end-system production.
Second, the modules are pre-tested in the engineering sense. When you purchase an SoM from a vendor, you'll get the performance (up to the interface point) defined by that vendor.
Finally, when selecting an SoM as the core of an engineered system, non-recurring engineering (NRE) savings can come from reducing development time in-house. This in-house development also has the added benefit of increasing the possibility of getting to market quicker.
So, why would you select the Avnet third-generation XRF16 over their second-generation board?
Comparing the XRF16 Gen3 & Gen2 Models
One way to better understand how system-on-module hardware is advancing is to look at the product brief for the new XRF16-Gen3 versus the XRF16-Gen2.
Block diagram of the XRF16-Gen3 System-on-Module from Avnet. Image used courtesy of Avnet
First, a simple analysis of the two reveals an identical form-factor at 4" x 5", with a typical voltage specification of 5.5V to 16V. Beyond this, engineers may note a doubling of the available DDR4 memory for FPGA logic and the hard processor system.
The second advancement, which is far more interesting, is an improvement in the analog signal paths.
While both are 16 channel devices, the Gen3 module has 14-bit converters for both ADC (was previously 12-bit) and DAC, along with higher sampling rates for both TX and RX.
Specifically, the ADC sampling rate improved by 12.6% (2.5 GSPS), and the DAC sampling rate saw a 50.3% (9.85 GSPS) improvement. Additionally, the Gen3 SoM has an analog bandwidth of 6GHz (compared to 5 GHz for the Gen2 SoM).
Considering the advancement of the ADC resolution and the improved sampling rates, along with the unchanged form-factor, it is likely that signal integrity optimization is responsible for these third-generation specifications.
Are there other system-on-modules out in the industry to compare with the AVNET XRF16 SoMs?
SoM Technology Around the Industry
System-on-module technology has many popular variants available from suppliers such as Toradex or Variscite. Most are general purpose single-board computers (SBCs) based on models of Arm processors from major manufacturers like NXP and Nvidia, with some modules being used for high-performance video rendering.
Toradex's SoM, which can be used for all-digital video rendering. Image used courtesy of Toradex
However, few approach the radio frequency capabilities of the Avnet XRF16-Gen3/XRF8-Gen3 system model variants.
The Xilinx FPGA core on the XRF SoMs, the UltraScale+ RFSoC Gen3, is a powerful and flexible central computing unit. A possible competitor for this class of product comes from Intel.
Intel's newest SoM option could be for high-frequency radio capabilities. Image used courtesy of Intel
Intel has recently released information about their new FPGA with integrated high-performance data converters.
Though the applications for SoMs are growing, it depends on what fits your design and if the benefits are enough. With the trend of creating SoMs is growing, there are likely to be more and more options available in the future, especially those for new applications.
Have you used a system-on-module to accelerate your system design? What experiences can you share? Let us know in the comments below.
You could buy an entire car for the cost of this one SoM. Hard to anything outside fighter aircraft where this is cost-effective in production.