PICMG ModBlox7 specification standardises Box PCs

13th February 2024
Sheryl Miles

PICMG, a specialist consortium for the development of open embedded computing specifications, has ratified the ModBlox7 base specification.

The first-of-its-kind specification, as claimed by PICMG, addresses industry’s need for modular and interoperable embedded box PCs by defining a flexible mechanical architecture and ‘units’ that fit a 1.4” horizontal pitch (7 HP) form factor.

The ModBlox7 architecture removes expensive components like backplanes and shelf controllers to enable the creation of price-competitive systems even at low volumes. Up to 12 of the 7HP units can be interconnected and mounted on walls, DIN rails, or inserted in a 19” sub-rack.

“With ModBlox7, we combine the advantages of modular standards like CompactPCI and CompactPCI Serial with the demands we see from box PC customers like cost sensitivity, small form factor, and low weight,” explains Mathias Beer, CEO of Ci4Rail GmbH and member of the PICMG ModBlox7 working group. “By combining all of this in a PICMG specification, ModBlox7 addresses the design requirements of our clients and avoids vendor lock in.”

The building block architecture of ModBlox7

A typical ModBlox7 system consists of Power Units, Processing Units, and PCIe or USB 2.0/3.0 Input and Output Units (IOUs), each of which measures 1.4” or 7HP wide. Units can also be extended in 7HP increments to 14HP, 21HP, and so on and remain compatible with the specification.

Power Unit blocks convert external supply voltage into a 12V internal voltage and connect to Processing Units via terminal wire-to-board or board-to-board connectors. Processing Units support an overall thermal design power (TDP) of up to 150W and interface with IOUs over high-speed board-to-board connectors.

While a minimum ModBlox7 system consists of just one Processing Unit and one Power Unit, they can support as many as four PCI Express-based or eight USB-based IOUs. For high-availability or safety applications, ModBlox7 systems can also be configured with redundant Processing Units or Power Units. The maximum number of slots supported in any ModBlox7 is 12.

“The ModBlox7 standard defines a direct board-to-board interconnect in a box format to realise cost-effective system solutions,” says Bernd Kleeberg, CEO and Head of Sales at EKF Elektronik GmbH and chair of the PICMG ModBlox7 working group. “Thanks to native support for redundancy, ModBlox7 is also recommended for high-availability solutions.”

Getting started with ModBlox7

ModBlox7 is designed for edge computing, data acquisition, communication, and control use cases in transportation, automation, avionics, defence, medical, agriculture, and other demanding markets. A multi-vendor supplier ecosystem helps control cost and ensures product availability over the long lifecycles of deployments in these domains.

Members of the PICMG ModBlox7 subcommittee include Ci4Rail GmbH, EKF Elektronik GmbH, ELTEC Elektronik AG, Elma Electronic, Embeck Co., Ltd., ept GmbH, HEITEC AG, Hirose Electric Europe B.V., nVent/Schroff GmbH, Phoenix Contact GmbH & Co. KG, Samtec, Inc., Sealevel Systems, Inc., UBER Co. Ltd., FASTWEL Group Co. Ltd, and Tews Technologies GmbH.

Products based on the ModBlox7 base specification are available now. The specification is also available for purchase and download at the PICMG website.

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