In preparation for an ST Webinar that will take place on May 26, we wanted to look at Ka-Ro, a German SoM maker with offices in North America, a member of the ST Partner Program, and the creator of the QSMP Series, which integrates the STM32MP1 in a QFN style package called a QSCOM. The QSMP-1510 includes an STM32MP151A with 256 MB of DDR3L, 128 MB of SLC NAND for storage, and a 24-bit RGB display interface. The QSMP-1530 is very similar, with a display interface and RAM, but it houses an STM32MP153A with CAN support and 4 GB of eMMC. Finally, the QSMP-1570 uses an STM32MP157C with 512 MB of RAM, an additional two-lane MIPI-DSI interface, and 4 GB of eMMC. To make their SoMs even more accessible, Ka-Ro provides the QSMP-1570 in an evaluation board, the QSMP Evalkit.
QSMP and STM32MP1: Removing Complexities and Adding Future-Proofing
In the ten commandments of working with an MPU, we saw that system-on-module (SoM) makers could greatly help teams ship their final products faster by removing some of the complexities associated with microprocessor design. Teams, especially those coming from the microcontroller world, can easily fall prey to the we-can-do-it-ourselves virus, which causes the eternal-delaying-of-project-syndrome. When we sat down with Bob Blumenscheid, Ka-Ro’s Business Development in North America, and Michael Vyskocil, Manager of Product Development for the German company, they explained that,
“So many people come to us and tell us they had no idea designing a system with an MPU would take three, four, five, or even six years, but we do. We understand the expertise and know-how because of the long SoM experience we acquired before we could offer a product like the QSMP family of SoMs.”
For instance, syncing and processing signals from the DDR3L is particularly complex, and teams have to come to terms with the fact that any upgrade to a newer MPU, in a few years, will require significant rework. Ka-Ro’s modules don’t only house packages, but technologies that ensure teams can vastly reduce their time to market because a QSMP SoM handles a lot of the complexities that bog down projects and delay releases. Additionally, because the QSCOM packages use a pinout structure that’s nearly identical from one model to the next, it’s possible to either swap QSMP models or to upgrade to a new one in a few years, with minimal changes, thus future-proofing a platform.
QSCOM, Benefitting From a QFN Style and Unique Ground Pads
Another advantage specific to Ka-Ro’s SoMs is their new QSCOM module, and we were fascinated to learn that their STM32MP1 models were the first to use that package. One of its many advantages is its contact points on the side that make soldering and inspection a lot simpler since it doesn’t require an X-ray analysis. The QSCOM module also uses unique ground pads divided into large sections all across the bottom of the component. Such a structure ensures better signal integrity, increases the solder joint reliability, simplifies the self-alignment process, and improves the thermal dissipation. As Bob and Michael shared,
“Some of our customers had a hard time with other SMT SoMs because they were using a BGA or LGA packages that are harder to make while their smaller pitch limited the number of contract manufacturers that could install them.”
Ka-Ro is an interesting member of the ST Partner Program because it’s not only a SoM maker but a surface mount production facility. The company was thus able to use its expertise to design a QFN-like package that’s far easier to assemble because it removes all the connectors that are traditionally present when using a SoM. This ease-of-use also translates in the ability to conceive a single-sided PCB with only two-to-four layers, depending on the design, which significantly decreases production costs. Put simply, it’d be nearly impossible for a team interested in an MPU to arrive at this level of optimization if it started from scratch, without investing so much time and resources as to make a single project unviable.
STM32MP1 and QSMP Evalkit, Exploiting All Features as Quickly as Possible
The easiest way to start experimenting with the STM32MP1 in a QSCOM module is to get a QSMP Evalkit. The small board (60 mm x 90 mm) embarks the QSMP-1570, which houses the STM32MP157C, enabling developers to enjoy all the features and power of the STM32MP1 before optimizing their system by only keeping relevant functionalities and determining the computational throughput necessary to run their applications. The QSMP Evalkit includes an Ethernet port, a USB port for power supply, an SD card slot for additional storage, a USB host, a TFT Display Connector, and most importantly for developers, solder pads for all of the 100 pins, thus granting them access to all the signals from the SoM. Engineers can also solder a JTAG connector for additional convenience. Additionally, Ka-Ro can review custom design once engineers graduate from the evaluation board.
The QSMP Evalkit comes with Ka-Ro’s Linux distribution that their teams based on our OpenSTLinux Board Support Package (BSP) , and that works in a headless setting. As a result, they were able to optimize the operating system for their platform immensely. It also means that the development board supports STM32CubeIDE, our first development tool with STM32CubeMX built-in. Moreover, developers can start writing their application on an STM32MP1 development board from ST and seamlessly move over to a QSMP model with little to no code rewrite. The company also offers its SoM in a SO-DIMM form factor in case engineers would like to use more pins. Regardless of the model, all Ka-Ro SoMs are compatible with industrial applications, and their manufacturing capabilities received the ISO 9001:2015 certification, which is vital for designers looking to release a product that will operate in a demanding environment.