Samtec: Server-grade performance in Intelligent Edge Computing applications

In the ever-changing world of technology, the demand for computing power is a constant. As engineers continue to push the limits of what is possible, the need for more robust and efficient systems becomes ever more apparent. This is especially true in the field of embedded designs, where the challenges of increasing processor performance, power requirements, and connector capabilities are ever-present. Embedded designs refer to the process of integrating software and hardware into a specialized system to perform dedicated functions. In the simplest terms, it’s like the brain of your smartphone that allows it to perform all of its unique functions.

This article delves into these challenges, exploring solutions offered by industry leader Samtec and shedding light on the future of connectors in embedded designs. With a focus on the practical implications of these advances, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of the current landscape and the exciting developments ahead.

The challenges with embedded designs

If one fact has remained true since the development of the first computers, it is that the demand for computing power continues to increase. As new computing platforms are developed, engineers quickly find ways to not only maximize the capabilities of those systems, but also develop applications that require more resources, putting pressure on the computing industry to develop even better hardware.

However, howprocessor performance increases, so does the energy requirement. You can clearly see this by looking at the history of CPUs, with the first devices operating in the megahertz range with a few watts of power consumption and the latest devices operating in the gigahertz, where power consumption can easily reach 100W or more.

One area that has seen a dramatic increase in computational requirements is the automotive industry. Vehicles of the past would contain a number of simple electronic modules responsible for metering fuel, controlling windows and providing a comfortable interior cabin environment via AC, but this has changed with the advent of self-driving systems that require extremely powerful systems capable of analyzing images and running machine learning algorithms, all in real time. If one fact has remained true since the development of the first computers, it is that the demand for computing power continues to increase. As new computing platforms are developed, engineers quickly find ways to not only maximize the capabilities of those systems, but also develop applications that require more resources, putting pressure on the computing industry to develop even better hardware1.

While this type of computing could theoretically be moved to a cloud environment, the lack of global coverage combined with numerous real-world realities means that no self-driving vehicle could ever take advantage of cloud computing, certainly not for real-time computing. Therefore, these integrated applications must take the power of server-grade equipment and reduce it into a system that can be made mobile.

But it’s not just automotive applications that are benefiting from intelligent edge computing applications. There are countless industries now recognizing the benefits of such systems. Renewable energy platforms such as wind turbines are integrating digital twins into each individual turbine so engineers can better understand how each turbine performs and predict potential problems before they arise. In these applications, intelligent embedded systems can be deployed locally to provide low-latency connections to sensors and other time-critical peripherals.

The problem with connectors that shrink

Regardless of application or design, a system can only perform at the speed of its weakest link, and this is a common problem encountered in computing. For example, even if a processor is capable of operating at gigahertz, plugging in RAM that can only operate at hundreds of megahertz will instantly limit the performance capabilities of the processor. This is where backplane/micro backplane connectors come into play. The same applies to external storage devices, networks and peripheral ports used.

Indeed, the rapid development of processor technologies found in embedded designs is rapidly outpacing the capabilities of the connectors used in these applications, putting pressure on engineers to find new solutions. For example, increasing data bandwidth is usually done by adding more data channels, but this will either increase the size of the connector or increase its density. If the density of the connector is increased, the pins are spaced much closer together, which introduces its own set of challenges, such as manufacturing tolerance.

At the same time, the increased power requirements of modern intelligent embedded computing applications also require connectors to be able to handle higher voltages and currents. Reducing the size of the connectors reduces the power capabilities of each pin, which means that increasing the density of the connectors does not completely solve the problem. This is where IDC and FFC connectors can come in handy.

Design options for engineers

To try to solve these challenges, engineers have historically relied on one of two main technologies:overpass cablesand optical cables.

Flyover wires, as the name suggests, “fly over” the circuit board, allowing signals to travel directly from one point to another without having to navigate the loops in the circuit board. This can significantly improve data transmission speed and reduce signal interference.

Optical cables, also known as fiber optic cables, use light to transmit data. This allows them to carry information at high speeds over long distances and are less susceptible to interference and signal loss than traditional copper cables.

PCB signal routing using Twinax cable technology provides engineers with a very high speed solution that can easily operate in the +100Gbps range over substantial distances. These cables can be used to connect two different areas of a PCB together or connect two different PCBs, but while they can travel much further than PCB traces, they are still limited to a few meters.

Optical cables provide engineers with a solution that is virtually immune to noise, provides a great deal of signal integrity, and can operate over extreme distances (well over hundreds of meters). These can be connected via Panel and I/O connectors. However, optical systems are generally expensive to implement and difficult to integrate, as electronic circuits require converters capable of transforming optical signals into electrical signals. This also significantly increases the cost, as unique connectors with integrated electronics are generally required.

How Samtec works to solve these challenges

Samtec has years of interconnect experience and recognizes the challenges of engineers in developing intelligent embedded system solutions. Therefore, Samtec has developed a range of solutions that can help engineers maximize the performance capabilities of complex computational platforms while providing excellent power delivery and maximum design flexibility.

The new PICMG COM-HPC interconnect solutions use an industrial format that provides access to a large number of I/O, offers increased memory capacities and supports higher power than existing PICMG COM Express connectors. By encouraging engineers to develop compute modules that process data locally, these connectors can help engineers maintain performance in embedded designs, and support for future standards can help future-proof designs (such as PCIe 5.0, 100Gbps Ethernet and USB 4.0).

Samtec COM-HPC interconnects from Samtec on Vimeo.

As FPGAs are also becoming increasingly popular in intelligent embedded designs, Samtec helped develop the VITA 57.1 FMC and VITA 57.4 FMC+ standards. These provide engineers with a standardized electromechanical interface that provides I/O expansion for FPGAs and other related hardware. These connectors support up to 560 pins, making them highly applicable in I/O-intensive applications (such as real-time signal processing), and transceivers up to 32Gbps are supported.

FPGAs, or Field-Programmable Gate Arrays, are unique types of computer chips that can be programmed after manufacturing to perform a wide variety of tasks. They’re like a blank canvas that engineers can configure to perform specific tasks, making them incredibly versatile in integrated projects.

For System on Module in space-constrained applications, Samtec AcceleRate HD Ultra-Dense Mezzanine Strips offer engineers a high-density solution with a low profile. These connectors support PAM4 at up to 56Gbps, provide between 240 and 400 I/O connections, and have a stack width and height of 5mm, which helps reduce design size considerably. These connectors have been optimized for signal integrity and can also support PCIe Gen 5.0. For these reasons, AMD Kira Adaptive SoMs have adopted the AcceleRate HD Ultra-Dense connectors.

Where are connectors headed in embedded designs?

Undoubtedly, as applications become more complex, the need for more processor performance will continue to grow, increasing the power, memory and bandwidth requirements of those applications. At the same time, the use of reconfigurable hardware in the form of FPGAs will also increase as such hardware allows for future hardware upgrades without the need to replace physical components (this is especially important for hardware protocol upgrades).

Taking all of this into account, there is no doubt that the next generation of connectors will not only need to be able to handle these applications, but also provide some degree of future proofing. At the same time, connector sizes will have to continue to shrink to account for increasing I/O requirements, but increasing connector density will introduce power constraints that the laws of physics will limit. Therefore, future connectors in embedded systems will have to look for new ways to enable higher power capabilities, either through additional power connectors or through new material sciences that support higher voltages and currents.

Ultimately, the increasing speed and bandwidth requirements of intelligent embedded designs will need to see server-grade performance, making signal integrity an integral part of future designs.


  1. McKinsey & Company. (2020). Self-driving car technology: when will robots hit the road? Retrieved from”

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