System-on-Modules (SOMs): How and Why to Use Them

What is a System-on-Module (SOM)?

A System-on-Module (SOM) provides the core components of an embedded processing system — including processor cores, communication interfaces, and memory blocks — on a single production-ready printed circuit board (PCB). This modular approach makes a SOM ideal for embedding into end systems, from robots to security cameras.

System-on-module SOM showing image size in comparison to a credit card being used in a smart security camera

The concept of System-on-Modules grew out of blade servers. These thin servers were created with the goal of saving storage space and minimizing power consumption. The lean design mentality behind blade servers carries over to the architecture of SOMs. They include only the components required for their intended function in as small a package as possible, and they’re flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of applications.

System-on-module SOM on carrier card showing connected starter kit components with SD card and camera

SOMs are distinct from a system-on-a-chip (SoC). An SoC, as its name implies, is a collection of key computer components placed on a single chip. While SOMs may include an SOC, they are board-based, and as such have the space to include additional components.

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Smart Security camera features and facial recognition using SOMs
People walking through crosswalk showing AI security monitoring using SOMs
Defect Detection on fruit mold on farms using SOMs
Why Use a System-on-Module?

SOMs make the impossible possible for developers, reducing time-to-market and keeping costs down. Creating an embedded system is typically a lengthy process, requiring custom board design and manufacture. A SOM streamlines the steps needed to bring a design to fruition. Simply choose a SOM that fits your needs, integrate it into your end system, and you’re ready for deployment. Beyond enabling high volume deployment, module-based designs simplify product life cycle management and reduce bill of material (BOM) expenses.

Whether your focus is software, hardware, or even AI development, SOMs are worth a close look:

  • Software developers can unlock the potential of edge computing, processing data locally without latency. SOMs remove the need for deep hardware experience, providing a comfortable, intuitive design environment. And software developers working with vision applications will love the flexible, easily configurable sensors a SOM can provide. The best SOMs even offer built-in drivers and other software that saves design time.
  • Hardware developers need to complete production as quickly as possible and focus their limited resources on the highest impact tasks. With a SOM, they can get field programmable gate array (FPGA) performance and flexibility without the difficulty that comes with PCB design and integration. This enables them to complete projects ahead of time and under budget.
  • AI developers need a system that offers high, efficient performance without requiring them to become hardware experts. Thankfully, they can choose a SOM that provides the required compute power while maintaining the flexibility to easily swap out AI models, thanks to the pre-built applications the best system on module providers offer.

SOMs are being used worldwide. Here’s a look at just a few of their applications.

Smart Camera in train station for security monitoring
Security Cameras

Cutting edge security camera systems take advantage of video analytics, and SOMs make it happen. Video analytics-powered security cameras use machine learning to categorize and understand what they see, providing a stream of accurate data in real time. This wouldn’t be possible without edge computing and the ability for cameras and other devices to analyze information on site.

Machine Vision example with defect detection overlay with smart vision cameras
Machine Vision

The modern economy relies on machine vision for everything from inventory inspection to signature recognition to defect detection. Machine vision requires embedded systems that can analyze data on the spot and offer configurable sensor capabilities. SOMs enable developers to take advantage of machine vision at scale while keeping costs low.

Smart City visual graphic of light beams ascending through city skyline at sunset
Smart Cities

Smart cities employ ubiquitous sensors to gather data and provide the insights decision-makers need to keep their communities functioning and vibrant. SOMs power these sensors and help city officials stay on top of everything from utilities to traffic without missing a beat.

Kria Portfolio of System-on-Modules
Explore the possibilities offered by a SOM starter kit.

Xilinx’s Kria™ KV260 Vision AI Starter Kit  is specifically intended for developers who haven’t yet experienced the benefits of module-based design and aren’t sure where to start. Xilinx is committed to bringing enhanced efficiency and reduced risk to developers globally. It supports its offerings with an ever-growing selection of accelerated applications — made available to all users through its marketplace — designed to meet key SOM use cases. By reducing the need for you to write code on your own, Xilinx enables you to deliver your end systems more quickly and explore markets you otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to.

Get started with SOMs today by taking a look at Xilinx’s Kria SOM portfolio, which includes all the information and training materials you need to begin your SOM journey.

Kria Logo for Xilinx System-on-Modules

Kria KV260 Vision AI Starter Kit 

Specifically designed for developers who haven’t yet experienced the benefits of module-based design and aren’t sure where to start. Supports an ever-growing selection of Accelerated Applications through the Xilinx App Store. Deliver your end systems more quickly and explore market opportunities.

Kria Starter Kit KV260 System-on-Module SOM Starter Kit