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Advantech SOM-5897

Intel "Skylake" Core i3/i5/i7, Xeon, or Celeron-powered COM Express module provides a very wide range of performance and functionality for all kinds of embedded systems projects
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

The Advantech SOM-5897 is a COM Express Basic module that can be ordered with one of no fewer than nine different Intel "Skylake" 6th Generation Core i3, i5, i7, Celeron and Xeon processors, giving application engineers a wide range of powerful state-of-the-art CPU platform choices. This helps to streamline the product development process of embedded systems projects and reduce the ever-important time-to-market.

Though the module measures just 4.9 x 3.75 inches (125 x 95 mm), it can provide substantial performance as well as support high-speed interfaces to carrier boards, such as USB 3.0, PCIe Gen3, and SATA III.

The SOM-5897 is a highly integrated processor component that combines audio, video, and network functions with Intel 6th generation Core processing power and technology advancements. As such, it can bring much higher levels of performance into existing COM Express solutions, or it can form the basis for new COM Express projects providing previously unimaginable levels of functionality and performance for intelligent systems projects.

The COM Express standard

COM stands for Computer On Module. COM Express, introduced in 2005 by the PICMG consortium, is a standard based on serial differential signaling technology for use in high performance embedded computing projects that require maximum I/O bandwidth, such as medical imaging, industrial automation, mapping, security, aerospace, etc.

COM Express boards are often used for applications where older/legacy standards are no longer powerful enough. COM Express modules are space-saving and come in several sizes. In addition to the 4.92 x 3.74 inch COM Express Basic module we tested, there's an extended form factor measuring 6.1 x 4.3 inches (155 x 110 mm). If space is a pressing issue, COM Express Compact boards use a square 95 x 95 mm format, and COM Express Mini is even smaller, with a footprint of just 84 x 55mm.

Just like COM Express is a form factor that actually comes in several forms, it's also a standard that comes in several types with different pin-outs and support for different interfaces and numbers of ports.

When/why do you need it?

COM Express modules such as the Advantech SOM-5897 are not meant to be stand-alone computers; they are more like components that can be selected and replaced depending on the need of a solution. They do provide the most complex part of any computer (the CPU board) and ancillary circuitry, eliminating system integrators' need to start from scratch when creating complex embedded systems projects, saving time and money in the process.

The overall idea with COM Express is that the modules provide the basic computing power, but that all the customization and special functionality for a project takes place on an application-specific carrier board. COM Express boards allow system integrators to concentrate on their applications. Since they only include the CPU and some related circuitry, COM-Express boards are small and fit almost anywhere. They are also inherently more rugged than full-size boards.

Below on the left you can see the top of the SOM-5897 board Advantech sent us for testing. Ours came equipped with a Core i7-6820QE processor and the Intel QM170 chipset. The picture doesn't show the required cooling sink and fan that covers the entire board (as shown in the picture above). Below on the right the SOM-5897 with the cooling system is installed on an Advantech SOM-DB5800 carrier board.

Note that like all standardized CPU boards, COM Express boards connect to a carrier/solutions board (which usually looks like a motherboard) via standardized connectors. COM Express uses one or two 220-pin edge connector, where one connector handles PCI, PCIe and IDE and the other connector everything else. Check the Wikipedia entry on COM Express boards for detail (see here).

RAM connectors are on the COM Express module itself (there are two SODIMM slots on the SOM-5897), but all other expansion boards will be located on the carrier board.

What the Intel 6th generation Core processors bring to the table

Assume someone has spent a lot of time and money creating an important embedded systems project whose inherent functionality and logic would not become obsolete for many years. The same, however, is not true for processor performance, economy, features and supported standards. If the embedded systems project had been built from scratch, the designers would have to go back to the drawing board in order to take advantage of new and more powerful technology as it comes along.

The beauty of basing a system on COM Express (or any other) modules is that only the CPU module has to be replaced to bring the entire system back up to state-of-the-art. That means a system built back in 2011 with a Advantech SOM-5890 powered by a second generation Core processor can make a huge performance and features jump over a full four generations of Intel Core processor technology. And a project created in 2014 with the then brand-new Advantech SOM-5894 COM Express module can just from 4th generation "Haswell" to 6th generation "Skylake."

Below you can see the major features and differentiation of the chips offered with the SOM-5897:

Advantech SOM-5897 Available Processor Comparisons
CPU COMPARISON i7-6820EQ i7-6822EQ i5-6440EQ i5-6442EQ i3-6100E i3-6102E G3900E E3-1505M E3-1505L
Cores/Threads 4/8 4/8 4/4 4/4 2/4 2/4 4/8 4/8 2/2
Base clock speed 2.8GHz 2.0GHz 2.7GHz 1.9GHz 2.7GHz 1.9GHz 2.8GHz 2.0Ghz 2.7GHz
Max turbo clock 3.5GHz 2.8GHz 3.4GHz 2.7GHz No turbo No turbo 2.0GHz 2.7GHz no turbo
Max TDP 45 watts 25 watts 45 watts 25 watts 35 watts 25 watts 45 watts 25 watts 53 watts
Intel Graphics HD 530 HD 530 HD 530 HD 530 HD 530 HD 530 HD P530 HD P530 HD
Intel vPro yes yes yes yes no no yes yes no
ECC memory support no no no no yes yes yes yes yes
Lithography 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 22nm

For a more detailed listing of the nine processors available for the Advantech SOM-5897, check here.

What it all boils down to here in terms of capabilities, the SOM-5897 supports PCIe x16 Gen3, eight PCIe x1, four 6Gb/s SATA III channels, four USB 3.0 (and 8 USB 2.0) ports, 8-bit GPIO, HD audio, and up to 64GB of DDR4-2133, LPDDR3-1866 or DDR3L-1600 MHz RAM in two 204-pin SODIMM slots. And the SOM-5897 can support three independent displays via VGA, LVDS, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort, with 4k video available.

High Performance

Testing a CPU module is a bit trickier than testing a full mobile product (you just turn it on) or even a conventional motherboard (you connect a display, disk and keyboard). Fortunately, Advantech sent us one of their standard SOM-DB5800 development boards that serves as a module carrier. The SOM-DB5800 looks very much like your average desktop motherboard with all the usual connectors and battery of ports. However, the DB5800 also has connectors to accommodate a COM-Express board with Type 6 and Type 10 pin-outs as it does not have its own CPU and chipset.

We opened an desktop in our lab and used its power supply to provide ATX power to the DB5800 board, connected a 27-inch HP LCD display capable of 1080p video as a display via VGA, and booted the SOM-5897 module with an Advantech SQFlash SATA III 6Gbs industrial SSD with Windows 10 IoT Enterprise on it, prepared by Advantech.

After we ran our standard benchmark suites — PassMark and CrystalMark — we took the opportunity to compare the performance of this latest Skylake-powered COM Express board from Advantech with two of its SOM-58xx Series predecessors we had tested in our lab over the past few years, the SOM-5890 from 2011 and the SOM-5894 from 2014. And we also added the data of the fastest rugged mobile device we've ever tested in the RuggedPCReview lab, a Dell 6430 ATG semi-rugged notebook, and a Haswell-powered Dell Vostro 3900 tower PC we're using in our office.

Advantech SOM Module Benchmarks and Comparisons
PERFORMANCE COMPARISON Advantech Advantech Advantech Dell Dell
Model SOM-5897 SOM-5894 SOM-5890 6430 ATG Vostro 3900
Model (click pic for review)
Type COM Express Basic COM Express Basic COM Express Basic Rugged tablet Tower PC
Year tested 2016 2014 2011 2013 2016
Intel processor Core i7-6820EQ Core i5-4402E Core i7-2715QE Core i7-3520M Core i5-4460
CPU Speed std/turbo 2.8/3.5GHz 1.6/2.7GHz 2.1/3.0GHz 2.9Ghz/3.6GHz 3.2GHz/3.4GHz
OS Software 10 IoT WES7 WES Win7 Win7
Thermal Design Power (TDP) 45 watts 25 watts 45 watts 35 watts 84 watts
CPU Mark 9,655.8 3,542.3 4,099.9 4,141.5 6,590.4
2D Graphics Mark 595.6 589.6 311.6 617.2 691.4
Memory Mark 1,711.0 1,136.4 795.8 1,494.5 1,208.5
Disk Mark 3,324.1 1,801.5 150.7 3,733.9 1,019.6
3D Graphics Mark 616.3 399.3 325.3 433.5 1,837.8
Overall PassMark 3,737.2 1,651.7 1,363.0 2,272.4 2,518.2
CM ALU 78,209 38,348 53,083 54,067 75,498
CM FPU 72,083 39,994 54,374 51,407 58,632
CM MEM 91,494 40,963 27,262 46,038 45,415
CM HDD 41,814 30,482 8,974 44,299 15,530
CM GDI 18,888 16,474 5,691 18,832 19,460
CM D2D 8,000 (est) 6,136 3,041 13,420 5,008
CM OGL 14,724 10,189 2,711 37,083 32,682
Overall CrystalMark 317,212 182,586 155,136 265,146 252,225

The results, of course, are relative as they were obtained with a variety of processors. What's interesting is that there IS such a very wide range of performance and features available in the COM Express standard (for Advantech's current lineup of COM Express Basic modules, see this page).

Perusing the benchmark results, note the very impressive overall performance gains from a new 6th generation Core i7-equipped SOM-5897 over its 2011 SOM-5890 predecessor running a second generation Core i7, both with the same 45 watt TDP. Overall PassMark benchmark performance almost tripled, and the overall CrystalMark number is up 70%. The difference between the benchmarks is because PassMark measures multi-processor performance whereas CrystalMark looks at single core performance.

Also note that CPU performance alone does not account for the great gains in overall systems performance. Equipped with an Advantech SQFast solid state disk, the new SOM-5897 smoked the Intel SSD that was in the 2014 SOM-5984, and both annihilated the rotating hard disk that was still used in the 2011 SOM-5890. It always pays to keep storage media performance in mind!

What's also very interesting is that this unassuming little board blew away the speed king of all mobile devices we've tested. And also the powerful 84 watt TDP Dell Vostro desktop we're using. That despite both Dells having discrete graphics cards whereas the SOM-5897 only used its integrated Intel graphics. This shows the great performance available from COM modules these days. Impressive.

Below is a schematic of the Advantech SOM-5897:

Computer modules like the Advantech SOM-5897 are very different from the mobile computing devices we generally review and test here at RuggedPCReview.com. What they all have in common is industrial quality build and components, as well as the inherent ruggedness required to function flawlessly under trying operating conditions.

What we took away from this review of Advantech's latest SOM-58xx COM Express module is just how much performance is available from such components these days. As stated, our review module was quicker than any mobile system we've ever tested and also than a beefy desktop we're using. If workstation-class performance is needed, Advantech offers the SOM-5897 with Xeon processors. If maximum performance isn't an issue, the SOM-5897 can be had with lower-TDP versions of the same i3, i5 and i7 chips. And if lowest possible cost is the goal, the module is available with a lowly Celeron.

What will most SOM-5897 modules be used for? The real question is, what can't they be used for? This is an exceptionally versatile module that can provide desktop and workstation class performance, drive three independent displays, but also be deployed in less demanding applications. The possibilities are endless.

Advantech SOM-5897 Specs:

Status Added 08/2016
Type COM Express Basic Module
CPU Type Intel Core i7-6820QE (also available: Core i7-6822EQ, Core i5-6440EQ, Core i5-6442EQ, Core i3-6100E, Core i3-6102E, G3900E, E3-1505M V5, E3-1505L V5)
Clock Speed Base frequency: 2.80GHz; max single core turbo frequency: 3.5GHz
Chipset Intel QM170
Memory Max 32GB DDR4 in two 204-pin SODIMM sockets
Graphics Controller Intel Gen 9 HD Graphics 530 integrated
VRAM Intel DVMT 5.0 support up to 1024MB video memory
LVDS Dual channel 18/24-bit LVDS up to 1920 x 1200 @ 60Hz
Multiple display Combinations of HDMI/DVI/DisplayPort/VGA/LVDS
Triple display Combinations of HDMI/DVI/DisplayPort/VGA/LVDS (except 3 HDMI/DVI)
VGA up to 1920 x 1200 @ 60Hz
DDI 2 ports configurable to HDMI 1.4 (up to 4096 x 2160)/DVI 1.2 (up to 1920 x 1200)/DisplayPort (up to 4096 x 2304)
Expansion 1 x PCI Express x1 (8 PCIe x1, configurable to x4 or x2), 1 x PCI Express x16 (configurable to 1 x16, 2 x8, 1 x8 + 2 x4), LPC
SATA 4 x SATA III 6.0Gb/s
RAID Unknown
SPI Bus yes
SMBus yes
I2C Bus yes
USB 8 x USB 2.0, 4 x USB 3.0
Serial 2 ports (2-wire)
Parallel NA
Audio HD audio
Watchdog Timer 65536 level timer interval, from 0~65535 sec
Size 95 mm x 125 mm (3.75" x 4.92")
Weight 3.5 oz. (board and memory); 18.5 ounces (board with with fan and heat sink)
Operating Temp. 32° to 140°F (0° to 60°)
Price inquire
Web page Advantech SOM-5897
Datasheet Advantech SOM-5897

Advantech Corporation
38 Tesla, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92618
Toll Free: 1-800-866-6008
Ph: 949-789-7178
Fax: 949-789-7179

Advantech Co. Ltd.
No.1, Alley 20, Lane 26, Rueiguang Road
Neihu District, Taipei Taiwan 114, R.O.C.
Tel: 886-2-2792-7818
Fax: 886-2-2794-7301