Last week in Hamburg, Germany, a large community of scientists and engineers gathered at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) center to discuss current and future developments for the Micro Telecommunications Computing Architecture (MicroTCA) standard. The workshop included presentations and discussions of the new sub-specification, MicroTCA.4.

What is MicroTCA.4?

MicroTCA.4 is an extension to the base MicroTCA specification that defines for a double-width advanced mezzanine card (AMC) a corresponding rear transition module (RTM), for additional input/output (I/O) interfaces, and a compatible MicroTCA chassis. The new features are to address the needs of the scientific research community (especially those involved with advanced physics), who require panel access to a large number of I/O interfaces.

Figure 1 shows a sample MicroTCA.4 system.

Figure 1: Sample MicroTCA.4 System

Figure 2 illustrates how an RTM connects to its AMC.

Figure 2: AMC with RTM

Key advantages

MicroTCA.4 offers two key advantages over the base standard: simplified maintenance and increased real estate for mixed-signals signal processing systems.

Systems designed for advanced physics research typically perform intensive data collection (and subsequent processing) by incorporating large numbers of analog-to-digital (A/D) sensors. The systems require many analog cables to be connected to the front panels of the processor cards, which makes the cards more difficult to access and replace. 

Figure 3 shows an example of a system with many front-panel analog cables. As you can see, replacing a processor card would be both time-consuming and run the risk of damaging the sensitive analog cables.

Figure 3: High-density cabling

The newly introduced RTM module will move the analog cabling to the back of the chassis and keep the digital cabling on the front. This simplifies access to the processor boards and reduces the risk of damaging the analog cables.

Another advantage is that the RTM provides addition real estate for the analog components. With its primary function to route rear-panel connections, the RTM therefore has lots of extra space on it for analog devices (RF, gains, switches, ADCs/DACs, etc).

Interested organizations

The following research centers are actively evaluating and looking forward to deploying systems that incorporate this new standard: SLAC, DESY, CERN, ITER, HZDR, NCBJ, and Max-Planck. With such prestigious backers, MicroTCA.4 is certain to become widely available and supported.

Nutaq’s MicroTCA.4 portfolio

For intensive processing applications, Nutaq offers the Perseus 611x, a double-width AMC with a Virtex-6 FPGA. MicroTCA.4-compatible, the Perseus 611x supports an optional RTM that enables a point-to-point backplane mesh interconnect between multiple FPGA boards, making it ideal for applications that require advanced, high-throughput data exchange between FPGA components.

Additionally, Nutaq supports the FPGA mezzanine card (FMC) standard. FMC is a widely adopted interface for analog interfaces and is used in conjunction with AMC base cards. Nutaq offers a wide range of FMC cards suitable for many different applications:

  • MI125: Designed for high-speed applications requiring a large number of A/D channels, the MI125 offers 32-channels on a single FMC with a high-pin-count (HPC) connector. For examples of its use in linear accelerators, see our blog post on beam position monitoring and low-level RF control systems.
  • ADC5000: A 4-channel multi-mode A/D converter that has been used in stellarator (a device used to control nuclear fusion reactions) and laser scattering applications. 
  • Additional ADC/DAC FMCs: MI250, ADAC250
  • RF Transceiver: Radio420x
  • High Speed Digital: QSFP/SFP+, 2x10GE SFP+