The world of microcontrollers on Next-Generation Form Factor (NGFF) M.2 circuit boards has grown larger with the launch of the SNAPZZ platform — but there are already concerns about fragmentation, and a desire to see One True Standard emerge.
Originally developed for peripheral devices on mainstream PCs, including wireless cards, modems, accelerators, and solid-state storage, the M.2 connector is being repurposed as the basis for a modular ecosystem of plug-in microcontroller modules. SparkFun was one of the first out of the gate with the MicroMod range, and now SNAPZZ looks to offer some competition.
"It's a modular system with decoupled MCU module (ESP32) utilising M.2/E-k adapter," developer Thorsten Jaeger writes of the SNAPZZ project. "Pretty cool to move the ESP32 forth and back from tinkering to production somewhere else... This one [is] running MicroPython. While I love breadboards and dev boards — sometimes they are just too flaky, too impractical to install in my semi-useful projects. Always doing full custom boards is too much of a hassle."
"Sometimes it's OK to fiddle on permanent USB on a breadboard to test something, sometimes I need the MCU hooked to solar and LiPo. So I decoupled the MCU section (ESP32/Wi-Fi/BT in that case) from the 'mount.' The 'mount' can deliver power or extend IO pins and give further connectivity options."
Like the SparkFun MicroMod range, SNAPZZ aims to use a common connector to make it easy and cost-effective to build a new microcontroller into a modular format and mate it with a common carrier board — but SNAPZZ boards are entirely incompatible with carrier boards designed for the MicroMod family, and vice versa. That fragmentation could stifle adoption — and, worst case, could result in damage if modules for one ecosystem find their way into a bits-box with modules for another.
To help address that, Adafruit has launched a GitHub repository to discuss the M.2 microcontroller form factors already out there — including Google's Edge TPU accelerator boards, Makerdiary's nRF52840 module, Particle's LTE modules, Sipeed's K210 accelerator, and more — and to look at the potential development of successors which unify against a common standard pinout to allow for interoperability. All are invited to contribute.
More information on the SNAPZZ platform, meanwhile, can be found on the project page.