PC/104 market update from VDC

PC/104 technology is alive and well, according to a recent Venture Development Corp. (VDC) study of the global market for ”stackable” form-factor boards.


PC/104 technology is alive and well, according to a recent Venture Development Corp . (VDC) study of the global market for “stackable” form-factor boards. What’s more, VDC confirms “a comfortable future for PC/104” family modules that comprise three architectures: Traditional PC/104, newer PC/104-Plus, and the latest PCI-104 format. VDC’s study “shows strong and continuing viability, despite some shifts in architecture within this technology.”

Comprising only 5.3% of shipments in 2004, PCI-104 architecture is forecast to reach nearly 16% share of shipments in 2008, says VDC. (Illustration courtesy of VDC Corp.)

Venture Development Corp.’s study—“The 2004 Merchant Computer Board for Embedded/Real Time Applications Market Intelligence Program—Volume IV: Stackables”—predicts varying degrees of growth for all three PC/104 form factors during the 2004-08 report period (see graphic). PC/104 family form factors differ mainly in the expansion buses provided: Traditional PC/104 offers only the mature ISA bus for expansion, while PC/104-Plus provides both ISA and PCI buses. As the naming implies, newest version, PCI-104 , offers only PCI. It has eliminated ISA bus.

VDC notes continuing decline for ISA bus. Said to be still at work “in many industrial automation applications” where high-speed response is not a requirement, a diminishing demand (and supply) for controller and bridge chips is another factor for ongoing decline of ISA bus. The most dramatic growth is projected for new PCI-104 architecture, which is expected to increase an equivalent of 331% in dollar volume of shipments from 2004 to 2008.

J. Eric Gulliksen, embedded hardware practice director at VDC, notes continuing viability for PC/104 due to additional factors. "Several small 'stackable' embedded motherboard form factors—including 3-1/2 in., 5-1/4 in., EBX, and the new EPIC [specification]—may be provided with PC/104 family expansion. These provide a wider range of choices for designers when selecting a control module,” he says.

Also noted by Gulliksen, the EPIC spec provides for future inclusion of PCI Express as an expansion architecture. "I wouldn't be surprised to learn of a similar program to apply PCI Express to the PC/104 family form factor in the near future," he adds. "This would provide for increased performance and reduced board complexity, and further solidify the position of stackable architectures in the embedded world."

—Frank J. Bartos, executive editor, Control Engineering, fbartos@reedbusiness.com

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