Two views on embedded CPU board formats

A pair of recent research reports offers different market views for several embedded CPU board formats

By Control Engineering Staff August 14, 2003

A pair of recent research reports offers different market views for several embedded CPU board formats.

IMS Research (Wellingborough, U.K.; Austin, TX) found European embedded computer board users remaining loyal to CompactPCI, in a survey published in late July 2003. More than 39% of respondents indicated current usage of CompactPCI (cPCI) boards, growing to nearly 43% by 2006 (see bar graphs).

This forecast stands despite the reality of newer board technologies, such as PICMG AdvancedTCA, coming online. AdvancedTCA refers to the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture specification promoted by a consortium of companies known as PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG, Wakefield. MA).

Resilience of cPCI boards stems from alternative applications pursued by many board suppliers to offset effects of the telecom market decline, according IMS Research. Based on positive prospects from new applications and the ”slowly recovering telecom industry,” the firm projects strong growth for CompactPCI, with compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7% over the 2002-2007 period.

The bar graphs also show PCI Mezzanine and VME cards with substantial following at present, but little to no market growth. AdvancedTCA is just starting to gather market momentum.

Tim Dawson, IMS Research analyst and report author, explains that AdvancedTCA, while not only designed for telecom applications (despite the product name), will likely be accepted there first. As a result, ”Growth of the CompactPCI market looks set to continue as [these] solutions are further used in new applications, which might not necessarily require the new advancements provided by the AdvancedTCA specification, such as more board space and support for higher power boards,” says Dawson.

Meanwhile, a June-2003 study by Venture Development Corp. (VDC, Natick, MA) concludes that single-board computers (SBCs) based on the PICMG 1.0 specification ”still enjoy solid sales and a steady growth pattern, despite changing economic and technical paradigms in the embedded computing industry.”

The study entitled ”Embedded CPU Boards: Single Board Computers,” singles out PICMG 1.0 SBCs for consistent growth during the period 2002-2007, forecasting a CAGR of 9.14%. All other SBC architectures—such as VME, CompactPCI, PCI, and ISA—are projected to have flat or declining sales.

Venture Development attributes the longevity of PICMG 1.0 single-board computers to several factors:

Comparatively inexpensive architecture;

Large installed base, with significant possibilities for replacements;

Wide range of application software support; and

Access to PCI as well as ISA backplane buses from the same board. (PCI bus has a speed advantage over ISA for other than real-time events, while ISA bus enhances real-time control by providing programmable hardware interrupt request lines, according to VDC.)

At the same time, Eric Gulliksen, practice director for VDC’s Embedded Hardware group, offers a note of caution to North American and European SBC manufacturers. ‘PICMG 1.0 architecture finds its primary uses in lower-end applications. These SBCs have become commodities, and low-cost Asian suppliers now dominate the market.” He advises Western vendors to recognize those points, and focus on higher-end applications and architectures.

The Embedded CPU Boards study (SBCs, motherboards) is Volume I of a seven-part, Year 2002-2003 Planning Service on Computers in Embedded and Real-Time Applications, being rolled out by VDC. Other reports in the series are: Volume II-Next-Generation Platforms (Blades, COMs); Volume III-Utility and I/O Cards; Volume IV-Mezzanine Cards; Volume V-PC/104, PC/104-Plus Cards; Volume VI-Embedded CPUs and Chipsets; and Volume VII-Global Embedded Market Overview and Outlook.

For more information about these studies, visit the Venture Development website.

—Frank J. Bartos, Executive Editor,