Wish list for future central processing units

Ask a simple question and get a simple answer, right? That wasn't the case when Control Engineering polled readers on features they desired in a computer board. One question generated over 20 replies that included consistent, reliable operating systems, higher upgrade flexibility, scalable parallel processor, easy assembly, standardized structures, equipment and design support, small foo...

By Antonia E. McBride, assistant editor October 1, 2000
Trends in Board-level Products
  • Improved speed and memory

  • Redundancy

  • Smaller footprint

  • Upgrade flexibility

Ask a simple question and get a simple answer, right? That wasn’t the case when Control Engineering polled readers on features they desired in a computer board. One question generated over 20 replies that included consistent, reliable operating systems, higher upgrade flexibility, scalable parallel processor, easy assembly, standardized structures, equipment and design support, small footprint Intel Pentium, and wider temperature range. Have no fear companies are listening and responding to the requests of customers.

‘We notice more engineers are moving towards off-the-shelf products and componentized tools to create more open systems that are easy to maintain and scale,’ says Shawn Liu, National Instruments (Austin, Tex.) product manager.

According to Mr. Liu, some current board-level products also enable users to integrate real-time control as a component into existing systems.

Paul Rosenfeld, vp of marketing, Ampro Computers (San Jose, Calif.) says, ‘Increasingly, designers have pressed off-the-shelf board manufacturers to provide full-custom board on semi-custom designs which come closer to meeting their packaging, cost and functionality needs.’

Mr. Rosenfeld adds, ‘With semi-custom CPU boards, time-to-market is improved and off-the-shelf software can be used.’

Control Engineering surveyed 1,500 readers, in part, to examine what bus architectures, operating systems, and I/O products are used for applications, and to also determine the planned use. One hundred seventy-three completed the survey for a 12% overall response rate.

The cross section of readers surveyed favored both continuous and batch processing (36%). While continuous only (15%) and batch only (10%) were the leading applications for board-level products. Discrete products manufacturing were the primary application by 21% of the respondents.

Architectures, OS, I/O

In determining current and planned use of various bus architectures, operating systems, and I/O products, readers surveyed choose PCI (49%), ISA (45%), and Motherboards (44%) as the bus architectures currently in use. Similarly, PCI (22%), ISA (13%), and VME (12%) were the leading architectures planned to be used in the next 12 months. (See graph).

Windows NT (88%) was the most-used operating system. DOS (42%) and a Proprietary system (16%) were other systems used. Among those planned for use in the next 12 months, Windows NT (36%), Windows CE (13%), and DOS (9%) were the leading operating systems.

Among I/O types in current use, digital input and output ranked highest, but Analog input and output, serial, and Ethernet were also used by more than 60% of respondents.

Like most components in control engineering, faster, smaller, and more capabilities are buzzwords used when discussing improvements to board-level products. Customers are now adding redundancy to requirements.

Six out of ten respondents require redundancy. On average, they expected board-level products to have a life cycle of 6.8 years.

‘Companies were once willing to tolerate downtime caused by computer failures, but today they will only accept seconds or minutes of downtime per year,’ states Pete Holmes, Ziatech (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) manager of strategic product planning.

Today’s tightly integrated architecture minimizes switch-over time so that a process can be replaced without interrupting system operation, Mr. Holmes adds.

Len Crane, VersaLogic’s (Eugene, Ore.) president says, ‘Even with the continued push for additional features and performance, the design parameters are reliability and manufacturability.’

Manufacturers work hard from inception to ensure the ability to deliver products and continue delivering them throughout a five-year product-life window, according to Mr. Crane.

Future marketplace

‘OEMs want a wide array of features on a small footprint. The continued demand to pack additional features onto the same amount of real estate compels component manufacturers to offer smaller packages for unique functions and board-level manufacturers to incorporate as many of these functions as is possible. Sound, Ethernet, CompactFlash, and video were virtually unheard of in yesterday’s embedded application. Today, these functions are expected,’ says VersaLogic’s Mr. Crane.

The future of board level products looks stable. Thirty-seven respondents purchased a total of $2.8 million of board-level products in the last 12 months for an average of $74,449 per respondent.

While 36% of respondents felt they would purchase about the same amount of board-level products in the next 12 months, 26% felt their purchases would increase.

Board-level Products

For more information on board level products, circle the following numbers, or visit www.controleng.com/freeinfo . For a boarder listing of board level products manufacturers, go to the Control Engineering Buyer’s Guide at www.controleng.com/buyersguide .

Generation 4 Interbus controller boards

Harrisburg, Pa. Phoenix Contact offers an Interbus controller board in the standardized PC/104 format as part of its line of PC-based Generation 4 controller boards. The IBS PC/104 SC-T controller board allows any PC with a PC/104 bus to interface to an Interbus I/O network using the functions of Generation 4 firmware. The firmware provides increased messaging throughput over the network, advanced diagnostics, greater options for cabling, and support for Interbus Inline and LOOP devices. High-level language programming drivers are available for DOS, Windows 3.1, 95 and NT. www.phoenixcon.com Phoenix Contact

Module expands application possibilities

Cincinnati, O. PCM-3291, a PC/104 board, is designed with satellite technology to locate and track any location in the world, in real-time. Using a Rockwell 12-channel GPS engine that provides differential input for the use of DGPS to assure accuracy, the PCM-3291 offers a range of GPS functions such as position, navigation, satellite, and timing information for use in embedded-PC navigation systems. It also offers an extended operating temperature range of -30 to 75°C which opens the PCM-3291 to more cold or hot weather outdoor and temperature critical embedded applications. www.advantech.com Advantech

General purpose signal multiplexing board

Lowell, Mich. The 32-channel SMB is a general-purpose Signal Multiplexing Board for HVAC, process control, and remote data acquisition and monitoring. It supportsndard terminal program on a laptop; allowing every function to be available from a keyboard. The SMB comes housed in a liquid tight NEMA-4 enclosure. www.h3tech.com H3 Technologies Inc.

Processor board for critical applications

Pittsburgh, Pa. PEP Modular Computers has introduced an MPC8240 PowerPC-based 3U CompactPCI processor board. With the new CP320, system designers can bring PowerPC speed and performance to a range of critical applications requiring 3U products. CP320 is based on the 250 MHz Motorola MPC8240 PowerPC chip, an integrated microprocessor built around a PowerPC 603e core with an on-chip FPU and PCI interface. The CP320 has on-board serial I/O, Fast Ethernet, and a PCI expansion connector. Processor control and visibility are supported by a JTAG/COP (Common on Chip Processor) interface that is accessible on the CP320. The processor also employs an operating system-independent boot loader for compatibility with any operating system. www.PEP.com PEP Modular Computers Inc.

3Com Network Interface Cards

Lawrence, Pa. 3Com Parallel Tasking technology accelerates the speed which packets are transferred from the network wire to the NIC (Network Interface Cards) to the host. Included with the Fast Etherlink Server Network Interface Card, Dynamic Access Software package is said to optimize the performance of the 3Com NIC. The card automatically configures itself to either a standard 32 bit, 33 MHz PCI slot or to the newer 64 bit, 66 MHz PCI slot and takes processing load off the server’s CPU by offloading TCP/IP checksum calculations and coalescing interrupts. Resilient Server Links enable redundant connections from the server to the network infrastructure. Self-healing Drivers monitor the NIC and the link for conditions such as excessive collisions, stalled interrupt, or carrier lost, that could lead to performance degradation or link failure. www.blackbox.com Black Box Corp.

Flexible, sample timing applications

Middleboro, Mass. Measurement Computing (formerly ComputerBoards Inc.) expand its product lines with high-speed data acquisition PCI-DAS4020/12 board for the PCI bus. With the System Timing Control (STC) chip, the PCI-DAS4020/12 board is said to allow flexibility to match sample-timing applications and provide scatter-gathering functionality to assure the desired timing is maintained. PCI-DAS4020/12 offers four 12-bit analogue inputs with rates up to 20 MHz where each input channel has an A/D converter and allows each channel to sample at an 80 MHz aggregate board rate. www.computerboards.com Measurement Computing

PCI digital I/O board

Cleveland, O. Model KPCI-3160, a parallel digital I/O board based on 32 bit PCI bus architecture, features 96 channels of programmable TTL-level digital I/O, free drivers, and utilities that enable users to acquire data within minutes of installing the card. DriverLinx 32 bit driver support for Visual BASIC, Visual C/C++, Delphi, TestPoint, LabView, DLL, and ActiveX. KPCI-3160’s 96 channels are organized for convenience and versatility in digital monitoring and control applications. The 15 mA source and 64 mA sink current-capability can directly operate devices such as LEDs and solid-state relays. It is compatible with ERA-01, ERB-24, SRA-01, STA-50, STP-50, and SSIO-24 external modules and boards. www.keithley.com Keithley Instruments Inc.

High performance, low profile SBC

Boisbriand, QC, Canada PCI-P3S440BX, a PICMG-compliant, enhanced single-board computer is designed to manage the high throughput demands of near real-time, mission-critical voice messaging, call processing, CTI and Internet/Intranet server applications. Said to give developers a strategic design and long life-cycle advantage with the PCI-P3S440BX, it uses Intel’s Embedded Intel Architecture Division Pentium III 600 MHz processor and 440BX chipset in a FC-PGA package. It manages throughput needs by offering up to 768 MB of SDRAM, a high performance PCI Ultra DMA/33 IDE, and CompactFlash disk support. www.teknor.com Teknor Applicom Inc.

Control embedded systems applications

Davis, Calif. Dynamic C Premier includes all the functionalities of previous versions of Dynamic C plus a MicroC/OS-II Real Time Kernel, Fast Fourier Transform, and TCP/IP capabilities. It is an enhanced version of the industry standard C programming language designed to compile a program with applicable library routines and download the code to a target system specifically tailored for control and embedded systems applications. Dynamic C Premier, in combination with Rabbit 2000 Microprocessor, uses the internationally known kernel Micro/OS-II to perform up to 56 tasks, deterministic in its operation for providing services such as mailboxes, queues and semaphores. www.zworld.com Z-World