This past year has witnessed a flood of new computer boards for the CompactPCI bus. Established CPU board makers expanded their product lines and a number of new players in both CPU and I/O boards got into the game. Some came from the world of desktop ISA and PCI, some from the industrial world of passive-backplane ISA/PCI, and some from the heavy-duty industrial world of VMEbus. This trend will most likely continue through the new year.
Hot swap for CompactPCI was real this year, as was hierarchical multiprocessing. Virtually every new CPU board provided built-in support for swapping I/O boards in and out of a live system, and virtually every other type of board could itself be hot-swapped. A new class of hot-swappable CPU board arose: auxiliary CPU boards, which typically contain dual CompactPCI buses. Such a board serves as the system controller on its own downstream CompactPCI bus, but it is subservient to a system CPU board on its upstream CompactPCI bus.
More DSP board makers also went the CompactPCI way throughout the year, as did vendors with an expanding diversity of I/O boards for the bus. To a large extent, a rich complement of I/O boards has been unnecessary because of the I/O mezzanines aplenty out in the marketplace, notably PMC, IndustryPack and PC/104. Nevertheless, the list of CompactPCI graphics boards, frame grabbers, storage control boards, LAN boards, industrial I/O boards and others has grown throughout 1999. Then too, in many cases, CPU boards have morphed into rich system boards, with their own densely packed complement of I/O already integrated on board.
To cite just one example, Ballard Technology Inc. (Everett, Wash.) ported its full suite of avionics test/simulation boards, 17 in all, over to CompactPCI this year. Said a company spokesman, "CompactPCI enhances PCI functionality with mechanical robustness, convenient rack-mount packaging and increased slot count."
Over the year, too, there has been more activity in CompactPCI boards taking the 3U Eurocard format than has been the case for VME. The United States has traditionally gone with the 6U Eurocard format, 3U being more popular in Europe. The 3U CompactPCI brought new offerings from the European-based PEP Modular Computers Inc. and Inova Computers Inc., for example, but also from U.S. operations such as Dynatem Inc. (Mission Viejo, Calif.), Analogic Corp. (Wakefield, Mass.), One Stop Systems (Escondido, Calif.), VMIC (Hunts-ville, Ala.) and SBS Technologies Inc. Embedded Computers (Raleigh, N.C.).
SBS Modular I/O (Menlo Park, Calif.) will heighten activity for 3U CompactPCI in I/O in coming days. The company, traditionally focused on mezzanine I/O boards, plans to port its designs over to CompactPCI in 2000. For high-volume applications, a CompactPCI I/O board "is more efficient from the procurement standpoint, as opposed to populating a CompactPCI carrier board with multiple mezzanine modules," said David Greig, vice president of the computer group of SBS Technologies. The result, he said, is "overall low cost per board."
One particular 1999 CompactPCI board introduction is, perhaps, most telling about the year and its rapidly moving technology story, ever more demanding customers and increasingly competitive board picture.
In June, VMIC announced its first Pentium II-based auxiliary processor board, the VMICPCI-7697. With deliveries expected to kick off in September, it was jam-packed with all the checklist features and an aggressively low starting price tag of $3,248. In reality, deliveries didn't start until October, but by then, this was a different board indeed.
The original 7697 had up to a 333-MHz Pentium II module and two DIMM sites for up to 256 Mbytes of SDRAM. The revised 7697 that's shipping has up to a 400-MHz low-power Pentium module and three DIMM sites for up to 512 Mbytes of memory. The old provided 16 Mbytes of bootable flash on a secondary IDE interface. The new boosted that to 144 Mbytes.
And whereas the first cut supported an option for up to 72 Mbytes of DiskOnChip, the new one handles up to 144 Mbytes. All else on the board remained the same, except the entry-level price tag, which dropped to $2,656.