The adage that good things come in small packages applies to today’s small form-factor boards. Board makers are using highly integrated devices to pack not only more processing horsepower on small-footprint boards, but unique circuitry and functions.
The venerable PC/104 form-factor, and the PC/104-Plus extension, still rules the roost, regardless of the advent of newer topologies. Board-level instrumentation vendor Hardent Canada’s (Montreal, QC, Canada) less-than-$1000 16-bit PC/104 form-factor analog/digital plug-in board is an example of a highly integrated turnkey product.
Hardent's Model ADC board touts simultaneous channel sampling, a capability that's usually found on more costly cards. With eight differential analog inputs, the ADC operates at up to 100-ksamples/s/channel (800-ksamples/s aggregate), with 14 bit resolution.
Although intended primarily for sensing and control applications, the ADC can also be used for simultaneous data acquisition, in closed-loop control, and for phase-current monitoring for vector or multi-phase motor control.
It should also prove useful for power and power-factor measurements, for vibration analysis, and for waveform analysis. It can also be used for realtime DSP applications that require precision multi-channel measurements that are phase-aligned. For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 166402260.
Hardent also has an unusual optical PC/104 ISA-bus extender. Dubbed the OPIX, this $995 plug-in lets you extend the range of any PC/104-based system. It does that by means of a multi-mode fiber optic pair operating at 1310-nm.
In most PC/104 stacks, a main processor card uses the PC/104 connector to communicate with I/O cards, with sensors and peripherals connected by copper. Unfortunately, that can render a circuit susceptible to noise, RF, voltage drops, ESD (electrostatic discharge), and differences in ground reference points. It's also often desirable to locate a PC/104 board or stack closer to its I/O.
That's where the OPIX comes in. It acts as an optical PC/104-to-PC/104 bridge, with the distance between two cards as long as 2-km. The fiber optic link provides electrical isolation, eliminating any problems related to differences of reference levels. An optional long-range module can increase the maximum range of an OPIX link to 50-km. For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 163701110.
Using a different form of optical isolation, ACCES I/O Products’s (San Diego, Calif.) new less-than-$300 PC/104 board, dubbed the Model 104-II32-4RO, packs 32 optically-isolated digital inputs. Optically isolating the board's inputs from each other, and from the rest of your circuitry, can ensure error-free data transmission in noisy environments.
As an 8-bit PC/104 board (with 16-bit pass through connectors), it can be installed in any embedded system that supports PC/104 or PC/104-Plus modules. The 104-II32-4RO board lets you connect an assortment of devices, including sensors, switches, controllers, and powered circuits.
The board's inputs can be driven by either DC sources of 3-V to 31-V (or higher, by special order), or AC sources at frequencies between 40-Hz and 10-kHz. The board also includes four electromechanical relay outputs. For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 170100268.
For its part in the PC/104 game, board maker Parvus Corp. (Salt Lake City, Utah) has some new products that focus on wireless connectivity and geophysical positioning. Parvus’s OrbiTrak GSM combines wireless tri-band GSM/GPRS connectivity with a low-power 12-channel parallel-tracking GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite receiver.
You can use the OrbiTrak GSM for intelligent vehicle and airborne computing systems requiring worldwide GSM/GPRS cellphone roaming. That’s combined with precise GPS satellite positioning. The plug-in also features a 4-channel UART (based on the popular 16C550 chip), with two free RS-232 serial ports (two are reserved for the GPS and modem). For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 170101385.
Targeting designers of more mainstream applications, Parvus also offers four processor boards based around the Intel ULV Celeron Tualatin microprocessor and complemented by Intel's 815E chipset. Three of these 5-V boards are stackable PC/104-Plus form-factor types, and one is a PC/104 module.
Part of Parvus's existing SpacePC line, the newest boards are dubbed the SpacePC 1450, SpacePC 1451, SpacePC 1453, and SpacePC 1850. The SpacePC 1451 and SpacePC 1453 are differentiated from the SpacePC 1450 in that they support USB 2.0 (Universal Serial Bus), or Gigabit Ethernet.
The Celerons clock at 400 MHz, pack on-chip 256-kbyte Level-2 caches, and operate with a 100-MHz FSB (front-side bus). The PC/104-Plus models also operate without a fan, working across the industrial temp range. For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 160911666.
Regardless of PC-104 and PC/104-Plus’s popularity, some SBC makers are also supporting the EPIC (Embedded Platform for Industrial Computing) standard. EPIC is billed as a next-generation 4.5 x 6.5-in. (29.4 sq. in.) embedded SBC (single board computer) platform.
As a mid-sized, but still quite small platform, EPIC boards are larger than the 3.6 x 3.8-in. PC/104 module definition. On the other hand, they’re smaller than the 5.75 x 8-in. EBX (Embedded Board eXpandable) form-factor. ETX (Embedded Technology eXtended) is also a contender for small footprint extensible systems, with boards measuring 3.7 x 4.5-in.
Pentium M Cost-Effectiveness
In the EBX arena, Versalogic’s (Eugene, Oregon) less-than-$2000 Cobra board is an EBX board the company claims is more cost-effective for Intel Pentium M systems than other form-factors. True or not, the product's design makes it suitable for a range of higher-end applications where speed, graphics, and networking are paramount.
With dual high-speed Ethernet ports, the Cobra should fill the bill for gaming systems, information kiosks, telecommunications devices, and security systems. With its M-series processors, and companion 855GME chipset, you get integrated Extreme Graphics 2 and audio functions.
The Pentium M Cobra incorporates power saving features, too, including Intel’s so-called SpeedStep clocking, and performance enhancing features such as a 1-Mbyte Level-2 cache. Its graphics controller provides fast rendering and smooth sequencing to produce realistic 3-D graphics and animation. For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 18311821.
WIN Enterprises (No. Andover, Mass.), a maker of SBCs and controllers, also has a 64-bit architecture dual-core EBX board. It features AMD Opteron processors.
WIN’s MB-06047 backs up the Opteron with as much as 8-Gbytes of DDR (dual data-rate) RAM. The board also implements the nVidia nForce Professional 2200 chipset.
This silicon boosts the AMD processor into new territory, integrating many features such as nVidia's GeForce-based GPU (graphics processing unit), dual 64-bit memory controllers, and an integrated APU (audio processing unit). The APU is the same as used in Microsoft's Xbox game console.
The multi-DSP APU hardware can support up to 256 simultaneous voices and special effects. It can also encode Dolby Digital 5.1 audio streams in realtime. The nForce silicon also supports media-rich multi-tasking. All of this is just the ticket for digital video editing, Internet audio streaming, 3D gaming, and image manipulation. For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 170102136.
If you're designing using the ubiquitous PC architecture and Windows, Ampro Computers (San Jose, Calif.) has a number of fanless single-board computers that run Windows CE 5.0. Ampro’s LittleBoard 800, for example, is an EBX form-factor system. The company’s ReadyBoard 800 is an EPIC package, and the ETX 800 model is an ETX (Embedded Technology eXtended) product measuring at 3.7 x 4.5-in.
All of these boards feature 400-MHz FSBs, and share the Intel 855GME chipset. All have both CRT and LVDS (low voltage differential signaling) flat-panel LCD interfaces, and all include four USB 2.0 ports. Dual Ethernet ports round out the I/O mix (except on the ETX 800). For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 161600268.
A number of companies go beyond SBCs that operate exclusively as embedded controllers. Based on a Pentium core, the SBC2596 from Micro/sys (Montrose, Calif.), for example, provides a feature-rich controller on an EBX board. However, the card also packs up to 32 channels of 16-bit A/D and four channels of 14-bit D/A signal conversion.
In addition, the SBC2596 has on-board GPS-based timing circuitry that can sync data acquisition of geographically distant systems to within 190-ns, while also providing location and altitude data. This makes the SBC2596 suitable for power grid monitoring, epicenter detection, and many other applications. The GPS receiver section supports TSIP (Trimble Standard Interface Protocol), TAIP (Trimble ASCII Interface Protocol), and the popular NMEA 0183 marine communications protocols.
The SBC2596 can also be fitted with an on-board DC-to-DC converter. That lets you site one of these systems in a remote location. The on-board power supply means all you need do is connect the board to a battery. For more details, search www.eeProductCenter.com for Article ID: 20900081.
For More Information
ACCES I/O Products, Inc., 10623 Roselle St., San Diego, Calif. 92121. Phone: 858-550-9559. Fax: 858-550-7322. E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
ACCES I/O Products, 858-550-9559, www.accesio.com
Ampro Computers Inc., 5215 Hellyer Ave., Suite 110, San Jose, Calif. 95138-1007. Phone: 800 966-5200 or 408-360-0200. Fax: 408-360-0222.
Ampro Computers, 408-360-0200, www.ampro.com
Hardent Canada, 450 St-Pierre, Suite 300, Montreal, QC, Canada H2Y 2M4. Phone: 514-284-5252. Fax: 514-284-5052. E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hardent Canada, 514-284-5252, www.hardent.com
Micro/sys, 3730 Park Pl., Montrose, Calif. 91020. Phone (818) 244-4600, Fax: (818) 244-4246, email: email@example.com
Micro/sys, 818-244-4600, embeddedsys.com
Parvus, Corp., 3222 So. Washington St., Salt Lake City, Utah 84115-3426. Phone: (801) 483-1533. Fax: (801) 483-1523. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Parvus, 800-483-3152, www.parvus.com
Versalogic Corp., 3888 Stewart Rd., Eugene, Oregon 97402. Phone: (541) 485-8575. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or AdrianFrost@VersaLogic.com
VersaLogic, 541-485-8575, www.versalogic.com
WIN Enterprises, Inc., 300 Willow St. South, No. Andover, Mass. 01845. Phone: 978-688-2000, Ext. 14. E-mail: email@example.com
WIN Enterprises, 978-688-2000, win-ent.com