A go-to embedded solution

There was a time when I watched the cooking competition television show “Chopped” somewhat regularly. It’s an intense ingredients-based culinary challenge that pushes chefs to their limits under strict time constraints. Amidst the nearly endless food combinations available to the contestants, it seems as though every episode I watched included one person (and sometimes two or three) who used mascarpone cheese. Often in the dessert round, the chef’s storytelling voiceover (dripping with tension) would recount, “I ran to the pantry. I grabbed the mascarpone … ”

To these chefs who were under pressure to excel on the highest levels, mascarpone was often a go-to. The cheese was versatile, tasted delicious, and had the potential to provide the basis for a winning dish.

Segue to embedded system design, if possible. Like some chefs have go-to ingredients, some engineers and system integrators have go-to form factors. For many, that versatile go-to is PC/104. It’s a rock-solid architecture supported by a thriving ecosystem of compatible, stackable modules. It’s been a proven winner in embedded applications for nearly 25 years, and it continues to evolve to support the latest technologies. Let’s look at why PC/104 is so often favored:

  • Great selection. PC/104 runs the gamut. Drawing from many seasoned manufacturers, embedded system designers have excellent choices when it comes to PC/104. There are hundreds of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) “104” modules in the marketplace with stackable PCI Express, PCI, and ISA buses. The Consortium specifications include the latest PCIe/104 and PCI/104-Express, as well as PC/104, PC/104-Plus, PCI-104, EPIC, EPIC Express, EBX, and EBX Express specs.

Mechanically, complete PC/104 systems can be as minimalist as a single module, or they can be more complex and include a dozen add-in cards. Likewise, in functionality, a PC/104 solution can be simple in the task it addresses (data transfer or storage, for instance) or very sophisticated (such as high-end digital signal processing and Serial RapidIO interconnects). The PC/104 ecosystem is a wide-ranging and valuable resource for engineers across many different vertical markets.

  • Tailored expertise. Some of the Consortium’s member companies have been building to the various PC/104 specifications for over three decades. That’s an impressively deep bench, loaded with industry expertise. This longevity of use enables designers and project managers to curate their solutions from multiple manufacturers who offer focused expertise in diverse signal technologies and packaging capabilities. In addition, the technical support offered by these companies is among the finest in the embedded marketplace. Compatibility is a hallmark of the PC/104 architecture, and PC/104 companies know that making products that work together is a must. As a result, system integrators are able to configure solutions that often enjoy seamless cross-vendor interoperability.
  • Rapid uptime. Because of the many COTS PC/104 products available, system designers are able to configure systems rapidly, especially compared to engineering teams building solutions from scratch. With stackable 104 modules, complex proof-of-concept configurations and even fully deployable systems can be built within days or weeks, rather than in months or years. Streamlined and straightforward system design can mean serious cost-savings and better overall project management.
  • Combating obsolescence. PC/104 is a modular architecture. With this modularity comes the ability to field systems that can be repaired, upgraded, and even retrofitted when necessary. This means that overall life cycles can be extended and investments can be protected. The industry knows very well that some components ultimately go EOL [end-of-life]; this is expected. Where PC/104 shines lies in its ability to anticipate EOL situations and afford end users the possibility of addressing them without needing to pursue cost-prohibitive complete redesigns.
  • Earning new admirers. The embedded marketspace is continuously growing, and so are many vertical markets. As engineers face new challenges, they seek to design new solutions. Enter PC/104: The rugged, modular architecture continues to be an attractive choice for embedded engineers addressing cutting-edge application needs in aerospace, defense, security, transportation, mining, medicine, gaming, energy, and any number of other areas including the omnipresent Internet of Things (IoT).

So, next time you’re ready to design a system, make sure you have PC/104 on the menu. For many of us it’s a go-to, and it delivers exceptionally good results. Keep up with the latest PC/104 products, news and specification updates at www.pc104.org.