Happy 20th! The PC/104 Consortium celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Wow! Where does the time go? Believe it or not the first PC/104 specification was officially released in 1992, 20 years ago! Twenty years is quite a testament to almost any endeavor. In the fast-moving world of electronics it’s even more surprising to see this kind of staying power. And how has the PC/104 format been so popular while other formats have come and gone? Why has the PC/104 Consortium been so successful at maintaining and leveraging this format? With a little hindsight these questions are easy to answer.

The products

Any conversation about the popularity of PC/104 products has to start with its most compelling feature: the stacking interface. The ability of PC/104 boards to interconnect by just stacking them on top of each other has been called everything from “really convenient” to “economical” to “revolutionary.” For more details on the benefits of PC/104 stacking architecture see the Winter 2011 edition of PC/104 and Small Form Factors magazine – http://opsy.st/zg8KBn.

Additionally, the PC/104 format benefited from its compact size. The 90 mm x 96 mm (3.6" by 3.8") footprint was easy to fit into a number of applications where larger boards or card cages just could not go.

Its small size also provided an inherent ruggedness. The short distance between mounting points limits board flex, which makes it easy to design boards to operate in high shock or vibe environments. Since adding boards to the system actually reinforces the other boards in the stack, a PC/104 system is hard to beat for ruggedness.

The standards

The success of the PC/104 format is also tied to the way it is supported. The PC/104 Consortium gets its energy from a wide range of dedicated manufacturers who cooperate to support the PC/104 specifications, and they don’t take their responsibility lightly. By writing a specification that was clear and unambiguous, the PC/104 format was easily adopted by a wide range of manufacturers. The care that went into the specification assured compatibility between cards from one manufacturer to another. Having hundreds of compatible products available in the marketplace does not happen by accident!

Over the last 20 years the Consortium has not just supported the original specification, but has evolved new PC/104 specifications including stacking PCI and PCI Express designs, most of which are backward compatible in some way with previous PC/104 specifications. The resulting family of PC/104 products brings a wide range of performance and I/O options into the hands of design engineers.

The manufacturers

The third piece of the puzzle is the wide availability and variety of functions available in the PC/104 format. This is actually a result of the two factors above, but sometimes even the best ideas don’t catch on. In the case of PC/104, there were lots of manufacturers that knew a good thing when they saw it. Within a short time there were numerous PC/104 products available and the critical mass of PC/104 was unquestionable.

Combine the strengths of the original PC/104 design, the care and attention of the Consortium to manage and evolve the specifications, and lots of manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon and you have a winning formula (with a lot of compatible products). The advantages to the user are clear: a huge selection of products based on a reliable specification. It’s no wonder that the PC/104 format has been going strong for 20 years.

Looking forward

The PC/104 Consortium was originally established by 12 companies with a common vision of adapting desktop computer technology for embedded applications. It has been a tremendous success. Today the Consortium has more than 60 member companies in every corner of the globe. It has had a very positive impact on the embedded computer marketplace, and deserves to be celebrated.

So what will the next 20 years bring? Knowing the dedication and ingenuity of Consortium members, there will continue to be evolving specifications around which manufactures can build the most reliable, compatible, widely supported products in the industry. The result is a win/win situation for both PC/104 manufacturers and PC/104 users.

PC/104 and Small Form Factors magazine is celebrating PC/104 and the PC/104 Consortium’s 20th anniversary in this year’s Summer issue with a timeline and other features on the PC/104 family and the companies involved in its past, present, and future.

For more information on PC/104 specifications or to search for specific PC/104 products, visit www.PC104.org or search www.smallformfactors.com/products.

PC/104 Consortium www.pc104.org 408-337-0904 info@pc104.org