Hold the mayo

When we changed the name of this magazine to include "and Small Form Factors," it was because the trend in embedded computing at that time favored a proliferation of small-sized modules and systems. Yet we're still amazed at the activity bonanza in this growing market, from open standards promoted by the PC/104 Consortium, SFF-SIG, or the folks at StackableUSB to myriad custom and proprietary sizes such as USB/104.

In this issue of SFF, Don Dingee treats us to a virtual roundtable discussion with executives from several leading SFF vendors in his article, "It's kinda like a deli, with a lot of choices" (page 14). The executives jovially retort that the best SFF mechanism (stacked, module on carrier, or cabled) is driven by the application; it's not a religious argument where "mine's best." As well, there's nearly universal agreement that a stacked module such as PC/104 is the most rugged (yet challenging to cool). And for systems with high-speed I/O and fast CPUs and peripherals, serial buses such as PCI Express or next-gen USB 3.0 represent the future.

Speaking of USB, I believe it has grown more popular than PCI ever was – and that includes all the add-in computer boards, too. Every computer gadget under the sun can be plugged into USB, from flashlights to tanning glasses and heated slippers (gotta get me a set). In the SFF space, ACCES I/O Products reminds us again of the company's USB/104 form factor. In their article, "Rethinking the bus using USB" (page 18), they argue that USB 2.0 and 3.0 offer the best balance of functionality, size, and expansion via slots or stacking height. Interestingly, they demonstrate a 19" rack-mounted 1U computer built entirely of USB/104 modules interconnected by, you guessed it: USB.

Also in this issue you'll find sort-of annual reports for the PC/104 Consortium (page 7) and SFF-SIG (page 8). The Consortium has a new president – we welcome back Jim Blazer from RTD Embedded Technologies, who is joined by representatives from Advanced Micro Peripherals, DIGITAL-LOGIC, Fastwel, Kontron, Intel, LiPPERT Embedded Computers, and the ever-present Jeff Milde, the Consortium's executive director. Jim recaps the Consortium's meetings held at ESC in March and recounts their latest spec: PCI/104-Express. (Full disclosure: I recently joined the Marketing Committee for the PC/104 Consortium.)

On the SFF-SIG side, Colin McCracken has handed over the reins to Paul Rosenfeld. Colin rejoins Ampro ADLINK Technology, where he once worked alongside Paul.

Also held during ESC, the SFF-SIG's meeting revealed the ultra-tiny 90 mm x 96 mm Industry Standard Module (ISM) based on their new COMIT COM technology. Predictably, USB factors heavily in the plans of the SFF-SIG.

And last, but certainly not least, on page 10 our faithful European correspondent Hermann Strass gets all quantum physics on us by channeling Einstein while describing how European supplier dSPACE's modules power America's Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). Coincidentally, one of LIGO's two locations is near me in rural Washington state. It's located at the same facility that once processed plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Chris A. Ciufo, cciufo@opensystemsmedia.com