PC/104 continues to serve multiple markets

Since it was first introduced in 1992, the PC/104 form factor has enabled embedded computing for avionics, military command and control, industrial automation, medical systems, and more. Its small size and inherent ruggedization made it ideal for unique applications in the aerospace, industrial, medical, and military markets.

More than 25 years on, the PC/104 standard still serves those industries; it’s also evolved to embrace modern signal-processing components such as the Intel Core i7, on through new versions of the standard such as PC/104-Plus and PCI-104. In today’s environment – where reduced size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements dominate many designs – it still has a place in new systems while continuing to support its legacy systems through technology refresh programs.

PC/104 for military use

Since its inception, PC/104 has been ideally suited for the development of rugged small-form-factor (SFF) systems and subsystems, where SWaP is almost certainly one of the design concerns. PC/104’s support for many different bus interfaces, such as PCI, ISA, and PCIe, enable designers to connect with systems employing legacy bus architectures while providing high-speed serial interconnects.

The modular, stack-through design of the PC/104/PC104+ platform enables engineers to build tailor-made configurations based on the industry’s extensive range of processing and I/O boards.

An example of such a custom configuration would be the Tomahawk missile launching system, which utilizes PC/104 as part of the missile launched safety interlock system. (Figure 1.)

Figure 1: A Tomahawk cruise missile launches from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup (DDG 86) during a live-fire exercise as part of Valiant Shield 2018 in the Pacific Ocean during September 2018. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Collins III/Released.

In another application, Excalibur Systems’ SFF Dragon system uses rugged PC/104 and PC/104-Plus modules in an enclosed modular casing suitable for military platforms. The system is appropriate for use in data acquisition, recording, and control for any combination of ARINC-429, MIL-STD-1553, Serial, Discrete, or similar types of communication.

We see the military market continuing to support PC/104 technology, with relatively flat revenue growth for PC/104, through 2021. This market may be one of the strongest long-term bets for PC/104 solutions because of its longevity: The military likes technology that will support their platforms, which often have lifespans of decades. PC/104’s long lifespan can reduce obsolescence costs.

Aviation and PC/104

The same attributes valued by the military market also attract designers to PC/104 for the avionics market, where SWaP is a major concern – especially in older aircraft cockpits. Typical applications in this area include intelligence, surveillance; and reconnaissance (ISR) data collection systems; data hubs; and avionics bus control systems.

However, the future of PC/104 in avionics systems looks flat to slightly declining revenue as designers start incorporating SMARC and COM Express modules in next-generation designs.

Once again, some military airborne ISR and other systems may last longer as their designs must live for many years on military platforms.

One of ADLINK’s PC/104 offerings defense and aerospace is the CMx-SLx, a PCI/104-Express Type 1 single board computer with the 6th-generation Intel core processor (formerly codenamed Skylake). The device is specifically designed for users with ­high-performance graphics processing requirements that wish to outsource the custom core logic of their systems for reduced development time. It can operate in the temperature ranges of 0 °C to 60 °C (standard) and -40 °C to 85 °C (extended).

The CMx-SLx uses Intel generation 9 graphics that include features such as OpenGL 5.x, OpenCL 2.x, DirectX 2015, DirectX 12, Intel Clear Video HD Technology, Advanced Scheduler 2.0, 1.0, XPDM support, and DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA) support for full HEVC/VP8/VP9/AVC/MPEG2 hardware codec. Graphics outputs include single-channel 18/24-bit LVDS (eDP x4 lanes optional) and three DDI ports supporting HDMI/DVI/DisplayPort.

The PC/104-Express SBC has one mini DisplayPort (DDI1), one micro HDMI port (DDI2), one single-channel 18-/24-bit LVDS port (eDP), two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 ports, two COM ports, eight GPIOs (from BMC), two SATA 6Gb/s ports, and one onboard SATA SSD supporting SLC (up to 32GB) and MLC (up to 64GB). The module is equipped with an SPI AMI EFI BIOS with CMOS backup, supporting embedded features such as failsafe BIOS, remote console, CMOS backup, hardware monitor, and watchdog timer.

PC/104 in industrial applications

The industrial market is the largest single user of PC/104 technology, with 63 percent of all PC/104 applications being industrial automation applications.

The industrial-automation sector covers industrial asset monitoring and tracking, which involves monitoring of assets or devices to ensure uptime performance, version control, and location analysis for a wide range of factory processes. Such processes may include fluid manufacturing, including monitoring of vessels and tanks; distribution, including infrastructure and supply chain; and resource automation, which can involve such disparate areas as agriculture, irrigation, mining, warehouses, factory, and plant.

New industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies are making it easier to bring intelligence to machines: Processors that are powerful enough to handle real-time streams of sensor data and apply machine-learning algorithms are now inexpensive enough to be deployed widely on factory floors to support such functions such as machine-wear detection and perform nuanced quality control. IIoT logistics tools are able to transmit real-time data on shipments and inventory between manufacturers, shippers, and customers to reduce inventory costs.

The inherent ruggedness and low power of PC/104 stacks are designed into industrial applications such as programable logic devices (PLDs), vision-inspection systems, power systems/controls, mining, and construction controllers. A key application for PC/104 in this area would be data logging for large mining trucks to increase productivity by providing a HUMS [health and usage-­monitoring system] function.

We expect to see growth in the mid-single digits for PC/104 in the industrial automation market.

PC/104 in the medical arena

The medical market is a bright spot for PC/104 designers, as analysts expect it to show positive growth through 2021.

Examples of medical applications for PC/104 include portable sonogram devices that can be used in the field to transmit images back to a hospital or doctor.

Actually, the military is also very interested in this technology, as teams at the front or in remote areas could diagnose and treat using these devices. Customers in the medical field choose PC/104 for its low power consumption, wide range of processor selection, and I/O. (Figure 2.)

Figure 2: PC/104 is used widely in portable medical devices – such as this sonography machine – because of its low power consumption, wide range of processor options, and I/O configurations.

Looking forward

Although new technologies such as COM Express and SMARC are gradually replacing PC/104 in certain applications, we see the market for PC/104 remaining robust with moderate growth through 2021, especially in industrial and medical applications.

So when PC/104 celebrates its 30th birthday it will be celebrating remarkable longevity with its loyal customer base in every market it serves.

Roy Keeler is senior product and business development manager, aerospace and defense, for ADLINK Technology.

ADLINK www.adlink.com