PC/104: Who and why?

Admission: PC/104 is not a flashy name.

There, I said it. The name itself lacks a bit of marketing magic. But PC/104 is less about its name and more about what it delivers: a capable, reliable solution. We also know that embedded engineers aren’t swayed by catchy ads or sales gimmicks. They’re interested in data, numbers, and what’s been proven. They’re interested in what has a track record. Embedded engineers are interested in, “I’m going to build this and it’s going to work.”

Flashy or not, the PC/104 specifications have been a stalwart player in the embedded space for nearly 30 years, and the trend continues. We see PC/104 systems in early-stage developing programs, in long-term deployments, and at every stage between.

Who’s it for? What’s it for?

Whether you’re designing a product, organizing an event, creating a specification, or writing a column, “Who’s it for?” and “What’s it for?” are invaluable questions. They serve as guideposts for every decision.

Let’s start with the question of purpose: What’s PC/104 for? It’s for rugged, reliable performance in space-constrained applications. It’s for edge computing at the sweet spot between the source and the cloud. It’s for projects that might need quick uptime along with production capabilities for five years, ten years, or more. It’s for leveraging design expertise from multiple manufacturers who offer a rich ecosystem of embedded solutions.

And who’s it for? It’s for engineers building special-purpose systems using commercially available, off-the-shelf products. It’s for system integrators who are creating flexible modular solutions. It’s for achieving a powerful balance of size, weight, power, and cost. It’s for engineers who need to tell their manager, “We solved our problem with a trusted, proven architecture.” (See also, “Great news, Boss: We made a sound design choice, and it’s a good use of your money.”)

Who else uses it?

We often talk about the end users of PC/104. However, there’s another angle into this: that of the manufacturers.

For manufacturers, PC/104 is an attractive platform. It’s a known architecture with an open specification. Spinning products onto PC/104 gives manufacturers the ability to add their products to a thriving embedded marketplace. We see this happening with single-board computer manufacturers and also with companies that create peripheral modules for video, CAN bus, MIL-1553, GPS, and serial.

What’s next for PC/104

Members of the PC/104 Consortium are in the initial stages of developing a new stackable specification. While the existing PC/104 specifications serve many embedded-computing needs, our sights are set on what will be required in the future.

Since 1992, we’ve chosen the careful, conservative approach to developing our specs. How will this affect legacy users? What is the migration path going forward? What tests are necessary to ensure signal integrity and physical durability? Which choices will best serve the market? What’s a short-term trend, and what’s going to have staying power?

Our process continues. While we seek to innovate and adapt to the changing needs in the market, we’re also committed to making wise, forward-looking technical choices. We’ve long been known for the reliability and technical soundness of our adopted specifications. As we move forward, we intend to maintain that reputation in service to our membership and in service to embedded designers across the globe.

Where to see PC/104 in the wild

Aside from our website, which hosts product data sheets for many of our members, you’ll find us exhibiting at embedded world in Nuremberg in February, at the OpenSystems Media pavilion. During the show, we’ll host a panel discussion with leaders from our member companies. Last year’s discussion was a great success, so be sure to look for us in 2020!