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The list of military programs using PC/104 in the airborne, marine, handheld and vehicular arenas continues to lengthen. Military system developers select PC/104—and its wider community of form-factors including PC/104-Plus, PCI-104 and EPIC—because of its compact size as well as the ruggedness inherent in its stacking architecture. Many of those applications require a certain degree of sophistication when it comes to electronics enclosures and packaging. That’s particularly the case for applications with demanding environmental specifications where the system is tasked to operate reliably in harsh field conditions.
Certainly the lack of a backplane and the use of a pin-and-socket mating connector naturally help make PC/104 inherently rugged. That said, dealing with heavy loads of shock and vibration energies, submergence in seawater, extreme temperature operation or electromagnetic pulses (EMP) make a sound mechanical design for PC/104 systems all the more critical. This stacked multi-board system provides for a shock- and vibration-resistant off-the-shelf computing solution by eliminating backplanes and metal card cages, making PC/104 ideal for military vehicles such as tanks or even Humvees. Crafted especially for military program requirements, a growing assortment of semi-custom PC/104 enclosure and chassis solutions has been available from several PC/104 vendor companies.
Within the past year or so that trend has advanced to where these “stand-alone” box-level computers with PC/104 inside are now part of many vendor’s product lines, rather than just a pure custom solution. This fits in with the broader trend where traditional embedded board vendors are adding stand-alone rugged box-level systems to their military market offerings. These complete system boxes—which often support standard form-factor boards inside them—provide a complete, tested and enclosed computing solution that eliminates complex integration chores for customers. The systems typically comprise a set of modular embedded boards housed in a rugged enclosure that has its own power supply and interface ports to link to a variety of user terminals.
An example along those lines is the DuraCOR 810 from Parvus. It’s a rugged tactical computing platform integrating a low-power 1.4 GHz Pentium-M processor and PC/104 card expansion slots. The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) chose the DuraCOR 810 processor systems and DuraMAR 1000 mobile routers for use with the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The DuraMAR router is also used in design of the Tactical Switch Router (TSR) for the United States Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) (Figure 1). The TSR router is based on Parvus’ DuraMAR Mobile IP router product, a rugged router system integrating Cisco System’s 3200 Series Wireless and Mobile Router technology. The Tactical Switch Router enables the deployment of communications-on-the-move and information-sharing capabilities, supporting the Marine Corps’ net-centric operations initiatives.
The Navy’s newest class of surface warship, the LCS operates manned and unmanned vehicles (UVs) for conducting mine warfare (MIW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and surface warfare (SUW). Two DuraCORs and one DuraMAR unit are specified as part of the communications equipment package for each LCS Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) being developed to carry out these warfare missions.
Also exemplifying the marrying of stand-alone rugged boxes and PC/104 is Octagon Systems’ XMB Mobile Server product (Figure 2). The drawback to a complete all-in-one system has always been the lack of flexibility to customize to application requirements. With that in mind, Octagon Systems nullified that drawback by offering a product that marries the complete system approach with the ability to mix and match I/O and other functions via PC/104 add-in cards. The basic unit includes the processing power, power supply, memory and I/O for most applications.
Standard I/O includes dual Ethernet, quad USB 2.0, dual serial, CRT and LCD video and digital I/O. Because the XMB-1
is fully functional out-of-the-box, additional I/O such as GPS, analog, GPRS and video camera can be readily added via PC/104, PC/104-Plus and XBLOK modules. An option panel can be easily removed and punched for custom annunciators, connectors and controls. Generated heat is efficiently channeled directly to the case to help prevent internal hot spots. The XMB Mobile Server operates in ambient temperatures from -40° to 75°C, depending upon the processor speed, user options and mass storage devices.
New Rugged Box Solutions
The stand-alone rugged box trend has opened up a whole set of product choices for military system designers. To date many such systems have been on the expensive side. Offering a low-cost (sub- $1,000) alternative, Adlink Technology offers its compact PC-based controller system. The GEME-42000 from Adlink Technology is equipped with an Intel Ultra Low Voltage Celeron M processor (1.0 GHz) and up to 1 Gbyte of DDR333 RAM, and can be controlled from remote locations and run continuously in mission-critical applications.
The GEME-42000 meets the needs of embedded controllers; it is compact, has front side access, is highly reliable and offers an expandable architecture with optional motion, I/O and communication modules in PMC or PC/104 form-factors. Power supply options include standard AC power for stationary applications and DC power for mobile applications such as in vehicles.
Much debate continues in the industry as to whether the venerable ISA-bus is worth supporting. Even given the long design cycles of military programs, ISA has moved far beyond its prime. In the PC/104 universe, leaving ISA behind translates as the PCI-104 flavor of PC/104. PCI-104 maintains the PC/104 mechanical form-factor, but includes only PCI while omitting the 104 connector that supports ISA.
Advantech has added a new compact embedded computer to its ARK-4000 product series that’s based on PCI-104. The ARK-4180 (Figure 3) features high vibration/shock resistance and wide temperature capability. The ARK-4180 with Intel Celeron M 1.0 GHz processor can operate in temperatures ranging from -40° to 75°C, providing high processing performance in a compact, rugged enclosure. The ARK-4180 is developed from PCI-104 stackable modules. The PCI-104 form-factor allows modules to stack vertically to provide a naturally rugged architecture. Each system is housed in a specially cast and milled solid aluminum block with thermal fins that help dissipate heat.
Another feature is the specially designed fanless thermal solution with embedded heat pipes, which allow wide temperature operation without active cooling. The ARK-4180 supports six USB 2.0 and two RS-232 connectors, 10/100Base-T Ethernet LAN and VGA for versatile connectivity. It supports one PCI-104 connector for expansion, and by adding another enclosure layer, up to two more PCI-104 modules can be stacked.
The “EPIC” Struggle
Designed as an upgrade path from PC/104, perhaps the most significant news to spring from the PC/104 community was the roll out a couple years ago of the Embedded Platform for Industrial Computing, or EPIC, form-factor. The EPIC spec was developed jointly by a cross section of major PC/104 players. The EPIC form-factor fills the need for a mid-range-sized form-factor between that of PC/104 and the EBX motherboard standard. The same group of vendors that created the EPIC form-factor followed up with the publication of the EPIC Express Specification, which adds high-bandwidth PCI Express I/O expansion to EPIC form-factor SBCs. Most of these vendors offer both PC/104 and EPIC families of products. Unfortunately connector issues have held back EPIC Express’s progress. A number of vendors have rolled out new EPIC SBC products in the past twelve months, including Arcom, Diamond Systems, Octagon Systems and Micro/Sys.
In many applications ratcheting down the amount of power consumption in a subsystem is a priority. That’s why Arcom designed its ZEUS EPIC-sized SBC to consume only 2W typical. Combined with dynamically adjusted sleep modes, extensive communications options, a wide operating temperature range and a vehicle-compatible power supply, the board’s ultra-low-power design makes it ideal for vehicle tracking, mobile terminals and network communications controllers.
The RoHS-compliant board is based on the Intel 520 MHz PXA270 XScale RISC processor. ZEUS has seven onboard serial ports to support a wireless modem and GPS and provides traditional hardwired serial I/O functions for legacy communications. A small adapter module fitted with a variety of GSM/GPRS, iDEN and CDMA wireless modem modules is optional. The board includes up to 256 Mbytes of soldered SDRAM and up to 64 Mbytes of soldered AMD MirrorBit flash. 256 Kbytes of battery-backed SRAM using the onboard battery are provided.
Other features include a TFT/STN flat panel graphics controller, analog touch screen controller, dual 10/100BaseTx Ethernet ports, I2C controller, dual USB host controller, USB client, AC97 audio/codec, CompactFlash interface, SDIO and a standard PC/104 bus expansion connector. The ZEUS may be powered from the integrated DC/DC PSU (10-30V) or from a single +5V input. The power supply has been designed for use with vehicle power looms and features transient suppression and protection.
With a Data Acq Spin
On a single board, the Poseidon EPIC form-factor SBC combines the VIA Eden ULV or VIA C7 processor running at speeds of up to 2 GHz with Diamond Systems’ patented, automatically autocalibrating A/D circuitry. The connector board is removable, providing pin headers for a more rugged interface.
The Poseidon includes 256 Kbytes of on-chip cache, a 400 MHz front-side bus and up to 512 Mbytes of onboard soldered 533 MHz DDR2 RAM. The VIA CX700 integrated digital media chipset integrates the VIA UniChrome Pro 2D/3D graphics controller with integral MPEG-2 hardware acceleration, CRT and LVDS flat panel support, and dual independent display capability. The Poseidon SBC also provides four USB 2.0 ports, two RS-232 ports, two RS-232/422/485 ports, IDE and SATA hard drive interfaces, and an Intel 82541 Gigabit Ethernet controller. Typical power consumption is under 10W.
For military applications that depend on remote terminals, protocol conversion or data logging in power-shy environments, the ideal SBC would combine a low-power CPU with lots of onboard communications formats. That’s exactly what the EPIC form-factor SBC4670 (Figure 4) from Micro/sys offers: it matches the fast, low-power 520 MHz PX270 ARM processor with Power Over Ethernet, onboard GPS, a socket modem capable of GSM/GPRS, CDMA or Bluetooth, and/or a CAN bus interface. The board also contains support for an 800 x 600 color flat panel display, audio output and debounced keypad input, as well as eight channels of 14-bit A/D with simultaneous reads, eight channels of 14-bit D/A and 24 channels of digital I/O.
The SBC4670’s processor can dynamically shift velocity in response to performance or power consumption changes. On-chip cache, an SDRAM controller, a CompactFlash interface and a USB host controller are also on board, as well as five serial ports, 128 Mbytes of SDRAM, 64 Mbytes of boot flash and a 16-bit PC/104 bus interface. The SBC4670 supports Linux, Windows CE and VxWorks. A stackthrough version is available for plugging into a custom OEM I/O card.
Focus on SWAP
In many defense and aerospace platforms, size, weight and power (SWP) are critical design considerations. Developed for applications that need all three, Octagon Systems offers the EPIC form-factor XE-900 SBC, designed to operate in harsh, demanding environments. The XE-900 incorporates the 32-bit, low-power VIA Eden ESP CPU family. Three versions are available: the 400 MHz and 733 MHz versions operate at -40° to +85°C and the 1 GHz version operates at -40° to +75°C.
Memory includes 512 Kbytes of surface mount flash for BIOS, a SO-DIMM socket for up to 512 Mbytes of SDRAM and 1024 bytes of user-available serial EEPROM. ATA-4 hard drive and CompactFlash interfaces support up to three drives: CD-ROM, hard drive, EIDE flash drives and other EIDE devices. The board includes CRT and flat panel video, six RS-232/422/485 serial ports, two USB ports, 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, PC/104 and PC/104-Plus expansion and 24 lines of bit-programmable, digital I/O with 16 mA sink/source capability. It features ACPI 2.0 and PCI power management. The conduction-cooling system eliminates the need for a fan even at 1 GHz.
San Jose, CA.
Overland Park, KS.
Mountain View, CA.
Salt Lake City, UT.
RTD Embedded Technologies
State College, PA.
North Andover, MA.