In industry repeatability, reliability and performance are key factors, and whilst price is important, it’s not given as much priority. As Industrial computers are largely x86 based they often share the same component base as the commercial sectors. In recent years, key silicon vendors have recognised the importance of the Industrial field and now provide long-term support to ensure repeatability.
Perhaps of no surprise is that Intel leads the way in supporting the industrial computing user. Many years ago Intel established its Embedded division. This division focused on providing long terms support to certain processors and chipsets, enabling manufacturers to design products where they can confidently expect to be able to provide a minimum 5-year life cycle.
An example is that whilst the commercial mainstream processors such as the PIII may be considered old hat and obsolete, in industry they soldier on and provide plenty of computing power for many applications.
Intel is so committed to product longevity, that it is still possible to obtain a 386 or even a 186 processor!
VIA also offer a range of processors that provide long-term availability, which are the Eden and C3 CPU’s and associated chipset such as the CLE266.
Even AMD are getting in on act, with the acquisition of National Semiconductors Geode range. AMD have shown their commitment to the embedded market with the release of the new Geode LX 800, a 500MHz x86 CPU with a maximum power consumption of just 2.4W.
Although the support from the main silicon vendors for the major ICs is strong, manufacturers still sometimes experience difficulty with of some associated lesser components onboard. These can some times start to cause difficulty towards the back end of products life
In recent years a problem for industrial computers has been the advent of ever increasingly power hungry CPUs. Whilst many users don’t take in to consideration power consumption as part of the total cost of ownership, the fact that it is hot enough to cook an egg on does raise an eyebrow. When Intel launched the Prescott Pentium 4 we saw CPU power consumption rise to over 100W, making the task of removing the heat generated even harder. However, there are low power alternatives that can almost rival the performance and even be used with no CPU fan.
The benefit of going ‘fanless’ is that you can eliminate an obvious mechanical point of failure, another benefit is a reduction in noise. For some applications, such as medical, this is ideal and necessary. Intel’s Pentium M processor can provide Pentium 4 level performance with just a 4th of the power consumption, and the Celeron M provides Pentium III level performance. Bother processors draw less than 25W power and there are also Low Voltage versions that draw under 11W making them ideal for fanless applications.
Looking further ahead, it is rumoured that Intel will apply its dual core technology to the Pentium M processor, and will go even further by enabling the processor to be used in dual CPU mode. Potentially, this will enable very low powered quad CPU system to be deployed, which would suit vision processing based systems.