While industrial applications typically require high levels of reliability, availability, ruggedness, and longevity, there often is a set of unique system requirements dependent upon the specific goals of the system. For instance, an industrial automation application may call for a particular I/O interface or the ability to support custom control software.
Unfortunately, no universal computing solution exists that can satisfy all of the varying needs for the growing range of industrial applications. The good news is that recent advances in technology have opened up a variety of new standardized options. The amount of performance that can be squeezed into a small form factor has improved dramatically in part due to advancements in processing technology. For instance, the new Intel® Atom™ processor Z5xx series was developed specifically to address very compact, performancehungry, and thermally constrained embedded applications.
Many popular embedded computing platforms are taking advantage of these innovations to provide the critical building blocks for embedded industrial and rugged systems. The following provides an overview of some of the latest off-theshelf embedded solutions now available in industry-standard form factors (see Table 1).
The Computer-on-Module (COM) approach offers the advantages of high levels of processing performance and I/O bandwidth in a compact form factor. It also allows flexibility in standard form factor boards that require upgradeable host functionality.
Embedded Technology eXtended (ETX) has established itself as a popular non-backplane form factor. Targeting customizable embedded requirements, ETX offers reliable operation and a long life in harsh environments. Since ETX modules employ heat-spreader plates to assist with conduction cooling, they are an option for use in extended temperature ranges as long as the components in the design can tolerate the harsh environment.
The newer ETX 3.0 specification offers all of the benefits of the original ETX standard while adding in 2x Serial ATA without changing any of the ETX pin definitions, making new modules 100 percent pin-to-pin compatible with previous versions to ensure long-term support for the vast number of embedded application solutions based on these already highly integrated COMs.
COM Express includes specifications for small-form-factor modules to satisfy the high-performance segments of the embedded industry. The COM Express standard currently includes “basic” and “extended” form factors following one of the five PICMG-defined pin-outs. In addition to offering “basic” modules with the ETXexpress product family, two compatible smaller form factor modules — microETXexpress and most recently nanoETXexpress (as illustrated in Table 2) — have been developed. The nanoETXexpress modules have a footprint just 39 percent of the original COM Express standard “Basic” form factor module.