Designing CompactPCI Systems with Serial Interfaces

With more than a year under its belt since it was officially ratified by PICMG in March of 2011, CompactPCI Serial (PICMG CPCI-S.0) has proven to be a good example of how an industry standard can be upgraded to meet the needs of evolving computing parameters while protecting the historical investments tied to the original architecture. The fact that it has found a new home in a wider variety of application environments is just one more benefit that this new computing standard offers.
altAlthough derived from the successful, modular CompactPCI standard, CompactPCI Serial is a standard all on its own that allows new embedded systems to be built using time-proven CompactPCI technology, yet incorporate the performance advantages of serial communications.
Fifteen years in the embedded computing industry is more than a lifetime for many components, technologies and systems that exist in this sphere. CompactPCI has been in existence for about that long, so change was inevitable. Fortunately for many embedded designers, this change was not in the form of a complete digression from the proven mechanics of the original, highly utilized standard (Figure 1).

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

The new age of CompactPCI Serial computing still accommodates 3U and 6U boards in IEC 1101-compatible 19" systems, ensuring the reliability of the CompactPCI bus interface well into the future, while meeting all the requirements of modern modular systems without the increased costs of other alternative standards.
altAnd, the benefits of modernizing CompactPCI not only impact the system, but the designers themselves. Think about the knowledge base among the embedded design community and the number of individuals familiar with CompactPCI as a computing platform. When new standards are put forth, designers are often faced with having to throw away existing information and develop systems under tight time constraints and shrinking budgets, while learning a new technology platform and mounting the design hurdles that are inevitable.
Crucial questions begin to emerge. How much of the initial investment can be salvaged versus having to navigate through the re-architecting of an entire existing system? How much development time has been built into a project that is utilizing a new industry architecture, and are the expectations realistic to troubleshoot, integrate and deliver a functional platform?

Applications Abound

Designers who have already integrated 3U and 6U CompactPCI boards into their system designs can easily utilize the increased functionality of CompactPCI Serial without the fear of adapting systems to a different standard. Appli cations where CompactPCI has been used effectively include image and data management and recording in surveillance systems, camera control systems for surveillance, different possibilities for integration of wireless communication, audio data processing, and computer simulation or a computer cluster in industrial quality control, to name a few.

And, CompactPCI Serial can now be applied in harsh and safety-critical environments in addition to the many markets mentioned above, as well as in areas with electronics in mobile applications, especially on rail and road, in ships and avionics, and research and development.

Bridge the Gap from Old to New

altThe thing that drove this new standard’s development — the fact that CompactPCI is so widely accepted and employed in embedded systems — also created a conundrum of how to maintain the investments already made in existing systems. Enter CompactPCI PlusIO (PICMG 2.30 — see sidebar), which defines the migration path from existing CompactPCI systems to one using only serial interfaces through CompactPCI Serial. With this hybrid standard, designers can migrate portions of a legacy system to serial technology as time and budgets allow. And the standalone CompactPCI Serial standard gives designers the flexibility to create completely new systems based on serial technologies.

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