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Industrial computers: Customization drives R&D, output

Makers emphasize niche applications for specific target markets. Environment-friendly models are likewise highlighted.

China suppliers of industrial computers are focusing on models that fit certain application-specific requirements. This is because such products are highly customized, with types, functions and features dictated largely by buyers' specifications. And with only a few consumers veering toward more powerful CPUs and GPUs, larger LCDs, and high-capacity HDDs or HDMI support, development in the line has been relatively slow.

Industrial computer
The BIS-6550 embedded board computer from Shenzhen Norco utilizes an Intel Atom N270 CPU. It has a built-in 2.5in HDD and optional USB wireless HDTV tuner.
Given the situation, companies in China consider several factors before turning out certain device types, foremost of which are the units' primary function and compatibility with the target application.

With regard to the latter, manufacturers take into account whether models are for controlling, monitoring, testing or other purposes. They also look into the most suitable software to install, and determine both internal and external input that can affect performance. In the industrial panel PC segment, makers design variants that can endure the harsh environment in workshops, and versions that can withstand high temperatures and nonstop operation.

Consumers' increasing utilization of ¡°green¡± products is likewise influencing China suppliers' R&D agenda. Companies are now releasing models that have resistance to radiation, interference and shock, and lower power consumption. Several adopt new chips based on 45 or 65nm technologies in addressing the latter. Some simplify PCB design by eliminating unnecessary components, while others integrate heat pipes instead of fans.

To protect from radiation and interference, manufacturers use a metallic shield. Many are also enhancing the structural design and adding a bolster to their models to improve anti-shock properties.

The Evoc Group has recently launched environment-friendly industrial computers. Aside from better aesthetics, units have radiation protection and boast anti-EMI and vibration functions.

There are currently 20 producers of the line in China. This number is unlikely to increase in coming months due to the high technology threshold. Moreover, companies are still feeling the negative effects of the global economic slowdown.

Most manufacturers are located in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Many established factories there because of the city's mature supply chain, which provides easy access to electronic components and raw materials. Shenzhen also boasts a well-established transportation system and strategic location that enable efficient trade services.

The majority of companies cater mainly to the domestic market, as setting up overseas branches continues to be a challenge for many. Currently, local sales account for more than 85 percent of total revenue for most makers. Western Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East are the main markets internationally.

Products & prices
Bus evolution
Taiwan: Performance enhancement tops R&D agenda

Industrial computer
Shenzhen Norco has released the BIS-6540 model, an embedded-board computer with a DDR SO-DIMM slot supporting up to 2GB ram.
Products & prices

Industrial computers from China are used in various applications, including expressway, medical, telecom, financial terminal and computer telephony integration.

Aside from ATMs, switches, set-top boxes and advertising monitors, suppliers are now looking into utilization in the network controlling, IPTV and HDTV sectors.

The line comprises single- and embedded-board computers, and rugged and industrial panel PCs. The latest releases are based on Intel's quad-core CPUs.

Industrial panel PCs usually come with a 6.4 to 22in LCD, 300cd/sqm brightness, 1024x768 to 1440x900-pixel resolution, an Intel 82915GM+ICH6M or 945GC+ICH7 chipset and an optional touchscreen monitor. These are mainly for the medical, advertising, marine, manufacturing, gaming, retail, communication and automotive industries.

Products are available in 4 or 5-wire resistive, capacitive, SAW and infrared types. One trend in this category is the adoption of widescreen displays, driven by increasing demand for digital signage industrial panel PCs with a larger form factor.

Makers are also integrating wireless LAN and PAN, and even mobile wireless technologies such as Bluetooth. Single-board computers come with or without slots.

The former version dominates supply. These are used in machine control, and kiosk and gaming devices.

The key features of embedded-board types are an onboard Vortex86SX 300MHz CPU, 64MB DDR2 memory, Topro TP6508 graphics controller and embedded Linux or Windows XP/CE OS. The products are software-programmable and have PC/104-Plus, ISA and PCI-104 connectors.

Bus evolution

In the aspect of technology, trends in the line are mainly influenced by the developments in the general PC industry. With Intel/AMD CPU and Microsoft DOS/Windows as de facto standards, ISA, PCI and PCI Express buses have been adopted in most industrial computer models. The traditional DCS and FCS types are now hardly seen.

This evolution has enabled motherboards to be easily deployed horizontally for fitting in narrow spaces. It has also resulted in improved anti-shock performance, component life span and mean time to recovery.

Many suppliers are launching products with the x86 architecture, which includes ISA, PCI and PCI Express, because of its faster computing capability. The standard's maturity is another benefit, providing companies easy access to software and hardware information.

The Compact PCI and PXI buses are expected to consolidate their positions further. Their advantages include self-diagnostic and hot-swappable technology, a high-availability system and simplified structure.

They are projected to replace VME and VXI interfaces, although the latter two will continue to hold relative shares in military equipment and large-scale test systems.

PCI and ISA industrial computers, on the other hand, are used as testing and managing instruments for controlling systems.

The latest bus standard adopted by makers is the PCI Express. This is expected to supersede the PCI and AGP interfaces. Its main advantage is the high data transfer rate of up to 10Gbps.

The standard is also able to meet the needs of both low- and high-speed devices through its various specifications, ranging from PCI Express 1x to 16x. Currently, about 15 percent of China's industrial computers are PCI Express-enabled.

Taiwan: Performance enhancement tops R&D agenda

Product development in Taiwan's industrial computer segment is geared toward improved efficiency, lower power consumption and interface expandability. DDR 3 memory is increasingly adopted as it offers higher bandwidth and working efficiency, and has lower energy consumption than DDR 2. Intel solutions are a popular choice for models used in a variety of applications. Intel Atom-based boards, for instance, are suitable for medical diagnosis equipment, gaming machines and industrial control measurement devices.

Adlink Technology Inc. has launched industrial computers equipped with Intel solutions. Its Express-ATC embedded-board unit incorporates an Intel Atom N270 processor. The product measures 95x95mm and has a power consumption of less than 9W. The NuPRO PRO-E320 model, meanwhile, utilizes Intel Q45 high-speed chipsets supporting 800/1066/1333 front side bus. This single-board variant is designed for applications requiring high working efficiency and transfer rate.

For more affordable solutions with generic applications, most Taiwan suppliers adopt platforms from Via.

As interface expandability is a significant factor in choosing industrial computers, companies generally equip their models with PCI Express, 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet and USB 2.0 ports. Units also have SATA slots supporting up to 6Gbps. PCI Express capture or graphics cards are available to enable machine vision applications such as automated optical inspection.

In terms of storage, HDDs and solid state disks are commonly adopted.

The more than 100 industrial computer makers in Taiwan offer rugged and panel PCs, and single- and embedded-board designs.

Industrial panel PCs from the island are primarily used in advertisements and factory automation. Slim form factors and Wi-Fi connectivity are their two majorselling points. Screen sizes include 10.4, 12.1, 15, 17 and 19in. SAW touchscreens and 5-wire resistive touch panels are mainly adopted. For entry-level products or those that require mobile use, the Intel Celeron M low-voltage processor with up to 1.5GHz is utilized.

Panel PCs that function as POS systems or desktop kiosks are becoming more popular. They can now support POS peripheral devices such as omnidirectional scanners, receipt printers and CF readers.

Fametech Inc. Tysso offers the PPC series of panel PCs designed mainly for factory automation, outdoor kiosks and the retail segment. The products have a magnetic stripe card reader, i-Button and Wi-Fi connectivity.

This article "Industrial computers: Customization drives R&D, output" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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