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Midsize motherboards branch out

Posted: 02 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded motherboards? single-board computers? SDRAM?

New product introductions of the past six months show how fragmented the market is for embedded motherboards and single-board computers, particularly when it comes to small formats. In the midsize realm, ranging from about 40-50-inch2, however, the activity centers primarily on 6.7-inch x 6.7-inch Mini-ITX and 5.75-inch x 8-inch EBX motherboards, though the boards themselves are diverse.

Device flavors
The EBC-855 from WinSystems Inc., for example, is an EBX motherboard targeting traditional embedded applications in industrial automation, security, medical/diagnostic equipment, test and measurement, and other areas. It is based on a 1.8GHz Pentium M or 1GHz Celeron M ULV microprocessor, relies on a Phoenix Trusted Core BIOS and Intel ICH4/855GME GMCH chipset, and is compatible with Linux, XP Embedded, DOS and several x86-oriented RTOS environments.

The thermal design of the EBX motherboard lets a 1GHz Celeron M ULV operate in 70C, or up to 85C with a fan.

The operating temperature range of both processor versions of the board is -40C to 70C, but the Pentium version requires a fan-an important factor in some deeply embedded applications. The operating temperature range of the Celeron M version can be extended all the way out to 85C with the addition of a fan.

The EBX motherboard has up to 1Gbyte of socketed PC2700 DDR SDRAM and interfaces for two HDDs or other IDE-compatible devices, a floppy drive and printer. Four USB 2.0 ports are also provided, along with 10/100Mbit Ethernet, four serial ports, six-channel audio and 48 bidirectional lines of digital I/O for general-purpose use.

The EBC-855 provides chipset graphics with up to a 2,048 x 1,536pixel format, and is capable of simultaneously driving a CRT monitor and LCD monitor. An optional IEEE 802.11a/b/g wireless interface is incorporated on board via a Mini PCI card, and a resident CompactFlash socket supports Type I and Type II cards. The motherboard also includes four USB 2.0 ports for peripheral interfacing and a PC/104-Plus connector for expansion.

Advantech's most recent EBX offering, in turn, supports a wider range of microprocessors running Windows XP Embedded in applications such as digital surveillance, factory automation, security and gaming. Dubbed the PCM-9590, it can accommodate any Intel processor from Celeron M all the way up to a 32bit or 64bit Core 2 Duo device. The board is intended for embedded applications in less rigorous environments in which a narrow operating temperature range of only 0C to 60C is sufficient.

The Advantech EBX board packs more performance into the same real estate as the WinSystems board, but not without some sacrifice. It can, for example, accommodate 4x as much system DRAM4Gbytesand it has a pair of Gbit USB 2.0 ports, and the board contains a pair of Serial ATA 300 interfaces and an IrDA port as well.

On the other hand, the Advantech PCM-9590 delivers 32 fewer lines of digital I/O than the WinSystems EBC-855, with only 16 lines provided. While both companies provide four serial interfaces, two of WinSystems' support RS422/485 for longer-distance serial communications vs. only one of Advantech's.

Both boards have a Mini PCI socket for system expansion. The Advantech board has one x16 PCIe slot; and while Advantech supplies a PC/104 expansion site, WinSystems opted for PC

This Mini-ITX motherboard has a security MCU to protect data through encryption.

/104-Plus, accommodating both PC-compatible PC/104 and PCI-compatible PC/104-Plus plug-in boards.

Security focus
Over in Mini-ITX land, some motherboards appear to be more narrowly focused. The iQ965-CI from Advansus, for one, clearly has high-security applications in mind. Based on an Intel ICH8/82Q965 GMCH chipset and Award BIOS, it accommodates the same microprocessor range as the Advantech board and a similar complement of peripherals and I/O, with a few exceptions, such as an on-board PCIe GbE controller.

The iQ965-CI incorporates an Infineon security MCU, implementing the Trusted Platform Module specification of the Trusted Computing Group, said to provide "a complete suite of embedded security and TPM system management utilities." It contains a Winbond W83627DHG-A I/O chip, which monitors hardware parameters such as temperature, power supply voltages and fan speeds. Its operating temperature range is 0C to 60C.

Elsewhere, AAeon Technology is touting a Mini-ITX motherboard, the EMB-820T, aimed at gaming, transportation and medical applications. Based on a choice of AMD Geode processors, it contains up to 2Gbytes of RAM, along with floppy and IDE interfaces, a standard PCI slot, a Mini PCI slot and a Type II CompactFlash socket. It uses a SiS741CX/964 chipset and supports Windows XP, Red Hat Linux and other OS. This Mini-ITX board has eight USB 2.0 ports and optionally includes a controller for a resistive touchscreen.

Ibase, too, has medical and gaming applications in mind, but it is also targeting its new AMD-processor-based MI930 Mini-ITX motherboard at automation and point-of-sale applications. Based on a single-core Athlon 64 or dual-core 64 X2 processor, along with an AMD M690T/SB600 chipset, the board has six USB 2.0 ports and a pair of GbE ports.

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