Top 5 Reasons You Should Care About PC/104 in 2021

Press Office, VersaLogic Corporation, 03/24/21

This blog was originally written in 2020 as “Top 5 Reasons You Should Care About PC/104 in 2020 and Beyond”. However, as a great example of why PC/104 is relevant for the future, here’s an update to keep you informed about the cutting-edge developments since then.

It’s a valid question to ask why someone would design using a form factor that was originally created many years ago, especially in a world where consumer electronics release new shapes and sizes several times a year. Of course, the technology designed into PC/104 products has changed radically over time, but the benefits of the form factor have remained constant.

Especially for critical projects in Industrial, Military, and Medical applications, the PC/104 platform remains as strong as ever in 2021.

Ask yourself – is working with a product that’s stable, reliable, flexible, expandable, rugged and supported with a long (10+ year) product lifecycle – something you’re looking for in your next system design? If so, check out PC/104 and see how it “stacks up”!

The PC/104 is an industry-standard form factor with many advantages. We’ve compiled our top five:

#1 – Rugged & Reliable

Long before Raspberry Pi and Arduino, PC/104 computers got their start and quickly became widely adopted as the standard for rugged industrial computers. The small size and stacking design make them extremely rugged and resistant to shock and vibration. Most PC/104 products are tested to MIL-STD-202 for shock and vibration. This makes the PC/104 format the perfect choice for challenging industrial and military applications.

VersaLogic has been designing and manufacturing rugged, reliable PC/104 computers since the standard was established. An example is the EPM-14 (Cougar) processor board, shown below.

VL-EPM-14 CougarEPM-14 Cougar

#2 – Size Matters

The compact size of the PC/104 standard is another one of its strengths. It is small enough to install in most embedded applications, but big enough to hold a substantial amount of circuitry. The 90 x 96 mm (3.8 x 3.6”) footprint is even more effective in use since a backplane or card cage assembly is not required for operation. Expansion boards, when needed, simply stack on top of the processor board, without the need for additional interconnects.

Of course the compact board size, along with its corner mounting holes, contributes to its ruggedness and lack of board flex compared to other form factors.

Since the PC/104 format was created, many other form factors have been added to the embedded marketplace. These include mini ITX, NUC, Nano ITX, ETX, and even COM Express (which isn’t a single board computer). Many of these found a place is various applications, but none of them could surpass the compact, rugged, stackable advantages of PC/104, or the huge eco-system of expansion options.

Today PC/104 supports tens of thousands of system designs used around the world in difficult environments performing critical functions. VersaLogic supports the PC/104 format with low, mid, and high performance single board computers.

#3 – Extensive Ecosystem

PC104 Consortium Member logoAs a result of a tight standard being established and adopted by the PC/104 Consortium, hundreds of vendors began making every type of processor and add-on (stack on) accessory you can think of, from common needs like additional serial communication ports (CAN, RS-232, RS-485, Fieldbus, Aviation Bus, etc.), to adding digital I/O control, analog inputs and outputs, relay control to more specific needs like frame grabbers, digital signal processor (DSP), servo control, digital resolvers and other more specific or custom designed PC/104 modules.

Over the years that eco-system of both processors boards and add-on options has continued to grow to meet the needs of the market. The PC/104 specification has also evolved to keep pace with advancing technologies. The format was updated with the PCI Bus, and later with a PCIe interface, to increase the bandwidth for expansion cards. Each generation supported by an ever-widening ecosystem.

The PC/104 ecosystem supports new projects by providing access to off-the-shelf solutions for most processor and I/O needs. This drastically reduces development time (time to market). The standardized form factor also allows both processor and expansion boards to be upgraded over time, such as when end products are enhanced or upgraded.

#4 – Leading-Edge Technology

Designing with PC/104 today doesn’t mean sacrificing access to the latest technology. The continued development of The PC/104 Standard and the incorporation of newer features like on-board eMMC, soldered down RAM, and fast read/write NVMe SSD storage, continue the legacy of both ruggedness and high performance.

Additional expansion options like mini PCIe socket(s) can be used for flexible add-on modules like high capacity solid state storage (mSATA), GPS, PoE, AIO, DIO, Serial Communication (RS232, RS422, RS485, CAN), Wi-Fi, Cellular and many more.

Pair a reliable and stable single board computer, like the VersaLogic EPMe-30 (Bengal), via its PCIe (OneBank) expansion bus with a 4-port mini PCIe board gives you up to 5 sockets for flexible mini PCIe expansion, all in a space of roughly 90 x 96 x 50 mm. Not to mention that these off-the-shelf products can be trusted in hostile environments and will be available far into the future.

#5 – The Icing on the Cake

What could make PC/104 even better? Building on such a solid platform, VersaLogic and a number of other manufacturers have made PC/104 products even more attractive for difficult / hostile environments. In particular they have designed boards from the ground up to operate over the full industrial temperature range, -40° to +85°C. Whether it’s an application in the Arctic, or a system in a sealed box that has cooling challenges, the industrial temperature range adds the extra margin to keep a system running when it counts.

In addition, many PC/104 products are also designed from day one with long term availability in mind. VersaLogic specializes in extended life products by carefully selecting the components in each design. Industries subject to regulatory oversight, such as medical device manufacturing often have to spend a number of years to design and release a product. Having the embedded computer discontinued in only a few years can mean starting the process over.

VersaLogic is focused on providing stable, reliable platforms with long-term availability (10+ years). Products like the EPM-16 TomCat help companies that need long term availability in order to navigate the regulatory waters.

On top of that, VersaLogic’s MCOTS (Modified Commercial Off The Shelf) programs can be used to create customized products where needed, even in lower quantities. Using this approach to lock a board revision or freeze a BOM, allows VersaLogic’s outstanding Supply Chain Management to keep an eye out for issues in the future. Programs for stocking critical component inventories can keep products being delivered for many additional years (or even decades).

Working with a long term availability partner, like VersaLogic, reduces obsolescence risk, as well as having a standardized path for migration (if needed). The PC/104 ecosystem allows you to focus your efforts, energy and resources into what matters most: your own IP and system development.

PC/104 in the Future

What lies ahead? VersaLogic is committed to PC/104. Depending on your needs the future could already be here. For example, the EPMe-42 (Lion), shown below, delivers Intel Core i7 performance with PCI/104-Express OneBank expansion. This king of the jungle delivers outstanding performance in a small package at only 12-13.5W depending on the model, with its flexibility and longevity available for many years.

EPMe-42 LionEPMe-42 Lion

But, just as in the past, the latest demands of many rugged, real-world applications being developed for the market today are pushing for more performance and features.

VersaLogic always has its eye on the future. Since our 2020 PC/104 blog, VersaLogic has announced the very high performance EPMe-51 (Sabertooth), shown below. Similar to its namesake, this new computer has “cutting-edge” features. These include three-bank x16 PCIe expansion combined with Intel’s newest 9th generation Xeon processor. With an eye to the future, the Sabertooth also includes high-speed 128 GB NVMe SSD storage, ECC memory, Ethernet, TPM 2.0 security, GPIO and USB ports, as well as a SATA port for off-board storage.

EPM3-51 Sabertooth - topEPM3-51 Sabertooth - bottom
EPMe-51 Sabertooth

Meeting the Challenge

PC/104 and VersaLogic clearly stand ready to meet the application challenges of today and tomorrow.

Check back often for information on VersaLogic’s latest PC/104 products or subscribe to VersaLogic’s newsletter to be notified of new releases. Follow VersaLogic on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or contact VersaLogic directly to discuss your specific application needs.