computing aims at cost
and size constraints
Designers who demand the smallest embedded computing
architectures are interested in capability, but they need it at an
affordable price to accommodate next-generation applications in
unmanned vehicles, soldier systems, and other tiny electronics.
From the system designer’s standpoint, it’s still the Wild West out
there in the world of small-form-factor embedded computing. The
market is fragmented, to say the
least. Moreover, designers considering small-form-factor embedded
computing are looking for low costs
and technology that is just good
enough for their applications to
keep costs low. This is incentive for
integrators to choose the least-ex-pensive solution they can find, and
purveyors of small-form-factor embedded computing to cut corners
wherever they can.
There are plenty of established
and emerging small-form-factor embedded computing standards—and
that’s perhaps the central problem.
Vying for the system designer’s eye
are COM Express; PCI Mezzanine
Card (PMC); Qseven; PC/104; Micro TCA; VITA 73, 74, and 75; Smart Form
Factor; and 3U VPX, to name a few.
In such a fragmented market, the
value of an industry standard is dubious. Systems designers are looking
for a bargain wherever they can find
it in this era of shrinking defense
budgets, which is putting even more
pressure on suppliers. “Right now
no one has money,” points out Claus
Gross, president of small-form-factor specialist PCI Systems Inc. in
It is encouraging systems designers to consider custom designs for
small-form-factor embedded computing products, as well as standard
products adjusted for low prices.
There is little industry consensus on
small-form-factor embedded computing industry standards, which
leaves suppliers operating largely on
their own in an increasingly difficult market.
Today “the small-form-factor
market looks like an Arkansas trail-
er park after a tornado; it’s scattered
all over the place, and these peo-
ple are wandering around in the
debris,” says Ray Alderman, ex-
ecutive director of the VITA Open
Standards, Open Markets embed-
ded computing trade association in
Fountain Hills, Ariz.
What is small form factor?
With such a plethora of small-form-factor embedded computing standards in existence today, even
the definition of the term is hazy.
Small-form-factor embedded computing modules range from the sizes of a small paperback book, to a
standard deck of playing cards, to
a credit card. In essence, however,
most agree that small form factor
includes anything smaller than 3U
VPX or Compact PCI. Some even insist that 3U computer boards should
be considered small form factor.
More than what small form factor means, however, is what this