Industrial panel PC designs continue to follow in the footsteps of laptop computers. At least, it would seem that way, judging from their processors. Industrial PC makers are continuing to roll out new panel PCs based on Intel's Pentium M processors. The reason why is simple: These low-power processors have plenty of processing power for HMI and many control applications, but they run cool enough to eliminate the need for bulky heat-management components. They can even enable fanless enclosure designs in some cases. “Up to 1.4 GHz, the Pentium M can be part of a fanless PC that has no mechanical parts to fail,” says John Roberts, distribution manager at B&R Industrial Automation. Pentium M processors can also use smaller power supplies than the Pentium 4, another popular processor in industrial PCs. “The Pentium M processor allows us to build HMI devices to a small scale that's more appropriate to today's machines,” says Beckhoff Automation President Graham Harris, who estimates the Pentium M-based panel PC is about 2/3 thinner than a comparable Pentium 4 unit. And panel PCs are about to take an even bigger step forward. Suppliers have started to roll out models with Intel's Core Duo or Core 2 Duo dual core processors, which can simultaneously run different functions on each core.
Dual-Core Panel Models
At the recent SPS/IPC Drives Show in Nuremberg, Germany, Kontron introduced the first industrial panel PC equipped with Intel's Core Duo processor — embedded as part of a COM-Express-compliant, scaleable-ETXexpress Computer-On-Modules (COM). Thanks to its dual core processor, the Kontron V Panel Express can better run multiple control and HMI applications on a single, industrial PC. With a display size ranging from 12- to 17-inches, the Kontron V Panel Express has maximum RAM of 2 GBytes. It can be equipped with two CF Cards and up to two SATA hard drives. Interface options include two serial ports, five USB ports, DVI-I and two LAN 10/100/1000 Base-TX ports. The unit also has two free PCI slots for expansion. The Kontron V Panel Express supports Windows XP and Windows XP Embedded, as well as Linux and Embedded Linux.
Beckhoff Automation's new CP62xx Panel PCs are designed to give machine builders an “all-in-one” HMI and control solution in an IP-65-rated package that measures only 2.4-inches deep, says company President Graham Harris. These CP62xx Panel PCs contain a 3.5-inch Beckhoff motherboard with a choice of processors. The base level CP62xx comes equipped with an Intel Celeron M ULV 1.0 GHz processor and 64 MB Compact Flash as standard. It contains no rotating parts. The models with Celeron M 1.5 GHz or Pentium M 1.8 GHz feature a fan tray with speed-controlled fans supported by dual ball bearings. CP62xx models are available with 12-, 15- or 19-inch TFT displays, optionally with touch screen or touch pad. What's more, the C62xx features two independent Ethernet interfaces — a100 MBit Ethernet port suited to EtherCAT control tasks and a Gigabit port is available for connecting to higher level networks. The Panel PC base version comes with Windows CE. With a larger Compact Flash or a hard disk, Windows XP Embedded or Windows XP Professional can be installed as an option.
Pentium Now, Dual Core Soon
B&R Industrial Automation was one of the first to come out with Pentium M-based panel PCs with its first model introduced in 2004. Since then, the company has expanded those offerings, adding models up to 1.8 GHz. John Roberts, the company's distribution manager, believes these Pentium M models will continue to be popular — in part because they can enable robust, compact enclosure designs without sacrificing processing power. But the company has already developed prototypes of next-generation panel PCs that use Intel Core Duo and Core 2 Duo dual-core processors. Roberts says the big advantage of these dual-core processors is they enable HMI tasks to run on one core and other functions on the other core. “You get more processing power across multiple applications,” he says. In particular, he believes the Core 2 Duo, which supports PCI Express, will be a boon for machine vision. “The speed of PCI Express is key for vision applications,” he says. Roberts expects the dual core panel PCs, which are currently in the prototype stage, will be available toward the end of the year. In the meantime, the company has developed rack-mount and stand-alone industrial PCs that use the same dual-core motherboards.