A comfortable future for PC/104

MARCH 16--In a recent study of the global market for 'stackable' form factor boards in embedded and real-time applications, Venture Development Corporation (Natick, MA) confirmed that the market for PC/104 family modules shows strong and continuing viability.

MARCH 16--In a recent study of the global market for 'stackable' form factor boards in embedded and real-time applications, Venture Development Corporation (VDC; Natick, MA) confirmed that the market for PC/104 family modules shows strong and continuing viability, despite some shifts in architecture within this technology. The PC/104 family comprises three form factors or architectures, differing in the expansion buses provided. 'Traditional' PC/104 provides only the venerable ISA bus for expansion, while the newer PC/104-Plus provides both ISA and PCI. The newest version, PCI-104, dispenses with the ISA bus, providing only PCI.

The ISA bus has been absent from consumer desktop computers for several years, but still finds utility in many Industrial Automation applications that do not require high-speed response. However, as demand for, and therefore the supply of, controller and bridge chips declines, ISA will continue to decline.

The most dramatic growth is projected for the new PCI-104 architecture, which does not include ISA expansion capability. Although comprising only 5.3% of shipments in 2004, PCI-104 is expected to reach a share of nearly 16% in 2008. This is equivalent to an increase of 331% in terms of dollar volume shipments.

J. Eric Gulliksen, embedded hardware practice director at VDC, notes additional factors that will ensure the continuing viability of PC/104. "Several small 'stackable' embedded motherboard form factors, including 31/2 in., 51/4 in., EBX, and the new EPIC, may be provided with PC/104 family expansion. These provide a wider range of choices for designers when selecting a control module. Pentium-M and Celeron-M CPUs, with power-and-clock stepping technologies, are enhancing the computing power capabilities of these small boards, without aggravating thermal problems."

Gulliksen also pointed out that the EPIC form factor specification provides for the future inclusion of PCI Express as an expansion architecture. "I wouldn't be surprised to learn of a similar program to apply PCI Express to the PC/104 family form factor in the near future," he said. "This would provide for increased performance and reduced board complexity, and further solidify the position of stackable architectures in the embedded world."

VDC is an independent technology market research and strategy consulting firm that specializes in a number of embedded, component, industrial, and defense markets. VDC has been operating since 1971, when the firm was founded by graduates of the Harvard Business School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For more information about this or any other VDC service, seewww.vdc-corp.com.

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