How To Decide & Choose Communications Ports!

Jun 13, 2016

We’ve seen fanless PCs used to control stock in warehouses, manage the status of refrigerated trucks on the road, process CCTV footage and manage conference calling systems.

Each of these systems uses a completely unique set of peripherals that need somehow to communicate with the central processing PC. So I/O provision and choice is one of the most important decisions a specifier needs to take.

Lack of thought here result in a need to mess about with adaptors or even create costly custom interface cables later in the design. Equally, you don’t want to specify and pay for interfaces that you don’t need.

Exploring the opportunities for customisation

An audit of all the peripherals your PC will need to connect to, and what interfaces they will need is definitely a good place to start. You may be lucky and find that these requirements are readily supported by many standard fanless PCs – but often you will find gaps. This is where it is worth exploring the opportunities for customisation.

Customisation via Face Module

Many Tiny Green PC’s support FACE Modules (Function And Connectivity Extension Board) which increase the diversity of interfaces available. Using a FACE module, you can add a further four Gigabit Ethernet ports taking the total to six, and allowing the PC to double as a network hub.

4 additional LAN with this Face Module
4xLAN Face Module providing 4x GbE LAN 10/100/1000BASE-T compliant with IEEE 802.3/u/ab + 4x USB2.0 downstream ports, up to 480Mbps half-duplex.

You can add an additional two miniPCIe sockets or six serial ports, to interface label printers for example, or to support RS-232 interfaces. Most excitingly of all, a Power over Ethernet module has been introduced, allowing peripherals such as cameras and phones to be powered via the PC, potentially eliminating the need for a separate power supply.

4 additional POE-PSE with this Face Module

The 4xPOE face module provides 4 POE LAN/PSE ports supporting 10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet connectivity compliant with IEEE 802.3/u/ab and IEEE 802.3af standard to power over Ethernet devices such as cameras, phones or modems.

Customisation via FACET

Another example of I/O customisation that provides leverage to get the PC that you need uses Fitlet. Using antennas, Fitlet-i/A10 can enable WIFI communication or 3G data communication via on-board micro SIM socket and mini PCIe slot. It also offers an e-SATA connectors for need of external storage.

By incorporating a FACET card (Function And Connectivity Extension T-Card) on Fitlet x/A10, instead of wireless communication, you’ll get 3 additional GbE ports via the mini PCIe... So two very different Fitlet models using the same processor and form factor.

Integrated Mini PCIe Connector

Consider also the integrated connectors such as Mini PCI express. They enlarge the capabilities and functionalities of the PC, enabling applications involving GPS, video cards, decoder or data communications...

Using an integrated SIM Socket (present with IntensePC2, Fitlet I, FitPC4 Pro, etc.), you can create a direct connection to a cellular network through a Mini PCIe cellular modem. In the truck application I mentioned above, a GPS allowed central logging of vehicle status and location at all times over the cellular network.

3G data communications via on board sim socket

Fitted in IntensePC2: the Telit HE910-D mini PCIe cellular modem (1) and SIM card (2). The antenna is connected via antenna cable to the modem (3).

What's next?

Having specified the I/O it’s time to take a hard look at reliability. One of the great benefits of fanless PCs is that they have few or no moving parts, but how can you be sure that the PC you choose will stand the level of use it gets and how long it will last? Even if your application isn’t 24 x7, you still want the PC to be totally reliable. Assessing this is the subject of the next Knowledge Base post.