The Current State of Small Form Factor Computing

Range of Small Form Factor Computers

You hear the term “small form factor” a lot in the world of industrial computing and it has become one of those phrases used to describe a huge range of products. I’ve been working with Logic Supply for over 5 years, and small form factor standards have certainly evolved over time. With the ever-changing nature of the computer industry as a whole, the idea of what constitutes a small form factor device continues to evolve as well. So, what exactly is the definition of small form factor, and where might the industry be headed in the coming years?

Small Form Factor Motherboards

Small form factor computers are most commonly classified by their motherboard form factor, as shown. Image: VIA Mini-ITX Form Factor Comparison by VIA.

Mini-ITX Computers

Mini-ITX Small Form Factor PCOne staple PC form factor that has remained extremely popular is Mini-ITX. First developed by VIA in 2001 as a concept to showcase their processors, Mini-ITX took off and became the go-to solution for small form factor system builders. Much of it’s success can be attributed to the fact that Mini-ITX stuck close to  the width of your standard tower computer but lopped off the excess length, meaning that you could achieve the same I/O within a small footprint. Mini-ITX offers a compact alternative to full size ATX systems, but without sacrificing much in the way of connectivity and capabilities.

I like to parallel this trend in the tech industry to the mobile phone industry, and the way phones continued to get smaller and smaller to the point that they were irritating and straining to use. Mini-ITX strikes a perfect balance of form and function which makes it ideal for embedded applications in both size and flexibility.

Nano-ITX and Pico-ITX Computers

Pico-ITX Small Form Factor PCNano-ITX and Pico-ITX motherboards were released shortly after the Mini-ITX platform debuted, but did not take off in large part due to a lack of the same careful balance that Mini-ITX was able to maintain; the smaller the platform becomes the less I/O and features it can support. We are finally getting to a point of discontinuing our last Pico-ITX motherboard because our customers find that all of the pin headers needed to enable additional I/O can shake loose in industrial applications.

Intel NUC Computers – The Next Unit of Computing

Small Form Factor NUC PC - ML100Recently released by Intel, the Intel NUC was initially launched with a multitude of digital I/O that made it ideal for both consumer (e.g. HTPC) and commercial (e.g. Digital Signage) use. We’ve since seen both Intel and other motherboard manufacturers produce boards that include up to two LAN ports which have opened the doors to other applications such as networking and data acquisition.

Not to toot our own horn, but Logic Supply has really helped progress this form factor to the next level by working closely with Intel to engineer designs such as the ML300, and more recently the ML100, which can incorporate UPS power supplies and COM ports, making them ideal for industrial environments.

Compute Sticks

With Intel leading the charge we’ve seen simple, plug-and-play computers, or compute sticks, gaining popularity in the last year. However, particularly among our clients, we’ve found that this form factor has some inherent flaws. With it’s small size, it can easy be removed from a direct-plug application which makes it a vulnerability for digital signage applications. Compute sticks also feature limited I/O, drastically inhibiting their connectivity. We’ve also found that these systems are still in the early stages of development and have not been able to maintain the thermal performance that would allow them to withstand challenging computing environments, at least not the type that many of our clients face.

Proprietary Form Factors and Other Standards

Proprietary Small Form Factor ComputersEvery year we find new proprietary form factors being released. In many cases by integrated solution providers who make their boards unique to their enclosure. These are great if you want to have an off the shelf computer that meets your specifications, but it does significantly limit the amount of customization you can make to the I/O. There are also a growing number of Single Board Computer (SBC) on the market, which often make for a solid development platform but frequently lack the long-term support and revision control that many of our clients require.

The Future of Small Form Factor

As far as I’m concerned, until we all become cyborgs, Mini-ITX will continue to be the leading small form factor for industrial environments.

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Creating The Best Control Room Computer

Logic Supply TM600 Thin Client Control Room Computer

We’ve been fortunate to have a number of in-depth conversations with manufacturing professionals all over the world who are using thin clients to help optimize every aspect of their production facilities. We had an overwhelming number of requests to add a 4-5 independent display system to our ThinManager-Ready lineup to act as a centralized, control room management device that would allow operators to monitor their entire line from one location.

We took the feedback and created a multi-display thin client system specifically designed with control room applications in mind. The new TM600 Industrial Five Display Thin Client, which has been certified ThinManager® Ready by ACP, is a dependable, easy to install thin client designed for the specific needs of manufacturing pros. Here is what they asked for:

Reliability – When you’re monitoring and controlling your entire operation from one room, it’s imperative that vital performance information, video feeds and analytics are available and easy to access at all times. Industrial components and an all metal enclosure are must-haves in any control room computer.

Small Form Factor – While a control room environment generally offers a bit more installation space to work with than the terminals on the production floor, it’s clear that space is at a premium in every part of a production facility. The hulking towers of old are simply aren’t suited for the modern control room.

Multi-Display – Monitoring multiple applications, or virtualizing multiple desktops from a single thin client that’s able to support 4 or more independent displays simultaneously, is the key feature for control room applications. With the number of large, high resolution panels and monitors available, it’s a natural question to ask “why not use 2 large monitors instead of 4-5 smaller ones?”. The answer: failures and flexibility. If one smaller panel fails, it’s much easier to replace quickly with minimal impact. Multiple smaller displays allow users to organize the monitors in a variety of configurations to best suit their needs. Multiple displays give control room operators the flexibility to view and manage whatever data they need and multi-task effectively.

The team at ACP recently wrote about the industry need for multi-display thin client systems, detailing the benefits they offer for users implementing ThinManager software.

To see all the ways the TM600 enables efficient factory management, click here or download the full spec sheet.

Logic Supply TM600 Control Room Computer Dimensions

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Windows Embedded is Dead. Long Live Windows IoT?

Windows 10 IoT Versions

As any industrial computer professional, and even your average home PC user, is well aware there are a host of different Windows OS versions. While the consumer space mostly focuses on interface changes with each new Windows release, in the commercial hardware world important differences exist in both functionality and licensing. Over the years, Microsoft’s Windows OS has continued to evolve, with versions more and more specialized to the tasks that the computers they’re installed on will be called on to perform. For many industrial users, Windows Embedded has become the go-to solution for building systems that don’t require the features or, have the storage space for a full Windows install. But with the release of Windows 10, things have changed. Microsoft has continued to embrace the evolving Internet of Things movement by offering a new flavor of their ubiquitous operating system, Windows IoT. But what is Windows 10 IoT, and is Windows IoT the new Windows Embedded?

What is Windows 10 IoT?

Windows Embedded Versions

Windows 10 IoT is primarily a change in nomenclature. Users looking for a stripped down a la carte OS option, like those building an embedded device or specialized system, have long used Windows Embedded to fully customize their hardware interface and system operation. The storage space savings and enhanced customization that Windows Embedded enabled are still present in Windows 10 IoT, but Microsoft has gone even further, offering one option (Windows IoT Core) that completely eschews any kind of graphical user interface (GUI).

Windows 10 IoT versions include:

  • Windows 10 IoT Enterprise
  • Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise
  • Windows 10 IoT Core

Windows Embedded vs Windows IoT

The appeal of Windows Embedded has always been that users only get (and have to pay for) the features they need, and for our clients in particular both Windows IoT Enterprise and Windows IoT Core will be of particular interest. Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise is specifically intended for use with mobile point of sale and handheld systems under 8”, and therefore isn’t applicable to clients utilizing our industrial computer hardware.

To better understand how Windows 10 IoT differs from previous Windows Embedded offerings, let’s take a quick look at the features and licensing models for past versions. For the sake of clarity, we’ve divided Windows Embedded/IoT options into three basic categories: Modular, Full and License Only.

Modular Windows Embedded Options

Modularity is very attractive for hardware users who only require select features of an operating system. The OS image can be custom built by picking and choosing which Windows features to include. Also, additional functionality is available, such as custom splash screen branding and filters. Past modular OS options included:

Windows Embedded Standard 7 (WES7) – For WES7 there are different license levels available (C, E, P); each license has a difference price, and the licenses dictate which Windows features can be included in the image. Licenses start with the cheapest option C, which only allows a small subset of Windows features, followed by E which is more expensive and includes a few additional features, and finally P which is the most expensive and includes all the features of Windows Embedded Standard 7.

Windows Embedded 8 Standard (WE8S) – Essentially the same as WES7 but with only the single license option which enables all the features of Windows Embedded 8 Standard.

Windows 10 IoT Core – Here is where Windows 10 IoT significantly deviates from its predecessors.  Windows 10 IoT Core does not include any form of GUI and was designed specifically for custom development on small embedded and single board devices. With its rollout, Microsoft seems to be targeting the maker movement, folks building custom devices that don’t necessarily require a screen or any graphical output. Microsoft recently partnered with Adafruit to release a Windows IoT Core Starter Kit designed to help new developers get started learning about electronics and the IoT Core OS. You can read a bit more about Windows 10 IoT Core directly on the Microsoft website.

Full Windows Embedded Options

As you might expect, in a “full” windows embedded deployment, the OS image is pre-built and includes all typical Windows functionality, plus the additional embedded functions (branding, filters, etc.).

Windows Embedded POSReady 7

Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry

Windows 10 IoT Enterprise – The full version of Windows 10 IoT, the Enterprise version, also offers an alternate license option called “Windows 10 IoT Enterprise for Retail or Thin Clients.” Unlike the various licensing options for WES7 mentioned above, this alternate license doesn’t limit features. The Enterprise for Retail or Thin Clients option is a bit less expensive, but can only be used on systems in a specific application like retail, thin client, or digital signage.

License-only Windows Embedded Options

License-only Windows Embedded OS options are software-identical to the standard OEM OS. The only difference is that this type of license can only be used on systems in an “embedded” application, meaning that the computer they are installed on must be part of a larger system or device.

Windows 7 Professional for Embedded Systems

Windows Embedded 8.1 Pro

At this point we’re not aware of any Windows 10 IoT license-only option.

As Microsoft continues to release new versions of Windows it becomes increasingly difficult to identify the appropriate version for your particular project. If you have questions about which Windows 10 IoT version is right for you, contact one of our Solutions Specialists.

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Powering Innovation: Maximus Security Using the DS-1001 to Help Save Lives

Maximus MaxLife Telemedicine with Cincoze touchscreenMaximus Security ( is using the Cincoze DS-1001, along with the CV-100C-M10001 touch screen monitor, in their revolutionary MaxLife™ Telemedicine application.

MaxLife™ is the latest in advanced mobile ambulatory telemedicine technology. Originally designed for pediatric/neonatal emergency transportation, this sophisticated, yet simple to use system provides medical professionals live patient access using a high definition IP camera and a touch screen interfaced CPU. When an emergency call is initiated from an ambulance or hospital, the cameras are activated and can be viewed live to help assist paramedics and emergency physicians in treating patients in critical need of lifesaving procedures. The MaxLife™ system allows real-time audio and video, as well as simultaneous recording of every moment. Completely HIPAA compliant and providing the highest level (AES256) of security in the public domain, Max Life™ will remain connected even in the most rural areas as it can function properly on as low as a 2G signal all the way through 4G LTE service. Learn more.

Our Powering Innovation feature highlights clients who are using Logic Supply hardware to build the future of intelligent systems. Have a project featuring our hardware that you’d like us to feature? Send the details of your project and a photo of the system in use to with the subject line “Powering Innovation”.

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ASIS 2015 Report: Taking Security on the Road

ASIS 2015 Show Floor Logic Supply and Milestone Booths
How was the show? What’s the market looking for? Is our focus on rugged, in-vehicle Network Video Recorders justified?  These are just some of the questions I bombarded our Logic Supply security team with when they got back from ASIS International 2015 in Anaheim California last week. Once they had a moment to catch their breath, and wade through the sea of business cards they collected, they were happy to provide a full rundown of the lessons they took from one of the world’s largest security technology shows. Here’s just a bit of what they saw and learned.

Surveillance Has Gone Mobile

ASIS Bus CameraLogic Supply’s longstanding focus on fanless, wide-temp hardware is paying off. It’s clear that as the physical security market matures, its moving beyond cctv and the office park into more challenging environments: construction sites, offshore drilling rigs, remote locations, and — especially — transportation. The 2015 ASIS team, which consisted of VP of Sales Brett Mancini, Security Hardware Specialist Steve Winn, West Coast Account Executive Marc Girard and Head of our Partnerships Program Beth Hill, spoke with fleet owners and bus companies, as well as train systems and public transit professionals from all over the world. Here’s what those industry pros told us they were looking for in a surveillance hardware solution:

  • ASIS CamerasMulti Camera – It should go without saying, but almost every surveillance application in today’s world requires more than one camera. This makes it crucial that surveillance computers include support for at least 2 camera feeds. Ideally, one data connection per camera should be sought, which means dual Ethernet/PoE per computer. While systems like our Milestone Certified MX1000 can support up to 25 HD camera feeds, many of the installers and integrators the team spoke with are looking for a system that can handle between 2 and 6 simultaneous camera streams.
  • Fanless, Solid State, & Vibration Resistant – When installing surveillance equipment in locations prone to vibration like trains, automobiles or construction equipment you need to look for a computer that can handle the shock and vibration they’ll encounter. By having a solid state computer with no moving parts, you eliminate points of failure typical in standard computers like fans and spinning storage media. Also, certifications like EN50155 ensure a computer has been rated for all the perils of railway and automotive applications including vibration, humidity and shock.
  • Logic Supply MX1000 certified by MilestonePower Over Ethernet – When wiring cameras in tight spots, extra cabling can mean more work for installation and can cause issues that lead to unreliable operation. PoE offers up to 25 watts of power and Gigabit data over a single port, reducing cables and increasing reliability and ease of installation.
  • Hot Swappable Storage – When retrieving or backing up data in the field, easy access to the storage media is ideal. Hot Swap allows for easy removal of hard drives no matter where the system is located, with locking features available to prevent theft or vandalism. 2.5” drive support often means more drives of smaller capacities while 3.5” drives offer higher max storage size but are limited by large physical specifications.
  • Wide Temp – Increasingly, today’s surveillance equipment is being installed in harsh locations. Having a computer that can handle extreme temperatures ensures reliability and gives peace of mind. While not all security hardware needs to operate in extreme temps, if a computer will be exposed to the elements, -10°C to 60°C should be the minimum rating to look for in all your equipment. Remembering that the temperature of a system is only as good as the weakest component can prevent surprise failures in the field.
  • ASIS CCTV VanAutomotive Ignition Sensing Power – When installing surveillance equipment in an automotive setting, power is often the biggest hurdle. You need computers that can sense when the automobile is turned off, ensuring the computer doesn’t drain the battery and cause damage to other electrical components. Automotive computers have special intelligent functions enabling the system to turn on and off with the rest of the internal components, ensuring the reliability of the computer and the vehicle.
  • High Performance – As footage resolutions and frame rates increase, and the number of cameras required also goes up, the need for high performance computers is crucial. Intel’s Core i7 processing is ideal for this and is becoming a popular choice in the surveillance industry. Also, high performance storage media also ensures smooth and reliable recording. SSD’s offer high performance and solid state operation while traditional drives offer high storage capacities at affordable prices.

What Do Security Integrators Need?

The security integrators we talked to told us loud and clear that they are interested in a rugged lineup of hardware that would help them penetrate new, big markets like urban transit and fleet security. They also wanted service options that would support their business: a clear product line architecture (good, better, best); net terms; VMS software imaging and licensing; quick ship times, a spare the air program, and rock solid technical support.

VMS and surveillance solution providers who we talked to, by contrast, were interested in heat dissipation (thermal performance of our units) and our OEM services: industrial design and branding to help them stand out, combined with an off the shelf approach to system development that would limit from-scratch development costs.

What’s In a Name: NVR vs Edge Device vs Edge Server

ASIS Camera SignThe other thing we noticed in Anaheim? There is little standardization about what the market calls our products. Some refer to our systems as rugged or mobile NVRs (in contrast to HVRs and DVRs), others talk about them as Edge Devices, Edge Storage, or Edge Servers. This difference in nomenclature probably has to do with the particular ecosystem the integrator or end user is working with, and really doesn’t make a lot of material difference to us. That said, it drives our marketing team nuts!

As a whole our experience at ASIS 2015 was incredibly positive. In addition to our own booth we were part of the Milestone Systems Partner Pod program, which gave us the opportunity to be part of their ASIS display, show off our MX1000 rugged mobile NVR and chat with integrators utilizing Milestone’s class-leading XProtect® VMS software. We learned a great deal about how XProtect is being used and what Milestone users are looking for in a hardware platform (more to come on that in the near future). The Logic Supply security team is already hard at work following up with some of the folks we met in Anaheim and we’re excited to help them create the perfect surveillance solution for their trains, buses, unmanned vehicles, taxis and trucking fleets.

If you missed our daily recaps of ASIS 2015, you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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