Who Would Use an Outdoor Computer?
Many customers have applications requiring an industrial computer capable of operating outside. Remote monitoring, interactive kiosk, and licence plate recognition projects are among the many "intelligent systems" needing rugged PCs able to withstand environments found outside of the traditional temperature controlled building. System selection for the out of doors depends on a number of factors, including whether the unit with be enclosed or not, and whether it will be exposed simply to temperature swings or whether moisture and dust figure into to calculation.
Outdoor Computer Installations Using a NEMA Enclosure
The vast majority of our customers are using NEMA enclosure, typically a NEMA 4 enclosure, to enclose both the computer and other sensitive electronics. NEMA cabinets address the problem of moisture and dust but temperature, both extreme heat and cold, is still a factor. In fact, enclosing a PC can actually aggravate thermal issues, given the risk that in an unvented NEMA enclosure's ambient temperature could rise beyond the computer's safe operating temperature specification. Also, many passively cooled computers rely on airflow to effectively dissipate the heat generated by internal components. When it comes to using NEMA enclosures it’s important to understand all the variables, both with the computer and the enclosure being used.
Outdoor Computers Without an Enclosure
While many small form factor systems can be used as embedded PCs, computers built to be embedded in a larger system often include features that make them better suited for the task required of them. Many embedded computers are passively cooled, as additional moving parts within a larger system only serve to complicate things and can make maintenance more challenging. Embedded hardware must frequently adhere to strict power limitations, making systems with low power draw ideal for embedded uses. Finally, many embedded PC integrators require specialized I/O to ensure easy connectivity with the other parts of the system. Embedded PCs often feature additional COM ports, Digital I/O (DIO) or even Parallel connectivity based on the needs of the modules and peripherals they’ll connect to.