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Cases for embedded appliances

Discussion in 'Embedded' started by Buddy Smith, Aug 29, 2003.

  1. Buddy Smith

    Buddy Smith Guest

    Hi,

    I'm working on a small devices, with some simple requirements. The
    software is mostly done, so we're ready to move over to testing it on an
    embedded board of some sort. The board will be running linux.

    I'm trying to find out the best way to get our code onto a piece of
    hardware that we can sell as a small-volume project. We would like this
    to be in a small appliance sized device (non-rackmountable. something
    around the size of a small router, or a tivo, something like that)

    Our needs:
    CPU - at least 300MHz, maybe more
    RAM - not sure. 64MB minimum (maybe less, but we'll see)
    Network - at least one 10/100 interface, maybe 2
    Video - none.
    Disk - we need 120GB or more of storage

    I would also like a small flash disk for storing the OS, etc.

    Ideally, i would get boxes in the mail with these specs, load my code,
    stick a logo on them, and mail them out.

    So, who should I talk to?

    I'm looking to get prototypes for testing within the next week or two.

    Suggestions are greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    --buddy
     
    Buddy Smith, Aug 29, 2003
    #1
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  2. Buddy Smith

    Ian McBride Guest

    I'm working on a small devices, with some simple requirements. The
    For a form-factor like you describe, you will probably wind up doing your
    own board. While commodity "PC" hardware is incredibly cheap, moving one
    degree from mainstream becomes instantly very expensive. For instance, look
    at prices of embedded form factors (ETX, for instance) versus microATX.

    So, my advice is that unless you are doing something that can look exactly
    like a PC -- including having a VGA connector, keyboard, and mouse on there
    to get access to the BIOS -- go ahead and take the bull by the horns and do
    your own integrated PCB.
     
    Ian McBride, Aug 31, 2003
    #2
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  3. An interesting idea.
    A definite disadvantage of the VIA boards is that they constantly change
    the content of the board. The follow up tends to have a different VGA
    chipset, different cpu, and so on.
    Other manufacturers such as the mentioned bcmcom, might have more constancy.
    Doing your own board means doing a layout for hundreds of MHz, not everyones
    speciality. Plus it means making your own BIOS.
    And if your board is not PC compatible, debugging on the target is much
    harder too.

    Did you do your own board ?

    Rene
     
    Rene Tschaggelar, Sep 1, 2003
    #3
  4. Buddy Smith

    Buddy Smith Guest

    : So, my advice is that unless you are doing something that can look exactly
    : like a PC -- including having a VGA connector, keyboard, and mouse on there
    : to get access to the BIOS -- go ahead and take the bull by the horns and do
    : your own integrated PCB.
    :
    :

    Two issues -

    1) I've never done PCB design myself, so we'd have to hire another
    contractor to do it

    2) The volume is low enough that this would be WAAAYYY too costly. Maybe
    if we knew we could sell a million of them it'd be worth it :)

    ttyl,

    --buddy
     
    Buddy Smith, Sep 1, 2003
    #4
  5. Buddy Smith

    Ian McBride Guest

    Two issues -
    It made sense for us, at about 2000 units a year. We have PCB people, but
    you can budget $1-$2 per pin for layout, and maybe 120 hours at $85/hour to
    create a schematic for this type of thing, assuming you have a solid set of
    requirements.

    In our case, we left the X86 architecture for this, though, going instead to
    a high-integration Motorola PowerPC microprocessor running ucLinux.
    Fortunately, we recompiled our code and "it just worked," but this is not
    always the case. I'll admit that rolling your own 32-bit x86 board is a
    real pain. The local bus is basically undocumented and hideously complex
    and you have to rely on you chipset to do everything.

    Tivo is a good example of a "near PC." A tivo equivalent can be run on a
    linux PC, but the company went with their own IBM PowerPC board to save
    cost. And this cost is not just cost of goods, it is cost of support. For
    a consumer application, embedded PC's are difficult to lock down and easy to
    screw with. I've seen service calls on $100K+ systems based on a PC and
    found the problem is because the customer figured out he could install MP3
    filesharing software on it and use it to build his music library. It takes
    much less of a knucklehead than this to touch some bios setting and then
    you're explaining how to connect a VGA monitor and keyboard to get past some
    "Hit F2 Key To Continue" screen.

    I'm not saying it can't be done, but if you base a consumer product on a PC
    wrapped up in an apliance skin, then be sure you're aware with the
    landmines. I'd hire someone who has pulled this off to pick his brain. If
    this is an industrial device, then it's not so bad as B2B customers seem to
    be figuring out that they should NOT screw with equipment just because there
    is a PC inside of it.
     
    Ian McBride, Sep 1, 2003
    #5
  6. much less of a knucklehead than this to touch some bios setting and then
    Which is why you ask the EPC vendor to give you a BIOS with customized
    defaults - including the password. If the consumer happens to destroy
    CMOS in any way, he just gets two beeps on powerup instead of one -
    and the boot process continues unmolested.

    Many embedded PC applications don't give the user a way to access any
    of this stuff anyway - no keyboard.

    Embedded PCs make good sense for some applications, particularly
    low-volume applications. Development time is *drastically* reduced,
    for instance.
     
    Lewin A.R.W. Edwards, Sep 1, 2003
    #6
  7. Buddy Smith

    Ian McBride Guest

    Which is why you ask the EPC vendor to give you a BIOS with customized
    I don't remember the figure, but this was definitely not cheap, at least (I
    think) in the case of Ampro. But yep, an embedded PC can be a tradeoff in
    cost per unit versus development cost. In our case, it wound up being an
    inexpensive way to a dozen or so prototypes, but we still had the bite the
    bullet after that.
     
    Ian McBride, Sep 2, 2003
    #7
  8. Which is why you ask the EPC vendor to give you a BIOS with customized
    The reason we deal with BCM and Advantech is that they are almost an
    order of magnitude cheaper, in some cases, than other vendors. Many of
    the EPC vendors are selling the *exact* same product (OEMed in some
    cases) for 2-3 times the price that you can buy it from these two
    vendors. Daylight robbery.

    Anyway - Assuming you're willing to flash the BIOS yourself during
    software preload, the NREs for a simple BIOS customization (custom
    CMOS defaults, maybe a boot logo) range from free to $2500. It's more
    expensive if you want them to preload your BIOS onto the boards.
     
    Lewin A.R.W. Edwards, Sep 2, 2003
    #8
  9. Buddy Smith

    James Dabbs Guest

    Anyway - Assuming you're willing to flash the BIOS yourself during
    This is interesting. How many BIOSs give you the flexibility to route their
    screen display to a serial port instead of a VGA console? I've got an EPC
    with no keyboard, mouse, or screen.
     
    James Dabbs, Sep 3, 2003
    #9
  10. Anyway - Assuming you're willing to flash the BIOS yourself during
    This isn't a feature we have ever asked for. That would probably be a
    "full custom" BIOS. The features I was talking about - boot logo, CMOS
    defaults, some PnP tweaking - are all really just a matter of running
    a BIOS-vendor-supplied binary merge / feature editor utility to bring
    modules together.

    How often do you need this, anyway? As soon as your OS starts, the
    BIOS probably isn't handling the "console" anyway - your OS is. So the
    only real use is setting up CMOS defaults and seeing POST messages...
    no?
     
    Lewin A.R.W. Edwards, Sep 3, 2003
    #10
  11. IIRC, CP/M used a serial port as the primary monitor connection.

    Old-style MSDOS had a CTTY command that routed text output to and received
    text input from a serial port.
     
    Richard Henry, Sep 3, 2003
    #11
  12. Buddy Smith

    Ian McBride Guest

    The Motorola MBX2000 had a bios that did this. You selected it with a
    Jumper, and you could buy the board without a VGA controller.

    To bad Motorola cancelled it.
     
    Ian McBride, Sep 4, 2003
    #12
  13. I have dealt with VME processor boards from (former) "or Industrial
    Computers" that did this. It was Award BIOS and the feature was rather
    buggy.

    Vadim
     
    Vadim Borshchev, Sep 4, 2003
    #13
  14. I don't know how many but JKMicro makes at least one board that does this.
    It works flawlessly in my prototpying. In fact there is no video port on
    the 386Ex model I'm working with, uFlashTCP.
     
    DM McGowan II, Sep 4, 2003
    #14
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