At least once a week, I get a call from an integrator or end user looking for a discontinued PC to work with their application. Since I understand the issues faced due to existing custom software and peripherals developed to interface with that specific PC, I have always tried to source the exact PC configuration required.
In the back of my head, I realize that the cost to update software and develop a new platform can be very high. Unfortunately, I have found that in most instances, the desired PC has been discontinued long enough where there is no way of obtaining that model/configuration any longer. After breaking the bad news to the customer, I am always asked, “So, where do we go from here”?
Although the undertaking of finding a PC replacement can be a tough task due to custom developed in-house or outsourced software application, there are several instances where I have been able to work with customers to successfully transition into a replacement platform. With more and more legacy applications experiencing the discontinuation of their mission-critical PCs, here are some things I’ve discovered:
8 Ways to Help Select a Replacement for Your End of Life PC
Since software always dictates hardware, the first step is to have a great understanding of how your software platform was developed. This will enable you to understand its hardware requirements for use with a replacement PC. If you did not develop your software and it was outsourced, it’s always a good idea to contact the software developer to obtain the hardware requirements for using said software. This will enable you to select a current PC platform that will accommodate your application.
2. Operating System
Your software was developed to work with a specific Operating System (OS). It’s important to fully understand what OS is supported – or if there are multiple Operating Systems supported – so that you can select the appropriate PC. This is really important since some PCs only support Windows 7, while others have support for Windows XP Pro SP3, Windows XP Embedded, DOS and Linux.
3. Processing Power
It’s also important to realize that your software requires sufficient processing power in order to operate. Knowing whether your software application require a Celeron, Core 2 Duo, Atom Dual Core, Core i3/i5/i7 or Xeon processor is crucial. If you configure your PC with the incorrect CPU, you are going to have an issue with performance.
If you are using Windows XP Pro, there’s a great chance that you will probably only utilize 2G or 4G of memory (RAM) in your system, since the OS will not support more than 4G RAM. Where it becomes important to understand the requirements of your software is when Windows 7 Pro 64-bit is involved. There is the potential for your software to require 16G RAM or more for ultimate performance. In these instances, a PC with fast processing power and server board are normally required.
5. Form Factor
The amount of psychical space you have allocated for your PC will play a large roll in what you can utilize. For smaller spaces, Embedded PCs are very popular.
For the larger applications, a 7-slot ATX Motherboard configuration or 14/15/20-slot Passive Backplane/Single Board Computer Rackmount configuration are available.
For HMI applications, you have a large selection to choose from, which range from Touch Panel Computers, Panel PCs and Industrial Panel PCs. Please keep in mind that limited space not only restricts the size of PC utilized but the amount of peripherals you can include in it.
Does your software require a single hard drive, two hard drives with RAID, solid state drives, removable drives or more than two storage devices?
This becomes important since the appropriate chassis to support the number of storage devices required must be selected.
If space is an issue, the smaller chassis won’t accommodate as many storage devices.
If space is at a maximum, it’s very easy to pick a chassis out that will provide you with the required storage for your application.
7. I/O Cards
If you have a requirement to install legacy ISA/PCI cards or current PCIe I/O cards in your PC, it is important realize the card type (ISA, PCI or PCIe) that’s required.
If it’s a PCIe card, you need to know the PCIe lanes (x1, x4, x8 or x16) required. It’s also important that for all legacy I/O cards (ISA, PCI), you have a driver source since some manufacturers no longer offer a source to them.
If all of this has been established, you can then look for a chassis and passive backplane/single board computer or ATX Motherboard configuration that will accommodate your I/O. Please keep in mind that PICMG 1.0 configurations only enable the use of ISA and PCI cards together, while a PICMG 1.3 configuration will enable you to use PCI and PCIe cards together in the same PC.
8. External I/O
It’s important to understand what your software application requires in order to interface with external I/O and peripherals.
I always ask my customers the type and quantity of Ethernet (LAN) ports required. The choices are FE LAN (10/100) and GbE LAN (10/100/1000).
I then ask how many USB ports are required. Please keep in mind that there are USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 configurations available.
It’s also important to know the type and quantity of Serial (COM) ports. They are available in RS-232, RS-422 and RS-485.
Once all of this has been established, you will want to have an understanding of the required video interface and resolution required for your software. This will play a big factor in what PC is configured for use with your application.
I understand that I just threw a lot of information your way but I feel it’s all essential in determining the correct PC for your application. I’d be happy to discuss this further with you – please feel free to contact me at 800-830-9523, ext. 126 or via email at Jeremy.Miller@L-Tron.com.
About the Author
Jeremy Miller is L-Tron’s Industrial Automation and Advantech Product Specialist. Jeremy is highly trained and brings over 10 years of experience in the industrial control,data acquisition and test & measurement markets. Jeremy holds Advantech certifications in: Industrial Platform, Industrial Operator Panel, Automation Controller &I/O, Industrial Communication, & Automation Software. Jeremy is an avid fisherman who loves chasing Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon when he’s not working. He can be reached directly at (800)-830-9523 ext 126; jeremy.miller@L-Tron.com.