Selecting the right industrial PC can be a daunting task. With an ever-expanding range of systems to choose from, with varying capabilities and levels of durability, even the most experienced engineer may struggle with identifying the computer that best matches the needs of their business. In this, the inaugural post in an ongoing blog series about how to best choose and configure the right industrial computer, we’ll look at a few of the common performance questions that are vital to determining your ideal industrial PC. Read on to find out how a computer’s processing capabilities, application, components and operating system may all influence the decision making process.
Part 1: Performance Part 2: Environment Part 3: Connectivity (coming soon) Part 4: Storage (coming soon) Part 5: Other Considerations (coming soon)
What Are Your Processor Performance Needs?
It’s the first (and occasionally the only) specification that many hardware buyers seek out in any perspective system. CPU performance is also one of the more complex choices that you’ll likely make in selecting your industrial PC.
A few of the most common processor-related questions we receive are:
What Kind of Processor Should I Use? – Intel has a solid hold on the processor market, but that doesn’t necessarily make the choice of which CPU to use simple. The majority of our systems utilize Intel processors, but the decision between Intel Atom or Core i isn’t as simple as it once was. Low powered Intel Atom processors have come a long way in recent years, with Intel’s Bay Trail generation making their way into a wide range of embedded systems.
What Do The Different Processor Names Mean? – Haswell, Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge, Cedarview, Bay Trail. Every new refresh of Intel processors has an accompanying code name used by the hardware industry to identify its generation. Think of them like the model year of your car, the code name is a way to identify how new or old a processor is and where it fits in the overall Intel lineup. But, even if you’re well versed in processor lineage, it can be difficult to understand what each of these code names represent in terms of performance features or architectural changes.
Will The Processor I Choose Work With Any Motherboard? – Your choice in processor will of course be influenced by performance and speed requirements, but it’s important to remember that not all processors are compatible with every motherboard. Various motherboards feature a range of different processor sockets, allowing only the matching processor types to be implemented, while others come with non-socketed on-board processors. It’s important to understand which type of processor socket, or on-board processing any perspective motherboard features before making your hardware decision.
“Processing power is an important feature for virtually all of our clients, but selecting the ideal combination of system features, I/O and performance can be a complex process,” says OnLogic Hardware Solutions Specialist Will McCue. “With so many different processors available we rely on our experience in the industry to help guide clients toward the ideal option for their project. We strive to match the system to the project, not the other way around, which is why it’s so important to us to have a full understanding of the client’s application before recommending a single piece of hardware.”
Our senior hardware engineers point to “overspec’d” systems as one of the most common hardware configuration mistakes. For basic, undemanding applications like simple data acquisition or order-flow management, there’s no need for a top-of-the-line CPU. However, if you’ll be working with high definition graphics processing or high-speed, multi-application data handling then a high performance processor will be a key component. When choosing a processor it’s important to have a full understanding about all of your processor options as well as the amount of processing power your given application will demand.
How Does The System’s Application Impact Component Selection?
Fully understanding the intended application of your PC will go a long way toward helping to identify potential hardware solutions. Every industry and use provides its own unique array of challenges for configuring the ideal system. Whether you’re assembling a data acquisition device in a remote location, building an industrial control system in a high-speed manufacturing plant, or configuring a rugged workstation in a dirty steel mill, you’ll be able to more effectively spec out your PC if both you, and your hardware provider, have a clear picture of exactly how the computer will be used.
“We encourage all of our clients to avoid just throwing hardware at a problem,” McCue commented. “We’re committed to finding the right system based on its specific use, not simply the most expensive PC possible. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking the right questions to better understand what a client needs. In many instances they may simply need to swap out for more memory, better engineered software or a more powerful graphics processing card, rather than completely replacing equipment. In the end we’re interested in matching users with the system that best fits their business and to do that we try to develop a full customer and application profile that helps us better understand their problems and the best ways to address them.”
Are There Other Important Performance Considerations?
In many instances you may have a general idea of some of the specifications your system will need to meet. Operational software, like the type used to control digital signage installations and the tracking applications utilized in machine vision, often provides a guideline for the type of memory or storage you’ll require. However, working with an experienced hardware provider is often the best way to ensure that the components you choose, from GPU to on-board expansion capabilities, will fulfill all of your needs, both now and well into the future.
“Once again, it comes down to finding the right fit,” says McCue. “A customer may have an idea of required processing speed, or the amount of RAM they need, but assembling the right combination of components is inherently challenging, and it’s easy to run into compatibility issues without a wealth of experience in working with the wide range of products available.”
How Does Operating System Impact Performance?
One final, but important factor when considering system performance is the operating system you intend to use. Does your software application run on Windows or Linux? Will you be using a standard OS version or an embedded variation? Are all of your peripherals, sensors and displays properly supported? It can be easy to ignore the OS choice until the end of the process, but it’s a vital part of ensuring that your new PC easily integrates with your existing equipment and systems.
“Compatibility is always a major concern for our clients,” McCue says. “That’s why it’s so important for us to fully understand their project before moving toward recommending a system. We work hard to make sure that when the systems arrive at our client’s facility the installation process is as simple and stress-free as possible.”
Optimal system performance takes many forms depending on the industry and application, but having a clear picture of a system’s use and understanding the component, processing and OS requirements will help you more effectively choose the ideal PC for your needs.
Check back soon for part 2 of our continuing series when we’ll explore how environmental factors can influence your hardware choices.
Darek is the Communications Manager at OnLogic. His passion for both journalism and technology has led him from the newsrooms of local papers to the manufacturing floor of IBM. His background in news gathering has him always on the lookout for the latest in emerging tech and the best ways to share that information with readers. In addition to his affinity for words, Darek is a music lover, juggler and huge fan of terrible jokes.