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How to Choose the Best Industrial Computer – Part I Hardware Considerations

By ·Categories: Industrial IoT·Published On: July 30th, 2021·6 min read·

The question I hear more than any other is “How do I choose the best industrial computer?” I have been working on the Technical Sales Team here at OnLogic since 2017. In that time I have helped hundreds of customers answer that question to find the best industrial computer to meet their needs.

I’ve learned over time, that no matter how unique or innovative a project, choosing the best industrial computer requires the same set of basic questions. I have a 12 step process that I use to help customers pick the best industrial or rugged hardware solution to meet their project goals.  

Selection Checklist for Hardware

  1. Processor
  2. RAM
  3. Storage
  4. I/O
  5. Network connection (wired/wireless/4G, etc.)
  6. Temperature range
  7. Power
  8. Form factor
  9. Mounting
  10. Lifecycle
  11. Regulatory
  12. Budget

I’ll cover all the steps into two articles.  Part I is all about the hardware requirements.  Part II (coming soon!) is about the environment and business needs.  

Step 1: How much processing power do you need?

If you are working to replace or upgrade an existing computer, the process becomes fairly easy. Find out what processor you have now, and how it is handling the workload. Most operating systems will allow you to view details about your computer through the settings menu. Your system monitor will show you how your current CPU is handling the task. Then plug in your model number into a benchmarking siteBenchmarking sites will help you to practically compare processors from different generations, with differing TDP (thermal design power). Or when comparing processors from AMD® vs. Intel®. 

Despite what you might see on a software requirement, not all i7s are created equal. As a quick example, if we take a look at PassMark score and compare the Ivy Bridge i7-3612QM CPU @ 2.10GHz and compare it to the new Comet Lake i7-10700T @ 2.00GHz we get scores of 4,364 and 12,425 respectively. Almost triple the performance with the latest gen i7. Even the Comet Lake i3-10100T would give you nearly twice the computing power of the older gen i7.  

For customers who were running programs that were easily handled by the older hardware, they should think about going with a lower tier modern processor to help save cost and reduce unnecessary overhead.

No Existing PC to Benchmark?

What should you do if you don’t have an existing PC to use as a benchmark? The best we can do is check the hardware requirements listed by your software provider. Then we can make an educated guess based on the features you will use, when the software was written and what processors would have been “modern” at the time that they called for an i5 or better. This is why leaving ample time in your project timeline for prototyping is so important. We recommend overspecing for the prototype and scaling back when you go to mass production. If you have a volume project, you may qualify for a risk free 30-day prototype through our “TryLogic” program.

Step 2: How much RAM do you need?

Similar to step 1, start by looking at what you have now, and how it performs. That is your best bet to find the optimal configuration. If you are going in without an existing solution we also use the same method to help set up a prototype. Check the hardware requirements set by your software company and when in doubt, look to slightly over spec the prototype. 

The other things to consider are memory speed and single channel vs dual-channel. Unless you have specific requirements, in the world of embedded computing, this rarely makes much of a difference. And most customers will make their decision based on availability and cost. For example, if you see that the 8GB RAM module is on backorder, go with two 4GB modules. Since all our costs are based on market pricing for components it can sometimes be the economical choice to go with two 16GB modules instead of a 32GB module. 

ECC (error-correcting code) is another type of RAM. ECC is commonly required in server applications and typically has a higher cost. Not all motherboards support ECC, but it is often a good choice for rugged systems or mission critical applications.

Photo of ECC memory chip

Step 3: How much storage do you need?

There are many different types of storage, and each has their place. In industrial and rugged computers, solid state is almost always the most reliable. For most applications, there is little difference in the real world performance between any modern SSD available on our website. If  you have large capacity bulk storage needs, a HDD may be a prudent choice to keep costs down when shock, vibe and overly high temperatures are not a concern. For more specific applications, high speed NVMe or surveillance specific drives may be required. However, these situations are less common.

If you are installing Windows 10, our recommended minimum storage capacity is 64GB. Microsoft lists the minimum storage requirements to host the OS as 20GB. However, in practice, updates and regular use cause the actual storage footprint to be greater. With advanced settings, we have a number of customers who are able to use 32GB, but for most customers, going with at least 64GB is a better choice. 

As has been the case with your CPU and RAM selection, defernig back to your existing solution or the requirements set by your software provider is the best option to determine what you need.     

Step 4: Identify your I/O requirements.

To identify your I/O requirements, start with creating an inventory of all of the devices that you need to connect to your PC. Make a list of the different types of connections you will need. In the industrial space, our computers often control and collect data from legacy systems. Understanding the protocols in use and the existing infrastructure is essential in order to choose the hardware option that can be integrated most effectively. 

For this step it is usually helpful to draw out an architecture map to help visualize your project. Once you create a rough draft of your architecture map, reach out to us and we can help you fill it in with the optimal hardware configurations for each layer. 

Computer showing many I/O

Step 5: Will you need a wireless network connection? 

Most of our systems can be configured with WiFi/BlueTooth or 4G. And, configuring the system to run both simultaneously is also an option.  Industry 4.0 solutions demand wireless communication because of their constant need to be connected. Furthermore, with hardware being deployed in ever more remote locations, having a wireless 4G solution delivers many benefits.   

Check out Part II (coming soon!) of How to Choose the Best Industrial Computer to learn the environmental and business factors that you need to consider before selecting the best solution.

Download a Checklist to Help you Get Started!

Ready for the next step choosing the best industrial computer? Download our Ultimate Guide to Choosing an Industrial Computer. It comes with a handy configuration checklist to help guide you through the hardware selection process. Contact us if you have questions, we’re here to help!

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About the Author: Pete Pikulski

Pete is a member of our Technical Sales team who specialize in helping our customers match their unique business needs with our wide-ranging hardware portfolio and OEM services. Give Pete and the team a call for help finding the perfect hardware for your next project.
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