How do I choose the best industrial PC is a question we get over and over again. On the Technical Sales team, I work with businesses every day helping them pick the best industrial or rugged hardware solution to meet their project goals. I’ve learned that no matter how unique the situation, it always boils down to the same 12 steps listed below. I’ve covered steps 1 through 6 in previous article – How to Choose the Best Industrial – Part I. This article reviews steps 6 through 12 which include environmental and business considerations.
Selection Checklist for Hardware
- Network connection (wired/wireless/4G, etc.)
- Temperature range
- Form factor
Step 6: What is the environment where this will be installed?
In other words, where will this device live?
First you need to consider the ambient temperature. Our systems are all rated to operate within a specific temperature range.
- Most of our industrial line: 0°C to 50°C
- Most of our rugged line: -40°C to 70°C
- Panel PCs: -20°C to 70°C for
- Server line: varies from 0°C to 50°C to 10°C to 35°C
We test our systems to run at 100% CPU utilization without thermal throttling to their rated temperature. If you are building one of our rugged PCs and trying to get the maximum operating range, make sure to choose wide-temp RAM and storage. Otherwise your system will not be rated for the full temp range.
What about dust and dirt? If there is airborne particulate, you will definitely want to look at our industrial fanless line. These systems are not only fanless, but they are also ventless to make sure no unwanted dust, dirt or even insects or other creatures make their way into the computer chassis. If you need a computer with a high powered graphics card in an industrial environment, you can also consider our fanless hybrid solution.
Finally consider if the computer will be subject to vibration. If so, you should consider a completely solid state computer with no moving parts. If the vibrations are a little more extreme, it would be good to explore our Rugged Line for systems with enhanced vibration resistance.
Step 7: What do you have available to power the PC?
Clean power should be your number one goal when engineering an environment to maximize the reliability of your PC. There are a number of ways to do it. You can provide AC power and utilize one of our standard power adapters. Another option is to wire in a direct industrial DC power source. Once you know what type of power you are working with, you will want to consult the Technical Specs Table found on each product page to find a solution to match. It is sometimes far easier to choose an industrial PC that can plug right into your 24VDC DIN rail power supply rather than stepping down to 12VDC. In-vehicle computers represent a unique situation where the incoming power may fluctuate due to the changes in charge inherent when drawing from a vehicle’s battery. For these applications it is always recommended to use one of the PCs from our rugged line. Specifically one that supports ignition sensing. That way it will fire up when you turn on the car and safely shut itself down once the vehicle is turned off.
Step 8: What is your target form factor?
While there are standard sizes such as Mini-ITX, NUC, Pico-ITX, 1U half depth, 4U full depth, etc, the world of industrial and rugged PCs utilize many custom board and layout designs. Before you plan your cabinet layout, or embed one of our products into your solution, it is important to consult the technical specs for the particular system. The technical specs list out the exact physical dimensions of the system along with other important information. You can find the technical spec tables at the bottom of all of our product pages.
If your goal is to futureproof your design, and you think you may need to scale up your computing power in the future, it would be important to leave yourself some wiggle room in your design to accommodate a potentially larger system. As a general rule, more powerful processors generate more heat, and more heat means that we need to design a larger heatsink which can sometimes mean a larger chassis.
In addition to contemplating the dimensions of the unit itself, it is also important to think about the different ports you will use and whether your design will provide adequate access. It would be very frustrating to install your new PC and then realize that you didn’t provide enough room to connect your chunky DB9 connector. This discussion on form factor segues perfectly into our next step.
Step 9: What mounting hardware do you need?
Our hardware has four mounting options: VESA, wall mounting, DIN Rail or rackmount.
- VESA: A flat display mounting interface that is common on modern flat screen televisions and computer monitors. The standard is defined by 4 holes in a square pattern in two sizes, 75x75mm or 100x100mm.
- Wall mounting brackets: Attach to the bottom of the PC for almost all of our computers – except those intended for vertical DIN Rail mounting.
- DIN Rail: A metal rail of a standard type widely used for mounting circuit breakers and industrial control equipment inside equipment racks and industrial environments.
- Rackmount: Most commonly used for servers, rackmount mountable systems allow you to use your existing rackmount cages. Many of our low profile IPCs can be mounted in a rackmount chassis with our rackmount adapter.
Step 10: Lifecycle vs reliability
Customers will often mix up expected product lifecycle and meantime between failure or reliability. Lifecycle actually has very little to do with how long a system will perform in the field. Instead, the lifecycle of a product describes the length of time that the product will be manufactured and available for sale. This product feature is most important for customers that are very sensitive to revisions. This is not the most important product feature for a customer that just needs a reliable PC and doesn’t care if they have to choose something slightly different the next time they purchase a computer.
Step 11: Regulatory Requirements
Often overlooked, regulatory requirements are something that if not considered at the start of your product selection process can derail a project down the line. Sometimes, this sorts out quickly by adjusting your configuration. However, if new testing and certifications are required, expect significant delays, and in most cases significant upfront engineering cost and volume commitments to get the listing you need.
Here are the three most common situations where regulatory requirements come up for our customers:
- If you are embedding one of our PCs into a machine that you then sell to your customers, and the full solution has some type of safety mark such as UL, it can sometimes be required that the computer inside have a UL mark as well. In the case of UL standard 508A, it is only required that the power supply be UL listed. If you know your solution has one of these listings, please let us know up front. That way, we can help identify the best option.
- Most countries have some type of safety standard/requirements to allow you to import a computer. Some examples include: CE, RCM, VCCI, CCC and NOM. If you plan to ship out computers internationally, please let us know up front. That way we can help make you aware of any potential challenges and how we might be able to address them.
- Medical devices have their own set of safety requirements. Making a healthcare device? Work with our technical sales team to ensure you have the correct certifications in place.
Step 12: Budget
Budget might be the most important piece of the equation. If your business plan, new product idea, or manufacturing facility upgrade has a specific budget allocated to the PC, let us know up front. We can work with you on configuration choices to maximize your budget.
Download a Checklist and Find the Best Industrial PC!
Ready for the next step choosing the best industrial PC? 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!