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Friday, November 22, 2013

5 Signs That Your Industrial Computer System Needs an Upgrade

After a few years of using your current system, you may begin to notice that your computer runs much differently than it did when it was brand new. Do you need a whole new system or could you get by a few more years with a less expensive upgrade? Here are 5 indicators that can help you determine the answer.

1.    Processing power is slower. If the system is the life-line of your operation you may get by with simply upgrading the processor. However, the type of processor is dependent upon other components (motherboard) and vice-versa (heat sink) creating compatibility issues. Count the cost of the processor and those components, if needed, as well as the labor that will be charged. It is possible that upgrading the entire system will be comparable in price and the better choice.

2.    Quickly runs out of memory. Memory issues can often be resolved by adding extra RAM if the current system provides the extra slots or will allow you to switch the current memory sticks to ones with higher RAM capabilities.

3.       Newer applications crash or freeze the system. This is likely due to the system not having the minimum requirements recommended by the software manufacturer. This can often be resolved by determining which of required criteria is lacking – drivers, CPU, operating system - and upgrading those components. If there are many, upgrading the entire system may be the feasible choice.

4.    Your current system won’t let you install drivers for new hardware. This is likely due to compatibility issues between the driver and your current operating system. Any upgrade to your operating system may be necessary.

5.    Support is discontinued. You received notice that your current system has reached its End of Life and will no longer be supported after a future date. This will definitely require an upgrade.

If an upgrade is needed, contact Computer Dynamics. Choose from flat panel computers, heavy duty PC’s, industrial touchscreen computers, or durable computers ruggedly built for a variety of harsh environments.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flat Panel and Touchscreen Technologies

Flat panel and touchscreen technologies have made huge advances in the past 10-15 years resulting in better quality products with lower costs and more efficient technologies. Initially used primarily on laptops and in medical and industrial devices, flat panels and touchscreens now permeate our everyday lives. People are much more comfortable with this technology and usage in both the commercial and industrial space has increased exponentially. 

Based on your immediate elements [amount of light, water, debris, insects] along with temperature extremes that might be problematic for some solutions, you can easily select one or more of these technologies to meet your specifications and requirements no matter your industrial environment.

  • Resistive – The most commonly used touchscreen technology in the industrial space.
  • Capacitive – The advantage of great clarity over resistive touchscreens.
  • Infrared – A good technology for environments that can be tightly controlled.
  • Projected Capacitive – The advantage of a multi-touch interface.
  • Surface Acoustic Wave – Great screen clarity for dry, clean environments.
For more information about these technologies, download our free guide “Five Display and Touchscreen Technologies to Consider for Industrial Application”.

Beyond Windows XP Part 2 – Windows Embedded

Users of Industrial PCs have some decisions to make due to the End of Life announcements for Windows XP. Read more in our previous post  “Windows XP – Prevalent and Problematic.

There are two valid paths for an Industrial PC user beyond Windows XP and both would require testing and validation to make sure they are going to work with no additional headaches. In this post we will explore the option to switch to Windows Embedded.

While a full-blown Windows 7 or Windows 8 installation is a great catch-all solution, Windows Embedded Operating Systems have several benefits for the industrial space. Windows Embedded is “built” (usually by the Industrial PC provider) specific to the machine it is on taking into account its hardware and software. The benefit of this is that your Operating System footprint is much smaller than a full-blown Windows installation. For example, if you don’t need audio support then you would not install that component of Windows. Instantly, that space is saved and an unnecessary (to your application) part of Windows is not there to cause problems. This also leads to better stability and control of how the system is used. The Embedded Operating Systems can also set the drive where the OS resides to be effectively read-only to protect the original configuration. Writeable volumes can be set up if data needs to be stored. In an Industrial Application where equipment owners typically want to maintain the system as they intended it without a user accidentally (or maliciously) changing things, there is a huge benefit that results in more up-time and less variance in the configuration of deployed systems.

There are three choices for Windows Embedded Operating Systems: 
  • Windows Embedded Standard 2009
  • Windows Embedded Standard 7 
  • Windows Embedded 8 Standard

Windows Embedded 8 Standard should only be considered if there is some aspect of Windows 8 that is necessary for your application.  Windows Embedded Standard 2009 is based on Windows XP and has its extended support end on January 8, 2019.  Windows Embedded Standard 2009 is an excellent choice if you have a mature Windows XP deployment and long-term availability of hardware from your Industrial PC provider. Computer Dynamics can help you determine if you can make a Windows Embedded Standard 2009 build from your current Windows XP system.  If so, this will help you lock down your installation and offer longer-term availability over Windows XP Pro for Embedded Systems. Again, consider this only if your hardware and applications are mature and you do not plan on making any major changes. In the same vein, Windows Embedded 7 Standard should be considered if you are either currently running Windows 7 or want to move to Windows 7.  Extended support for Windows Embedded Standard 7 continues until October 13, 2020.

Beyond Windows XP Part 1 – Windows 7/8 for Embedded Systems

As we covered in our previous post “Windows XP – Prevalent and Problematic” users of Industrial PCs have some decisions to make due to the End of Life announcements for Windows XP.

There are two valid paths for an Industrial PC user beyond Windows XP and both would require testing and validation to make sure they are going to work with no additional headaches. In this post we will explore the option to switch to Windows 7 or Windows 8 for Embedded Systems.

Windows 7/8 for Embedded Systems is a great choice when hard disk space is not an issue and when you want to be assured the widest compatibility with third party hardware and software.  One of the Windows Embedded platforms (either Windows Embedded Standard 2009 or Windows Embedded Standard 7) are a great choice when your system will effectively have all hardware and software predetermined and will not have any changes made to this configuration. Windows Embedded packages are built, adding needed components to support a specific application and therefore result in a small Operating System footprint and a more stable distribution. Microsoft naming conventions for their Embedded Operating Systems can be a little tricky, but know that “Windows for Embedded Systems” is different than “Windows Embedded”.

To ensure the most compatibility with hardware and software and when hard drive space is not an issue, installing Windows 7 (or Windows 8) for Embedded Systems may be your best choice. Granted, from both of these, Windows 8 is really too new to be considered for an Industrial PC application. Windows 8 was released in the first quarter of 2013 and has been met with a lukewarm reception in the desktop community. The operating system seems to be more geared to multi-touch tablet usage. However, with multi-touch touchscreens gaining some ground in the industrial space, it should be considered if multi-touch has merit for your application. This leaves Windows 7 as the best choice for users that need to run their applications in a Windows environment. Windows 7 was released on October 22, 2009. It is currently scheduled to have its extended support end date on 1/14/2020. Windows 7 has good support for legacy Windows XP applications and manufacturers of current plug-in bus cards generally offer drivers for Windows 7.

To learn about the second option, read our post “Beyond Windows XP Part 2 – Windows Embedded”.

Windows XP – Prevalent and Problematic

Released on December 31, 2001, Windows XP Professional for Embedded Systems (XPP-FES) has been the long running OS of choice for most Industrial applications.  This is due to widespread acceptance of Windows XP as an operating system (and, until Windows 7, really no other accepted version of Windows in the Industrial market.)  If you have an open-platform Intel based Industrial PC in your facility or installed into machines your company makes, in all likelihood, XPP-FES is installed on that system. Essentially, XPP-FES is the industrial license for the Windows XP Pro OEM package you would have been able to purchase with your industrial computer.  XPP-FES is bit-for-bit identical to Windows XP Pro. If your Industrial PC system was purchased in the early 2000’s, it may have had a Windows XP Pro license sticker on it, but at some point, if you continued to purchase systems, that license likely changed to XPP-FES. Windows XPP-FES licenses will continue to be produced by Microsoft until December 31, 2016. While this means that Industrial PC manufacturers can still purchase these licenses for another three years and, presumably, could purchase enough licenses to continue to sell those licenses beyond that date, another critical date looms in the immediate future.

On April 8, 2014 (less than a year from the time of this document,) Microsoft ends their extended support coverage for the venerable Windows XP Pro Operating System.  

  • This means that there will be no more Service Packs (granted, the last Service Pack for Windows XP Pro was SP3 release on May 6, 2008)
  • And, more critically, no more OS updates issued beyond that date.

While Windows XP has been in the mainstream for a long time, bug fixes and security patches continue to be released.  After April 8, 2014, Microsoft does not plan to release any more updates for Windows XP even if a security exploit is made known.  Of course, this does not mean that your Windows XP Pro or Windows XPP-FES system will stop working.  It does mean, however, that if your Industrial PC Windows system is connected to the Internet or if your system can be accessed by your users, the possibility exists that a security exploit could occur.  Each company should evaluate their systems with a qualified IT professional to make a risk assessment of how Windows XP is being used.

Where do you go from here? Read our blog posts “Beyond Windows XP  Part 1 – Windows 7/8 for Embedded Systems” and Beyond Windows XP Part 2– Windows Embedded to find out.

Processor Performance Comparison

A great resource for processor speed benchmarks is PassMark Software (http://www.cpubenchmark.net). This site provides a wide range of processors compared to gain insight into a processors performance. Here is a short list of benchmark scores from this site. The processors on the list below are either processors currently offered on systems built by Computer Dynamics, or are common in the industry to help show some relative scores.

For more information, download our free guide “Comparing Processor Speeds For Industrial Computers”.

CDI Products Overview Number Two

Industrial & OEM Flat Panel Monitors

industrial flat panel monitor Flat panel monitors allow the advantages of a flat panel operator interface to be realized with almost any video signal, including standard RGB, Synch-on-Green (SOG), Composite Synch, NTSC and PAL. As an industrial flat panel monitor manufacturer, we offer systems with flat panel displays ranging from 6.4" through 47" are available as open-frame solutions or with a variety of enclosure and mounting options.

See Our Industrial & OEM Flat Panel Monitors

CDI Products Overview

Industrial PCs, Flat Panel Monitors & More

Flat Panel Computers - Industrial PCs

Choose from flat panel display choices ranging from 8.4" through 21", integrated with a touchscreen for operator input. Flat panel computers are powered by either an Intel® -based engine, including Core™ 2 Quad processors and offering all PC-compatible functions or low-power, wide temperature range and diskless operation systems. Flat panel computers and Industrial PCs are available in a variety of mechanical configurations ranging from open-frame to complete enclosed products with plastic enclosures and full agency approvals.

We understand the need for OEMs to control component changes in their designs, and our control over the product life cycle provides that service.

See Our Flat Panel Computers - Industrial PCs