Professional Industrial PCs Based on congatec Thin Mini-ITX


Display and panel PCs require highest graphics performance. If they also need to provide control and consolidation functions, the specifications become even more demanding: High computing performance and extreme reliability are then also required. At the same time, devices need to remain affordable. Standardization ensures high volumes across a wide spectrum of applications and also guarantees competitive prices for rugged industrial devices. 


Even today, standard single board computers (SBCs) are often used for industrial applications to keep a lid on costs. With the chipsets of modern computer architectures providing a large range of features and powerful interfaces such as PCI Express, Serial ATA or USB 3.0, developers’ requirements are often covered by cheap SBCs that are mass-produced in the Far East. This allows quick solutions that, at first glance, also may appear cost-effective. On closer inspection, however, system cost or total cost of ownership (TCO) doesn’t decrease as expected. This can have many reasons. Often, components that have been cost-optimized for inexpensive mass produced PCs cannot meet the requirements of 24/7 use in harsh industrial environments; in most cases, the short lifetime of these products is to blame. Unless you are prepared to keep a costly inventory, the products have to be constantly adapted to the changes in the various processor generations. If you are also looking for support for customizations, such as special industrial protocols, you will quickly find yourself left to your own devices. A better and more cost-efficient solution would be to keep specifications narrow so that the boards produced for them can be available for a long period of time without requiring changes. The manufacturers of standardized computer modules (COMs) have shown in recent years how this can be done successfully. So why not take the standardization approach from the world of computer modules and transfer it to the world of SBCs?


Intel seized this opportunity about four years ago and developed a concept for a compact universal AiO (All-in-One) PC in accordance with the specification for Thin Mini-ITX motherboards based on the popular Mini-ITX form factor. But why choose Mini-ITX? The physical footprint of 170x170mm represents a good compromise between small size, robust construction and low-cost manufacturing. The area is large enough to accommodate inexpensive standard components, such as SATA drives and memory modules, as well as adequately sized heat sinks for passive cooling. While passive dissipation of the maximum permissible TDP of 65W is not possible in this scenario, this isn’t actually an issue when you consider that current 4th generation Intel Core i-series ultra processors have a TDP of around 15W. The maximum height of 20mm for the "thin" version enables flat housings, such as those required for panel PCs. All that’s needed are manufacturers who produce such SBCs in high quality and with long-term availability. Ideally, they should also be offering good support for customizations such as BIOS/boot screen or special displays and operating systems. 


congatec AG, a leading worldwide manufacturer of COMs, has risen to the challenge with the conga-IC87, a professional SBC in the Thin Mini-ITX format. 

It combines the advantages of congatec's many years of experience in manufacturing high-quality COMs for harsh industrial applications with the cost advantages of mass-produced SBCs. The first processors used include the embedded versions of the Intel Celeron and 4th generation Intel Core i3 / i5 / i7 processors (codenamed Haswell). 


The Core i-series processors support AES-NI hardware encryption and AVX2 accelerated vector multiplications; the i5 and i7 processors additionally support Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 clock speed acceleration, AMT9.5 management functions and Trusted Execution Technology (TXT). While the Intel Celeron HD Gen7 graphics only supports standard features, the powerful HD4400 (i3, i5) and HD5000 (i7) graphics enable demanding graphics processing up to frequencies of 1000 MHz (Celeron, i3) and 1100 MHz (i5, i7). All processors support up to three independent displays with up to 2,560 x 1,600 pixel resolution with DisplayPort.The hardware supports or directly accelerates DirectX 11.1, OpenGL 3.2, OpenCL 1.2 plus high-performance, flexible hardware decoding to decode multiple high-resolution full HD videos in parallel. Two DisplayPort connections (DP++) are located on the back of the board; they are internally connected via DISP in line with the Thin Mini-ITX specification. If necessary, an additional DisplayPort (eDP) and 2x24 Bit LVDS connector are available. There are also two SODIMM sockets that can be equipped with up to 16 GB SODIMM DDR3L memory. Four USB 3.0 SuperSpeed ports (backward compatible with USB 2.0) are directly available on the back of the board, four more USB 2.0 ports can be connected via an internal interface. A total of two 5 Gb/s PCI Express 2.0 lanes can be used as 1x mPCIe Half Size, 1x PCIe Full Size (shared with PCIe x1 and mSATA) and 1x PCIe x1 (shared with mSATA/mPCIe). Four SATA interfaces with up to 6 Gb/s (one of them realized as mSATA) plus a mini PCIe and SIM card slot allow quick and flexible system extensions. Two Intel I210 Gigabit Ethernet controllers each provide one Gigabit Ethernet LAN access via the two RJ45 sockets. ACPI 5.0, I2C bus and LPC bus allow easy integration of legacy I/O interfaces. An optional security module (TPM), real-time clock (RTC), Intel high-definition audio and a universal power source with 12 to 19 volts (optional 6 to 24 volts) complete the feature set. For additional features please refer to the block diagram shown in Figure 3 and the interface overview (Figure 4).

Supported operating systems include Microsoft® Windows® 7 (32bit and 64bit), Microsoft® Windows® 8.X, Microsoft® Windows® Embedded Standard 7 (WES7), Microsoft® Windows® Embedded Standard 8 (WES8) and Linux; for more operating systems, particularly real-time systems, congatec offers support for the development of specific driver BSPs (Board Support Packages). 


The thin design is ideal for space-saving installation in flat displays and panel PCs and makes the realization of industrial display and control solutions a quick and easy task. Thanks to an extended industrial temperature range in the ‘industrial line’ version, real-time capability, and support for various operating systems, the boards are suitable for the most demanding industrial applications such as mechanical engineering, automation and control technology. With a maximum power consumption of 15 W TDP, the "Ultra" line of one-chip solutions based on the Core i-series is an ideal solution for passively cooled and hermetically sealed systems, that are also perfect for harsh environments. The high performance graphics integrated in the Core i-series models allows powerful displays with resolutions up to 4K. Typical applications include panel PCs, control stations or operator terminals with advanced visualization and image processing, as well as multimedia and entertainment devices such as gaming platforms. 


The conga-IC87 single board computer from congatec ticks all the required boxes for high performance, low power and embedded qualities. The popular Mini-ITX standard with a design height of only 20mm when executed in the Thin Mini-ITX form factor, and the compelling All-in-One (AIO) concept enable high volumes and therefore low prices. For a relatively small premium, the customer gets a robust computer board that, unlike standard mass-produced boards, comes with guaranteed long-term availability of at least 7 years and is optimized for 24/7 operation in the extended industrial temperature range. 


The customer benefits from congatec's rich experience as a manufacturer of high quality computer modules. Synergies reduce development time and costs while existing know-how and infrastructures make it possible to outsource specific customizations and solutions to the manufacturer, if necessary. This way, a single supplier can cater for the complete spectrum from low-cost, off-the-shelf solutions to individual ODM (Original Device Manufacturer) projects;¬ while also covering a wide variety of technology platforms with form factors ranging from computer modules to complete single board computers.