CompactPCI still has value for aerospace and defense embedded computing designs

Posted by Skyler Frink

PRODUCT INTELLIGENCE, 9 Feb. 2012. CompactPCI has been a staple of many military embedded systems for more than fifteen years. The venerable computer bus interconnect was ratified in 1995, and is still used today in applications where size and cost matter more than moving huge volumes of data.

The mature technology of CompactPCI has many advantages in aerospace and defense embedded computing. David Pepper, product manager and technologist for GE Intelligent Platforms in Charlottesville, Va., speaks of it fondly. “It’s a good synchronous bus and it’s fairly reliable,” Pepper says, “if you just need computing on frame, CompactPCI is good. You can get quite a bit of process and performance from CompactPCI.”

The uses for CompactPCI are broad, and it is featured heavily in many industries. "In anything where you need 3U or any time VME can't be used, CompactPCI has taken off," says Aaron Lindner, engineering manager at Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc. (X-ES) in Middleton, Wis. Thanks to low costs and almost ubiquitous knowledge of its features, CompactPCI has thrived in the defense industry.

When a product does not require large amounts of computing power, CompactPCI enables customers to save money and leverage the benefits of a well-supported and mature technology. “The familiarity of CompactPCI and using the same I/O connectors is attractive," says X-ES's Lindner. Knowledge of CompactPCI is common, so maintaining systems that use CompactPCI is often easier than using an unfamiliar technology.


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CompactPCI also offers proven ruggedization options. As a mature technology it has been used in environments ranging from far below freezing to oppressively hot, along with extreme vibration. "There aren’t really any issues ruggedizing it; CompactPCI has proven itself to be pretty darn robust," says GE’s Pepper.

Of course, CompactPCI does have some serious limitations. “When you think CompactPCI you’re not moving a tremendous amount of data across the backplane; you’re in the 256 megabytes-per-second range,” Pepper says. “If folks are having significant data demands they might be migrating away from CompactPCI. It's certainly reached its maturity level,” CompactPCI is often used in smaller 3U systems, or where powerful computers aren’t required. Even though CompactPCI does not offer the highest performance Pepper reminds us "One thing to remember is there are applications it’s sufficient for."

CompactPCI has not stagnated as of yet, however. CompactPCI Express is a much faster version of CompactPCI that offers the same connectors as its namesake, but allows for speeds faster than 2 gigabytes per second on a 6U board. This enables designers to use CompactPCI in higher-performance systems, but it may not be catching on well. Its competitor, VPX, has expanded I/O options, granting it greater versatility, but at higher cost.

The future of CompactPCI is uncertain, but experts except it won’t be fading away soon. "It's going to stay for a while longer because there are a lot of customers who still to this day use CompactPCI," says X-ES's Lindner. "It's the cheapest solution for backplanes and connector cost."

For the applications that CompactPCI is suited for, it is often the least expensive way of getting the needed performance. With budget cuts looming around the corner CompactPCI is an attractive option for producing low cost electronics.

GE’s Pepper delves further into CompactPCI’s future. "Although it's very mature it's still a good, solid market from my perspective. I think it'll be around for several years to come. There are still applications that are using technology from 10 years or more ago.”

Company list

Austin, Texas

Acromag Inc.
Wixom, Mich.

ACTIS Computer Inc.
Tempe, Ariz.

ADLINK Technology Inc.
San Jose, Calif.

Advantech Co. Ltd.
Milpitas, Calif.

Agilent Technologies Inc.
Santa Clara Calif.

Aitech Defense Systems Inc.
Chatsworth, Calif.

BittWare Inc.
Concord, N.H.

Concurrent Technologies Inc.
Johnstown, Pa.

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions
San Diego, Calif.

Cyclone Microsystems Inc.
New Haven, Conn.

Diversified Technology Inc.
Ridgeland, Miss.

Dynatem Inc.
Viejo, Calif.

Elma Electronic Systems Inc.
Fremont, Calif.

ELTEC International PLC
Las Vegas, Nev.

Embedded Planet Inc.
Cleveland, Ohio

Emerson Network Power Co.
Stamford, Conn.

ERNI Electronics GmBH
Richmond, Va.

Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc.
Middleton, Wis.

Frequency Devices Inc.
Ottawa, Ill.

GE Intelligent Platforms Inc.
Charlottesville, Va.

General Micro systems Inc.
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Kontron Inc.
Poway, Calif.

Linear Technology Inc.
Milpitas, Calif.

Maxwell Technologies Inc.
San Diego, Calif.

MEN Micro Inc.
Ambler, Pa.

Micrel Inc.
San Jose, Calif.

MKS Instruments Inc.
Andover, Mass.

Murata Power Solutions
Mansfield, Mass.

Nallatech Inc.
Sykesville, Md.

National Instruments Corp.
Austin, Texas

Nexcom International Co. Inc.
Fremont, Calif.

North Atlantic Industries Inc.
Bohemia, N.Y.

One Stop Systems Inc.
Escondido, Calif.

PCI Systems Inc.
Sunnyvale, Calif.

Pentek Inc.
Upper Saddle River, N.J.

Performance Technologies Inc.
Rochester, N.Y.

Sealevel Systems Inc.
Liberty, S.C.

SIE Computing Solutions Inc.
Brockton, Mass.

TEWS Technologies LLC
Reno, Nev.
775-850 5830

Themis Computer Inc.
Carrollton, Texas

Tracewell Systems Inc.
Westerville, Ohio

Trenton Technology Inc.
Gainesville, Ga.

TTI Inc.
Fort Worth, Texas

United Electronic Industries Inc.
Walpole, Mass.

XTech Inc.
Randolph, Mass.

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