The era of standard I/O boards is winding up, as mezzanine I/O cards are taking center stage

BY John Keller

The era of the widespread stand-alone input/output (I/O) board apparently is coming to an end, Embedded Computing industry experts say, as systems designers increasingly rely on mezzanine boards for the vast majority of their applications.

At the same time, the stand-alone I/O board still has utility for specialized applications, such as placing many different I/O schemes on a single board, or for handling blazingly fast, specialized I/O for the most demanding applications, such as radar processing, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence, experts say.

On the horizon for I/O lies the world of optical computing, which today designers implement primarily through the front panel of the Embedded Computing chassis, yet in the not-too-distant future, systems designers are likely to increase their use of fiber-optic I/O through the backplane with help from emerging standards, such as VITA 66.

"We see a lot more I/O these days going directly on the processing modules themselves, or implemented as mezzanine cards," says Anne Mascarin, solution marketing manager at Mercury Computer Systems in Chelmsford, Mass. "There is a lot of flexibility in I/O and where it resides. It really depends on the application."

I/O functionality that resides directly on single-board computers or as mezzanine cards plugged into these single-board computers can be implemented as specialized I/O matched to the application, or can be industry-standard I/O. "Most of our processing boards come with standard interfaces," Mascarin explains. "We are adding our GPIO line, which stands for General-Purpose I/O, which are discrete input/output lines but without a specific protocol. It is I/O wires and pins that the customer can define the protocol they want to run over it."

Although demand for standard I/O implemented on stand-alone boards appears to be winding down, I/O suppliers do field requests from systems integrators involved in upgrades and technology insertion who want to retain I/O on separate boards. "In some of the systems we have announced, our customers are still making 6U and 3U I/O boards, and we will include that in the system," Mascarin says.

"Our customers, and COTS companies like ourselves, are very much going away from I/O-based cards," says Steven Edwards, chief technology officer at Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedding Computing in Ashburn, Va. "The days of the 6U and the 3U data-acquisition card have gone by the wayside, and either the I/O is incorporated onto base cards that serve another function like a single-board computer, or primarily it is incorporated on mezzanine cards."

Ever-increasing bandwidth of I/O in high-performance Embedded Computing can make implementing I/O on mezzanine cards a challenge, but new standards are meeting many demands. The FMC card, which stands for FPGA mezzanine card, is designed specifically for field-programmable gate array architectures.

Some applications that call for the quickest possible I/O still call for specialized stand-alone boards. "You closely couple I/O to high-bandwidth processing to match requirements, but sometimes you step past what is possible with a mezzanine," explains Jeremy Banks, product marketing manager for SENSORS and I/O processing at the Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing office in High Wycombe, England.

"The very high ends of bandwidth, like 1 gigabyte per second, do hit a boundary where some I/O mezzanines can't cope with that and it calls for a stand-alone board," Banks says. "The key thing is to choose the right mezzanine for the given bandwidth."

Not all I/O mezzanines can meet all system requirements. North Atlantic Industries in Bohemia, N.Y., specializes in I/O boards that can handle many I/O schemes on one stand-alone board-most often either 6U or 3U VME or Compact PCI.

"Our philosophy has been multi- function I/O on boards; you can put as many as six different I/O functions on a single 6U VME board," explains Lino Massafra, vice president of sales and marketing at North Atlantic Industries.

Shipboard missile launchers are one example of multiple I/O on a board, Massafra explains. "Where you are monitoring a launcher, we monitor all kinds of A/D [analog-to-digital conversion] and discrete. We can monitor on a single board as many as 60 A/D channels or as many as 60 D/A channels."

Among North Atlantic's major talents is synchro resolver measurement, which keeps precise track of system movements, such as missile launchers or deck guns. "On a ship, we need to manage the position of a gun," Massafra explains. "The gun has left-and-right, and up-and-down movement. We can measure the position of that gun, and combine with a synchro that measures the movement of the ship, so the gun is always pointing in the right direction."

Looking to the future of I/O, optical computing and fiber-optics technology expected to play an important role. "Today, optical I/O is all front-panel based; that can be a challenge for things that are conduction-cooled or need two-level maintenance," says Curtiss-Wright's Edwards. "In the future, we'll see optical I/O on the base card directly."

VITA, the open-standards, open-markets trade organization in Fountain Hills, Ariz., is formulating the VITA 66 standard for fiber-optic I/O out the backplane. VITA 66 should be ratified sometime this year and, by the end of 2011, the market likely will see VITA 66 cards and backplanes.

More Military & Aerospace Electronics Current Issue Articles
More Military & Aerospace Electronics Archives Issue Articles

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

XCalibur5090 | Dual Virtex-7 Based Digital Signal Processing 6U LRM FPGA with Quad 2500 MSPS DAC and 3200 MSPS ADC

The XCalibur5090 is a high-performance, reconfigurable, conduction-cooled 6U LRM module based on ...

XPedite7574 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module

The XPedite7574 is a high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the 5th genera...

XCalibur1645 | Freescale Eight-Core P4080 Processor-Based Conduction-Cooled 6U VPX Module

The XCalibur1645 is a high-performance, 6U VPX, single board computer supporting Freescale QorIQ ...

XPand6903 | Rugged, Sealed, and Compact Intel® Atom-Based Fanless Embedded Box PC

The XPand6903 is a rugged, sealed, and compact fanless embedded box PC utilizing the Intel® Atom™...

Printed Circuit Board Assembly

Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCB ASSY) is as critical a process as circuit board manufacturing.

XPand6020 | Small Form Factor (SFF) System Featuring XPedite5205 Running Cisco IOS® and XPedite7450

The XPand6020 is a Small Form Factor (SFF) system that features an XPedite5205, which runs Cisco ...

General Micro "Horizon" C299

The C299 Horizon is a third generation, 6U cPCI SBC module based on GMS’ upgradable CPU technolog...

RR2P Removable Canister RAID System

Transportable data storage for mobile field use aboard planes, ships and ground transport. 2U, du...

General Micro "Atom" XPC40X Rugged, Ultra-Small, Ultra-Low-Power Intel Atom™ CPU SBC

The XPC40X Atom is a rugged, low cost, ultra-low power, lightweight, Atom™ based computer system....

General Micro's VS295 Eclipse

The VS295 Eclipse is fifth generation, VME SBC module based on GMS, upgradable CPU technology. It...

Related Companies

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...


Mil Spec EMC/NEMP/ filters and EMC product solutions for military applications.

Southwest Antennas

Southwest Antennas designs and manufactures high-performance RF & Microwave antennas and accessories designed for tod...

Premier Polymers

Provides seamless epoxy flooring and industrial resinous coatings

CORWIL Technology Corp

CORWIL Technology, the premier US based, IC assembly and test services subcontractor, offering full back-end assembly...


IndustryARC primarily focuses on Cutting Edge Technologies and Newer Applications of the Market. Our Custom Research ...

DiCon Fiberoptics Inc

Offers fiber optic switches, tunable filters, and VOAs. Founded in 1986, the company is a US based, AS9100 certified,...

Harris Corporation

Harris provides advanced, technology-based solutions that solve government and commercial customers' mission critical...

GE Intelligent Platforms

Provides software, hardware and services with expertise in automation and embedded computing. We offer a unique found...

Innovative Integration

  Since 1988, Innovative Integration has grown to become one of the world's leading suppliers of DSP and data ac...


Harsh Environment Protection for Advanced Electronics and Components

This webinar will offer an opportunity to learn more about ultra-thin Parylene conformal coatings – how they are applied, applications they protect today, and the properties and benefits they offer, includin...

New Design Tools That Help You Develop Radar That Sees the Un-seeable and Detects the Undetectable

Xilinx EW/ISR System Architect, Luke Miller, has new tricks and he’s going to tell you all about them in a new Xilinx Webinar—for free. His Webinar will cover new ways to implement Radar functions including ...
Sponsored by:

Press Releases


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has received a contract from Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to supply its small form factor ...

Innovative Integration Announces the FMC-Servo

Camarillo, CA June 19, 2015, Innovative Integration, a trusted supplier of signal processing and data acquisition hardware and software solutions, today announced the FMC-S...


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has further enhanced its innovative VRD1 high definition (HD) video management system (VMS) w...

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

August 2015
Volume 26, Issue 8

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles