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Medical Computing Platforms - Which platforms offer investment security?

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Both the new multi-core as well as the so-called "Small Form Factor (SFF) processors enable medical device manufacturers to develop entirely new device generations. The processors are so new, so new, some are also offered for this embedded form factors. Which computing platforms are appropriate for these new devices and how it is with the investment security?

The rapidly progressive developments within the processor and chipset support industry, two trends that will also be reflected in the medical electronics: On the one highly integrated multicore systems available which could bring an achievement that deserves a few years ago, the attribute supercomputer. In particular, imaging techniques are quicker, more efficient and often more gentle on the patient. The second trend is towards ever more compact and especially energy-efficient platforms, which, through miniaturization, wireless networking and long battery life an increasing degree of mobility and smaller devices also make user-friendly, multifunctional and networked.

If you want to implement the potential of these new technologies into new applications that need only a high power of innovation in medical practices also have expertise in the latest computer technologies available. For most medical device manufacturers of embedded computer technology is not a core competency. Moreover, the innovation cycles of the processor technologies are short, while increasing levels of integration, so be purchased as a rule, computer technology needs. This is according to medical device manufacturers and with different Wertschöpfungsrad from the computer module to the Medical PC with custom housing.

A lot of movement in the interpretation of all these medical devices is recorded mainly in the use of computer-on-Modules and CPU boards, because on the one hand, the smaller processor much smaller boards and modules allow. On the other one goes in the high-field also help set up on, instead of multiple CPU boards a single board with multicore processors to develop with this performance, cost-efficient devices that offer far more possibilities than the more complex devices with multiple CPU boards. Because of this high dynamism and diversity in the processor and chipset technology, but also because of the different application areas is the increased number of available standard embedded form factors. The choice of a suitable embedded form factor is of crucial importance, because not all items of the industry over the long term, what they promise: namely, to be truly long-term. This has several reasons: First, for purely technological reasons, because there is support form factors, which are already well advanced in their life cycle, and for example still ISA. Because ISA no longer support new processors added to the standard expansion modules and take off in this area in the industrial sector and on, is to be expected that form factors are experienced with these buses is no longer booming. On the other form factors are using the latest technologies such as PCIe on the rise. Even in the small form factor size are the way forward, because the processor manufacturing technologies become more refined. Today, they have arrived at 45nm and 11nm are even being discussed. This suggests to exclude relatively large form factors tend to remain seated in the long term on a decaying branch with fewer providers and in terms of time to wait out the need to market that one's form factor is now finally available with new technology. One thing is clear: the embedded computer manufacturers will definitely finish first, form factors, which have the greatest demand. However, should the selection of the appropriate SFF form factor will be taken on it, at least, that this is supported by several major global embedded computing vendors, because the risk that small companies go bankrupt or be acquired is not small. This is not only because of the current economic situation but also because of the overall trend towards consolidation in this market. Fewer and fewer manufacturers account for an ever larger market share and are accordingly determined in terms of major trends. Moreover, among the long-term availability and a solid stable base and a real competition. This is achievable only with form factors which are sold in large quantities, so have a correspondingly large market share. This is ensured primarily by large manufacturers and a variety of competing manufacturers, the focus is also in this competition. Are also ideal form factors that are beyond vendor-developed bodies, where all the main suppliers of embedded computer technology are active. What are the embedded form factors are also taking into account these factors as a basis for what type of medical equipment? 

That largely depends on the range of requirements for each utility. Here can be roughly divided into two categories: Firstly, the small form factor (SFF) medical equipment, such as tablet PCs or portable patient monitoring systems which are characterized by a high level of energy efficiency and mobility. Secondly, the high-performance applications are, how can imaging techniques or Surgical guidance applications, the high demands on computing power and bandwidth only by server class systems are satisfied. For each of these applications are different factors to consider.

Embedded platforms for small form factor applications

In the field of mobile devices in addition to playing the compactness and wireless connectivity, in particular energy efficiency a key role to ensure the desired mobility with long battery running times. This is with the Intel ® Atom ™ processor technology now available for x86 devices, resulting in entirely new fields of application within this technology. Using a x86 platform is particularly attractive for medical device manufacturers, as this provides the basis of their high penetration is as high availability of established interfaces, and a broad code and developer base. Moreover x86 systems provide an excellent multi-functionality, so that value-added features can be integrated much more easily. Parts of different devices of a manufacturer also the x86 technology base, it shortens the development time also, eg through the joint operating base, and the code, know-how and development tool reuse. As flexible competing platforms are rare because they usually have a much more dedicated feature set, which focuses the application of a platform on a few limited applications.

The bandwidth performance SFF platforms on x86-based mobile applications for this and for small stationary power-operated and on mobile devices differ significantly from here today with what was known a few years ago. Especially important are current boards in the Mini-ITX form factor measuring 170 x 170 mm (eg for complex human-machine interfaces in CTs), and 2.5 inches and 3.5 inches and single-board computer (SBC), which are derived from the hard disk format and according to space are. In the area of 2.5 inches of the Pico-ITX form factor is the standards body, SFF-SIG dominant. At 3.5 inches, the field is somewhat heterogeneous, with the form factor from Kontron JRexplus is particularly interesting because it reveals the expansion modules of the PC/104 consortium supported as standard. Needed on the CPU board no external standard PC interfaces as JRexplus, the CPU module to the PC/104 Consortium specifications geleichermaßen interesting. Attractive is also the broad support both in terms of CPU boards and in groups during the extension of many years of very established PC/104 form factor, wins with the availability of SFF processors Further high importance and under the name of PC / 104-Plus also provides a PCI bus.
All these small standard CPU boards, with their respective standard feature set and the defined interfaces and easily integrated directly into applications. The current processor range starts with low-power Intel ® Atom ™ processors for all form factors, ranging up to the Intel ® Core 2 Quad in mini-ITX.

Even more flexible with computer-on-Modules

In addition to CPU boards are also computer-on-Modules (COMs) for SFF designs. They offer more flexibility in the interpretation of individual features and interfaces. COMs are purchased just like CPU-side deck as the acquisition of an embedded component manufacturer and the carrier board to match the application on its own, or even more comfortable, developed directly from the manufacturer. Customized versions can be with a computer-on-Modules implemented very quickly. The best investment security here offer long-term available modules that follow the COM Express ™ specification, since only given here is actually a correspondingly large global manufacturer support. This PICMG standard currently defines two module sizes: Extended (145mm x 95mm) and Basic (95mm x 125mm). Kontron and other manufacturers also offer nor the SFF form factors microETXexpress (95 x 95 mm) and nanoETXexpress (55 mm x 84 mm), the terms connector and pin out are compliant with COM Express ™ COM Express ™ and developed to standardize on the PICMG were. COM Express ™ Computer-on-Module based thus offering excellent scalability of the Intel ® Atom ™ processor up to Core 2 Duo processor and size. Upgrades of existing applications can easily be done by changing the COMs.

High-performance solutions

So complex sometimes conflicting criteria in the field of compact and mobile devices are getting worse so the requirements for high-end systems too. Inpatient, diagnostic imaging procedures such as CT, MRI, or digital X-ray (eg mammography) need first and foremost thing: Preferring computing power. Ideally, therefore, are multi-processor and / or multi-core systems. This is, of course, but also factors such as energy efficiency and compatibility should be noted, will be the engineering effort for system cooling and peripheral connections are not unnecessarily high. Maximum performance and compatibility offers board level of the server area known ExtendedATX (ATX) form factor. Latest embedded boards such as the Kontron ATX motherboard KTC5520 offer two Intel ® Xeon ® Quad-core 5500 processors. With up to 8 cores and 16 threads for simultaneous multi-threading the new server board is particularly attractive for medical imaging workstations. In addition, ATX has all the advantages of the ATX form factor, such as ATX compliant power supply connection, the entire ATX compatible mechanics and extension groups. Even high-end PEG graphics cards can each of the latest technology will be used accordingly. However, the rate of innovation in graphics processor with only about half a year again clocked much faster than that of x86 processors. Thus, it is set for most medical device OEM best in terms of investment security in a sustainable, long-term availability solutions.

In addition to these single-bladed boards are still in demand for high-end applications and systems that are equipped with multiple CPU boards in order to offer maximum computing performance. In this area of interest are both PICMG 1.3 Slotbaugruppen, which are so constructed as PCI expansion cards, so they can be a fast and can also develop and build systems with multiple CPU modules. It is interesting but also AdvancedMC. This form factor for passive backplanes is barely larger than a standard PCI card, but offers enough room for the new SFF processors such as the low-power high-performance processor Intel ® Core ™ i7. According hot these boards are also traded. Kontron has his first boards with this processor in addition to accurately VPX launched this form factor. In accordance with the form factor is attractive for systems that need a high-speed backplane in the smallest form factor. MicroTCA.1 With the specification, these systems are now available to be robust, so that they can come for example in mobile field hospitals to use. We conclude that the ranks of the most important form factors that are particularly interesting for the Medical Computing.

It should remain: It is possible for the time-and cost-effective implementation of new medical devices numerous long-term availability embedded computing platforms, both SFF and also at a high-performance level. Identify the best platform for each specific application is not really hard when you're choosing among competing platforms directly to each one that is future proof and accordingly experiences a strong support throughout the embedded computer industry. Anyone who is unsure what the right form factor, studies should consider the example of VDC are available to consult or talk, but with manufacturers who offer a broad portfolio of standard components. Here you can be sure to be advised accordingly, regardless of their form factor standard. Nevertheless, one can not buy from any producer the right boards. For Medical PC will be respected at least, the flows of the systems. For PCs as medical certificates are also appropriate for example, the production required. An appropriate expertise, the manufacturer must therefore also be able to demonstrate.

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