# Effects of PC hardware evolution

B

#### Bob Welker

How will proposed changes in basic PC hardware (eliminating serial, and parallel ports), floppy drives, etc. impact on servicing automation
equipment.

I'm trying to get a feel for how people think about the growing trend to eliminate things like serial and parallel ports, and now the
venerable 3-1/2" floppy disk drive (as outlined in the 03/01/2002 David Coursey column on ZDNET).

"http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2851671,00.html":http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2851671,00.html

Of course, in this case the issue is Microsoft evaluating whether or not it's OK to endow the 'designed for Windows' certification, but the
thing I'm concerned about is the direction desktop computers are taking in general.

It looks like life is to become more difficult for people working with PCs in support of production equipment.

Bob Welker

J

#### James Ingraham

There are a number of stop-gap measures available. My company recently purchased a laptop only to discover that it had no serial ports. We got a USB to Serial converter that works fine, although for some reason we couldn't get it to talk to Modicon PLC's with Concept. There are also Ethernet-to-Serial converters.
As for floppy drives, USB floppy drives will be available for a while.

I daresay, however, that anyone installing automation equipment today should NOT use any older technology. Any PLCs my company ships have Ethernet ports. We stopped putting floppy drives on our Industrial PCs two years ago.

The biggest problem for me has been the disappearing ISA slots. Still, most of the cards we used now have PCI versions, and some can be replaced with network-based hardware.

All in all, I agree it's worth keeping your eye on what's going on, but we don't need to panic.

-James
Sage Automation, Inc.

S

#### Steve Myres, PE

I've already run into a problem with the disappearance of ISA slots in new PC's. A recurring application I was involved in required an ISA I/O card, a motion control card, and on large installations, two motion cards. The I/O
card was readily available in PCI, so that wasn't a problem, but the motion control card was not, and the software had been written around the capabilities of this particular card (not by me). Commercial PC's, which is all our management wanted to pay for, started showing up with 1 or even no ISA slots. I think the problem is a little less severe with things like serial and paralel ports and floppy drives, as these things can all be added after the fact, as long as the case design is not too restrictive. Also, the trend for industrial hardware seems to be that more and more of it is available in Ethernet, and perhaps USB is next. Certainly this is the case with printers, if that is what
you were using the parallel port for.

C

#### Curt Wuollet

You have the duopoly to thank for this. They have decided that we need to get rid of all that old stuff and buy new stuff as a means to deal with saturation of the PC market. Their direction is sufficiently different from ours that there would probably be a market for definite purpose PC's at competitive prices if someone could round up enough of the demand to be important enough for say, a single second tier motherboard manufacturer to keep making ISA MB's preferably one that has a high slot count with a good balance of new type slots so that current commodity cards can be used for the non specific functions. I currently use the FIC VA503+, a super socket seven board that is excellent in enough areas that it has had a very unusual lifespan in the market. This long availability is also very good for our purposes. Unfortunately it is nearing the end of the road and _nothing_ I see in the market is a good replacement for automation purposes. This would be a good opportunity for a cooperative, to find and manage an inventory of the best current offerings for industrial purposes. It would be worth a _few_ shekles more to buy more predictable products.

Regards

cww

A

#### Alex Pavloff

Blah Blah Big Companies Evil Blah Blah Screw Consumers Blah Blah. Been there, heard that.

Facts of the matter are:

RS-232 serial ports ARE too slow for scanners, digital cameras, TV cards, and all the other goodies that consumers want to buy. They also are limited in number (never seen a PC with more than two ports standard), and there aren't good ways to get more on a PC without cracking the case open.

USB, although not as attractive to industrial applications due to its extremely short run length and general flimsiness (screws? what are those?), allows multiple devices to be plugged in at the same time, has much higher data transfer rates than RS-232, and can even provide 5v power to devices on the other end. Don't get me started on the fun things that have been done with parallel and all the passthrus that you have to go to other scanners, zip drives, and the like.

Compared to ten years ago, the home consumer has greater capability and greater ease of use as well as getting it all for a fraction of the cost.

So we in the industrial world hooked our cart to the consumer cart many years ago so we could get stuff for cheap. Guess what -- this is the cost. No ISA slots, no serial ports, and flavors of Windows that conspire to make your DH-485 adapter not work on Tuesdays or when its raining.

> This would be a good opportunity for a cooperative, to find
> and manage an inventory of the best current offerings for
> industrial purposes. It would be worth a _few_ shekles
> more to buy more predictable products.

A few? Great, Curt, just HOW much are you willing to spend to get a 4 year old motherboard and chip? Why do I suspect that the moment the cost becomes too much for you to bear, that you turn around and complain that they're going to gouge you in an effort to get you to upgrade to the newest solution from the "duopoly".

Why don't you do it? Hit EBay and buy up old computers, mine them for motherboards, buy up a huge stock of old parts and try to make a living off it.

Alex Pavloff
Software Engineer
Eason Technology

M

#### Michael Griffin

What about passive backplane systems? You can get all ISA, all PCI, and various combinations in between in a 19" rack mount format. These come with up to 15 or even 20 slots. There are also various sorts of embedded chassis with smaller foot prints. These aren't as cheap as a desk-top type of motherboard, but they do meet your other criteria, are reasonably standardised, robust, and the market doesn't turn over as quickly as office systems do.

--

************************
Michael Griffin
************************

C

#### Curt Wuollet

Hi Alex

I would buy into your go with the flow argument except for a few factors:
Many of our needs are not simply discardable. USB, for example is not just a non-optimal replacement for hardwired ports, it's a non-functional replacement for such common things as timing critical serial protocols. And sharing even a fast wire without much better pacing and scheduling than I've seen is simply insane if determinism matters at all. There are companies that do quite well selling passive backplane systems full of ISA slots. For the most part, this solution suffers from lack of volume with the standardization, quality and price problems that go along with it. There are enough applications that are best served with existing standards to get sizable volumes for "old standard" boards even without our little percentage of the mb amarket. And I am not at all interested in "old motherboards", there is
absolutely no reason (except for PC99) that the motherboards couldn't keep up with processor speeds, memory capacity, etc. and still include the features we need. It's just like when Intel decided sockets were dead and nobody saluted or dictated that we would all use their memory choice and nobody saluted. When the cheers and adulation don't come, they drop these bright ideas and go on. There are enough hungry mb makers out there that our niche would be attractive if all they had to do was keep what they already have. I still buy brand new socket 7 mb with 3 ISA slots and the usual compliment of ports that are still being manufactured. I'm sure it isn't my volume that keeps these available. They sell enormous quantities of these to someone who apparently doesn't know that they are useless. I'm fairly sure with group buying we wouldn't have to go along with the flow. It's a lot different now that entry level PC's are fast
ennough for most purposes. MB vendors are having to compete on other factors than speed.

Regards

cww

J

So when it is raining on a Tuesday, and you need that 485 port to get online to the dead machine costing your customer $10K USD per hour of lost production, what do *YOU* suggest, Alex? Because, let's face it, not every plant is keeping up with the windows upgrade cycle on all their production machines. Let's face it, there are still some PLC-2s out there that still need to be talked to. You apparently think trying to get equipment that has the required hardware to support connecting to this machine is something to be publicly mocked, so what is *YOUR* answer? How do *YOU* solve the problem? Conspiracy theories aside, when the 'rubber hits the road' I need an RS-232 port on my laptop, and the USB adapters don't always work. So what is *YOUR* solution? Your condescension would indicate to me, anyway, that you have the 'golden truth' awaiting to reveal upon us, the unwashed masses. --Joe Jansen C #### Curt Wuollet Hi Michael They do meet those needs and sell in modest volumes. They don't meet that need as well as simply including hardwired ports and ISA slots on a high volume standard MB because cost is much higher and you lose the valuable standardization. We're not talking radical demands here, if they can sell mb for$50.00 the cost of the bridge,
connectors amd a "super IO" chip can't add that much cost.

Regards

cww
--
Free Tools!
Machine Automation Tools (LinuxPLC) Free, Truly Open & Publicly Owned
Industrial Automation Software For Linux. mat.sourceforge.net.
Day Job: Heartland Engineering, Automation & ATE for Automotive
Rebuilders.
Consultancy: Wide Open Technologies: Moving Business & Automation to
Linux.

A

#### Alex Pavloff

> You apparently think trying to get
> equipment that has the required hardware to support connecting to this
> machine is something to be publicly mocked, so what is *YOUR*
> answer? How do *YOU* solve the problem?

How do I solve the problem? I can't solve the problem! The only thing that I can do is point out that you'd better buy spares NOW, and you'd better be willing to buy high cost spares in the future if you want to have RS-232 ports. It sucks! I agree! However, there is NOT a major demand for ISA slots and RS-232 ports in the consumer industry, and they're driving the cart while all of us industrial people are trying to hang on for dear life.

> Conspiracy theories aside, when the 'rubber hits the road' I need an
> RS-232 port on my laptop, and the USB adapters don't always work. So
what
> is *YOUR* solution? Your condescension would indicate to me, anyway,
that
> you have the 'golden truth' awaiting to reveal upon us, the unwashed
> masses.

I have no solution. This is, indeed, a problem. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is, quite possibly, spend a premium on laptops with
"legacy" connectors! I feel for you, because the product that my company is shipping is mainly serial based. I wish there was an easy way to solve the problem.

Alex Pavloff
Software Engineer
Eason Technology

A

#### Alex Pavloff

> Many of our needs are not simply discardable. USB, for example is not
> just a non-optimal replacement for hardwired ports, it's a non-functional
> replacement for such common things as timing critical serial
> protocols.

Critical to you, yes. Critical to people syncing their palm pilots? I know that you need this stuff. I know that we all need to have serial ports and ISA slots. However, Joe Best Buy Customer doesn't.

> It's just like when Intel decided sockets were dead and nobody
> saluted or dictated that we would all use their memory choice
> and nobody saluted. When the cheers and adulation don't come, they drop
these
> bright ideas and go on.

Actually, Intel switched from Socket 7 to Slot 1 for the sole reason that, at the time, they couldn't jam everything then needed to (especially the cache) into a socket. They didn't want to do it, because it cost quite a
bit more for them! After the tech caught up, they switched right back to sockets, because its cheaper.

As for the RDRAM choice, I'd point out that the main reason that didn't work was because of cost reasons. AMD picked another high-speed RAM choice (DDR RAM), and while its also incompatible with the PC66/PC100/PC133 SDRAM chips, it was, at the time, a much more economical option.

There isn't a conspiracy here -- just economic choices.

> There are enough hungry mb makers out there that our
> niche would be attractive if all they had to do was keep what they
> already have. I still buy brand new socket 7 mb with 3 ISA slots and the
usual
> compliment of ports that are still being manufactured. I'm
> sure it isn't my volume that keeps these available. They sell enormous
quantities of
> these to someone who apparently doesn't know that they are useless.

They're not useless! I'm not saying they are! Heck, this email is routed through a P200 running as a Linux firewall/router/NAT box. I'm just
pointing out that the needs of the industrial automation market (long part lifetime), are not met by the general consumer market, and all the gnashing of teeth and wailing is NOT going to help Socket 7 motherboards be available 5 years from now. Better get them now, while they're hot!

> I'm fairly sure with group buying we wouldn't have to go along with
> the flow. It's a lot different now that entry level PC's are fast
> ennough for most purposes. MB vendors are having to compete on other
> factors than speed.

You're sure? Well then Curt, get together the Legacy Motherboards Procurement Group, and start buying stuff. Make yourself a RS-232 laptop while you're at it, because we're really going to be needing those in a couple years.

Once again -- the industrial automation market hooked itself to the consumer electronics markets some years back, and have reaped the cost savings because we can buy off the shelf parts at Best Buy. Now we have to deal with that decision, and spend more money.

Alex Pavloff
Software Engineer
Eason Technology

C

#### Curt Wuollet

Hi Alex

List Manager wrote:
>
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Alex Pavloff <[email protected]>
> To: "'[email protected]'" <[email protected]>
> Subject: RE: PC: Effects of PC hardware evolution
>
> > From: Curt Wuollet <[email protected]>
> > To: [email protected]
> > Subject: Re: PC: Effects of PC hardware evolution
> >
> > Hi Alex
> >
> > I would buy into your go with the flow argument except for a few
> > factors:
>
> > Many of our needs are not simply discardable. USB, for example is
> > not just a non-optimal replacement for hardwired ports, it's a
> > non-functional replacement for such common things as timing critical
> > serial protocols.
>
> Critical to you, yes. Critical to people syncing their palm pilots?
> I know that you need this stuff. I know that we all need to have
> serial ports and ISA slots. However, Joe Best Buy Customer doesn't.
>
> > It's just like when Intel decided sockets were dead and nobody
> > saluted or dictated that we would all use their memory choice and
> > nobody saluted. When the cheers and adulation don't come, they drop
> these
> > bright ideas and go on.
>
> Actually, Intel switched from Socket 7 to Slot 1 for the sole reason
> that, at the time, they couldn't jam everything then needed to (especially the
> cache) into a socket. They didn't want to do it, because it cost quite a
> bit more for them! After the tech caught up, they switched right back to
> sockets, because its cheaper.

They also patented the technology to put a kink in AMD's air hose. And wanted such an outragious amount for a license that AMD went with the alternative using technology developed at DEC for the Alpha. It was a superior system, actually. The economic driving force involved with switching back was that they needed a low cost chip to compete with AMD who was eating their lunch in commodity systems. Might be a difference in viewpoint, but the space thing doesn't wash because AMD managed a bigger cache on chip. Combined with their edicts on what our PC's should contain, it prompted an antitrust investigation for Intel which has ended the shenanigans for at least a while. This was a good move for Intel as they avoided the grief that defiance of law and circumvention of decrees has brought their partner.

> As for the RDRAM choice, I'd point out that the main reason that
> didn't work was because of cost reasons. AMD picked another
> high-speed RAM choice (DDR RAM), and while its also incompatible with
> the PC66/PC100/PC133 SDRAM chips, it was, at the time, a much more
> economical option.
>
> There isn't a conspiracy here -- just economic choices.

> > There are enough hungry mb makers out there that our
> > niche would be attractive if all they had to do was keep what they
> > already have. I still buy brand new socket 7 mb with 3 ISA slots and
> > the
> usual
> > compliment of ports that are still being manufactured. I'm sure it
> > isn't my volume that keeps these available. They sell enormous
> quantities of
> > these to someone who apparently doesn't know that they are useless.
>
> They're not useless! I'm not saying they are! Heck, this email is
> routed through a P200 running as a Linux firewall/router/NAT box. I'm
> just pointing out that the needs of the industrial automation market
> (long part lifetime), are not met by the general consumer market, and
> all the gnashing of teeth and wailing is NOT going to help Socket 7
> motherboards be available 5 years from now. Better get them now,
> while they're hot!
>
> > I'm fairly sure with group buying we wouldn't have to go along with
> > the flow. It's a lot different now that entry level PC's are fast
> > ennough for most purposes. MB vendors are having to compete on other
> > factors than speed.
>
> You're sure? Well then Curt, get together the Legacy Motherboards
> Procurement Group, and start buying stuff. Make yourself a RS-232
> laptop while you're at it, because we're really going to be needing
> those in a couple years.

That is a lot less shaky business plan than most of the "new economy" is based on. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some small MB manufacturer didn't go after that niche. There's plenty of stuff around that is more specialized than that and provides an adequate market. If I wanted to be in that end of the business, I just might. The point is, why do we as consumers, simply throw up our hands and accept what vendors decide we want? I see more of that in this market sector than any other.

> Once again -- the industrial automation market hooked itself to the
> consumer electronics markets some years back, and have reaped the cost
> savings because we can buy off the shelf parts at Best Buy. Now we
> have to deal with that decision, and spend more money.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum we do a great deal of the work with machines that sell in very small quantities and simply accept what they choose to provide us, at great cost. What's wrong with this picture?

I find the degree of acceptance from folks who are "control freaks" absolutely amazing. My point is we might benefit from a little more vertical thinking. And exert a little more control over our working world. I'm already working on it.

Regards

cww
--
Free Tools!
Machine Automation Tools (LinuxPLC) Free, Truly Open & Publicly Owned Industrial Automation Software For Linux. mat.sourceforge.net. Day Job: Heartland Engineering, Automation & ATE for Automotive Rebuilders.
Consultancy: Wide Open Technologies: Moving Business & Automation to Linux.

A

#### Alex Pavloff

> Might be a difference in viewpoint, but the space thing doesn't wash
because AMD
> managed a bigger cache on chip.

The original AMD K7/Athlons were Slot processors. AMD had Slot A, remember? Like Intel, they switched back to socket based processors later once they worked out the technical kinks.

You are correct in that Intel decided to no longer allow other manufacturers CPUs to work with Intel chipsets, but this is still the case. AMD and Intel processors haven't been pin-compatible for years now, and this shows no sign
of changing. Heck, there's actually some good competition going on in the chipset market, with a variety of chipset choices for motherboards available for both Intel and AMD processors from various manufacturers.

What's the problem here? AMD STILL makes their business from undercutting Intel, and they're doing a damn good job of it, putting out chips with higher price/performance ratios. Competition is alive and well here, and it has nothing to do with legal action or conspiracies.

> Combined with their edicts on what
> our PC's should contain, it prompted an antitrust investigation for
> Intel which has ended the shenanigans for at least a while.

You know, I just went looking at various websites and news articles about the Intel antitrust trial, and came to two conclusions:

1) Old news
2) Intel doesn't have a monopoly on the microprocessor market, as AMD's success (despite Intels best efforts) as shown.

> That is a lot less shaky business plan than most of the "new
> economy" is based on. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some small MB
manufacturer
> didn't go after that niche. There's plenty of stuff around that is more
> specialized than that and provides an adequate market. If I wanted to
> be in that end of the business, I just might. The point is, why do we
> as consumers, simply throw up our hands and accept what vendors decide
> we want? I see more of that in this market sector than any other.

Because we want cheap stuff! This industry, used to motors and gears and conveyors that can last for years, does NOT understand the long term costs
of buying consumer hardware -- because consumer hardware was never suitable for use in industry before the 1990s! Its the same thing as wanting to save $500 on a PLC, ignoring the fact that it'll cost$5000 more in engineering time to get the cheap PLC to do the same work as the "expensive one". Its an inability to budget for the hidden costs.

That's why we throw up our hands and accept it -- its cheap, and we're hooked on cheap PCs more thoroughly than a junkie addicted to crack.

Alex Pavloff
Software Engineer
Eason Technology