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Fast CPU module stays within PCI-104 envelope

Apr 3, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Ampro Computers claims to be shipping the first CPU module to surpass a 1 GHz processor speed without violating the standard PCI-104 form-factor. This achievement required an update to the company's earlier CoreModule 800 design, using a Celeron M 373 processor and a double-thickness PC board, Ampro said.

(Click for larger view of CoreModule 800 — “Where's the PCI bus?”)

The CoreModule 800 targets severe-environment applications in the military, avionics, transportation, and industrial arenas, according to Ampro.

The original version of the module, sporting an 800 MHz ULV Celeron M processor, implemented physical “wings” that extended beyond the 3.55 x 3.75-inch confines of a “legal” PC/104, PC/104-Plus, or PCI-104 module. Like Ampro's earlier CoreModule 800's “winged” design, other PC/104 module manufacturers — such as Advantech, Lippert, and possibly others — have also fielded high-performance processing on PCI-104 CPU modules with “stretched” form-factors. Ampro's new 1 GHz CoreModule 800, however, is wingless, despite carrying a faster (and hotter running) processor, according to the company.

The 1 GHz CoreModule 800 shares the feature set of its 800 MHz predecessor, which include:

  • Up to 1 GB onboard DDR RAM
  • 128-bit AGP graphics and dual-channel LVDS
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • UltraDMA 33/66/100 IDE
  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 2 x RS232/422/485 serial ports
  • Parallel, floppy port, keyboard, and mouse ports
  • -40 to +85 degrees Celsius extended temperature option

Where's the PCI bus?

Company CEO Joanne Mumola Williams claimed “a number of technological breakthroughs” achieved by Ampro in shattering “the previously impenetrable 1 GHz barrier for rugged PC/104-size modules while remaining true to form factor standards” and fitting “a complete CPU subsystem with I/O, PCI-104 bus expansion, and network interfaces” into that form-factor.

However, from this photo of the CoreModule 800, it's difficult to figure out where the required PCI-104 stackable PCI bus connector is located. The answer, according to Ampro director of marketing Colin McCracken, is that the module is built with a double-thickness PCB (printed circuit board) material, and has a press-fit PCI bus connector protruding from its bottom side. Thus, the module's stackable PCI bus expands from the bottom of the board and is therefore hidden from view (in the area underneath the high-density J4 and J4 I/O connectors).

McCracken also noted that Ampro offers a PC/104-Plus form-factor ISA bus bridge board, which can be stacked below the CoreModule 800 to add legacy PC/104-style ISA bus expansion capabilities. The ISA bridge module includes CompactFlash and Mini PCI sockets for additional system expansion convenience, he added.


The 1 GHz CoreModule 800 PCI-104 module is expected to ship within 30 days. Unit pricing starts at under $1100. Board support packages are available for Linnux 2.6, QNX, VxWorks, and Windows XP, XP Embedded, and CE.

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