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“Father of PC/104” returns

Feb 21, 2008 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 11 views

One of the first companies in the embedded PC and single-board computer markets has hired the “father of PC/104” to spearhead its product strategy. After eight years away, Rick Lehrbaum returns to the role of CTO at Ampro Computers, currently enjoying its 25-year anniversary this year.

Formerly a physicist with a masters degree from the University of Louisiana, Lehrbaum co-founded Ampro in 1983 and worked there until 2000, serving as VP of engineering, EVP of strategic development, and interim president. At Ampro, he became widely known for his work defining and promoting PC/104, an open industry single board computer standard. Originally based on the “MiniModules” used to expand Ampro's “Little Board” SBC, PC/104 subsequently become one of the most popular embedded system standards, in part because of its vendor-neutrality and practical approach to adapting to emerging bus standards such as PCI and PCI Express.

Lehrbaum left Ampro in 2000 to found LinuxDevices and the DeviceForge family of websites, which includes WindowsForDevices, DesktopLinux, and Linux-Watch. The sites, for which Lehrbaum served as VP and executive editor until 2007, were acquired in 2004 by Ziff Davis Media and are now part of Ziff Davis Enterprise Holdings.

In his new role at Ampro, Lehrbaum is tasked with helping to define Ampro's technology, market, and product strategies. Additionally, he will represent the company within key standardization initiatives pertaining to the embedded hardware and software industry, Ampro said in a press statement.

CEO and president Joanne Mumola Williams commented, “We're delighted to have Rick back in the company that he helped create.”

In a statement, Lehrbaum expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity. “These are exciting times for the embedded market, as parallel buses and interfaces morph into high-speed serial alternatives, and processors trend toward multi-GHz speeds and multiple CPU cores.”

He added, “I'm impressed with how much Ampro has matured from its early PC/104 days. Today, the company has a much broader appeal, thanks to its growing line of COM (computer-on-module) and ready-to-use system products.”

COMs are small single board computers designed to piggyback onto customer-designed baseboards. Designing a baseboard that brings out the needed I/O is easier than having to design the whole board, the theory goes, especially since electrical tolerances are tightest around the processor and memory subsystems.

The COM market was worth about $109 million in 2005, according to VDC figures from a year ago. Of that figure, about 65 percent derived from major open-architecture COM standards, including ETX, COM Express, DIMM-PC, and SOM-144. Thus, interfacing effectively with standards bodies and choosing which standards to adopt and support may be key, especially for smaller board vendors.

The COM market was arguably created by Kontron, a much larger Ampro competitor that introduced the ETX standard, which subsequently evolved into several variants. These include ETX Express (also known as COM Express), microETXexpress, and most recently, nanoETXexpress, apparently aimed at x86-compatible handheld devices. Some other emergent COM “standards” include MXM, XTX, ETX 3.0, and of course EPIC.

Ampro's product line comprises CoreModules, LittleBoards, MightyBoards, MightySystems, MiniModules, ReadyBoards, ReadyPanels, ReadySystems, ReadyPads, and RuffSystems.

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