Upgrading Legacy VME SBCs
Key Factors to Consider in Single Board Computer Upgrades
Mature and incredibly reliable, VME technology continues to be a workhorse for deployed defense applications. VME Single Board Computers (SBCs) deliver the processing power and manage I/O for the vast majority of these applications, providing critical functions across hundreds of programs.
As a system designer, you may be faced with the challenge of upgrading a VME-based application. Perhaps you face end-of-life issues with your current SBC (not all vendors have Curtiss-Wright’s commitment to long lifecycle support) or perhaps planned application enhancements demand more than your current SBC can deliver. In either case, you need to implement a technology insertion while minimizing changes to the rest of the system configuration. As you compare VME SBC upgrade options, three important considerations are processor performance, memory capacity and backplane pinout compatibility.
When upgrading from an older SBC, the first item to consider is the application’s processing requirements. If the upgrade is due to end-of-life components, then the legacy processing power may be sufficient. In that case, it’s possible to choose a new VME module with a lower-end performance processor which will almost certainly demand less power than your current Single Board Computer and also offer cost advantages.
However, when more processing power is needed to meet new application demands, the upgrade must obviously include a faster processor. Fortunately, tremendous performance increases have occurred over multiple generations of processors. For example, the dual-core Freescale P2020 (featured on the Curtiss-Wright VME-194 VME SBC) running at 1.2 GHz delivers 6x the processing power of the PowerPC 750 processor running at 400 MHz that was used on Curtiss-Wright’s older VME-179. Similarly, today’s 4th generation Intel Core i7 found on the Curtiss-Wright VME-1908 SBC delivers 7x the performance over a previous generation Core 2 Duo processor.
Partnering with an experienced board vendor, such as Curtiss-Wright, can significantly cut the design risk of processor technology upgrades while speeding successful implementation. Curtiss-Wright provides documentation and tools to assist you in making your transition, and we offer migration application notes for moving from one processor to another.
An enhanced application often requires not just more processing power but also a way to efficiently store and access huge amounts of data. Video images, terrain mapping and platform health monitoring are just a few functional areas that need multiple gigabytes of additional storage. External storage expansion will solve that problem but it also involves more changes to the system configuration. A better solution is to upgrade to an SBC that supports large amounts of on-board solid state storage.
Incredible advances in flash solid state memory have enabled new options for tech upgrades. For instance, Curtiss-Wright’s Power Architecture VME-194 SBC has an optional 8 GB (upgradable to 32 GB) of onboard NAND flash, while the VME-1908, an Intel Core i7-based SBC, offers up to 128 GB of flash memory. For both SBCs, the use of mezzanine modules can increase SSD capacity into the terabytes.
Backplane Pinout Compatibility
Replacing or modifying backplanes as part of a tech insertion can quickly become costly, making backplane pinout compatibility between older and contemporary VME boards an important upgrade consideration. Being cognizant of the technology insertion challenges, Curtiss-Wright offers new VME SBCs that are pin-for-pin compatible with our previous generations, making replacements and insertions as straightforward as possible. This commitment has benefited dozens of programs, helping customers preserve the value of their current system’s investment while gaining new technology capabilities.
Sometimes our customers need to upgrade a legacy VME SBC from another vendor. When a specific backplane pinout requirement needs to be met, Curtiss-Wright can modify a current-generation card to meet the backplane requirements of a previous-generation card. Not only that, in cases where the chassis and/or power supply are affected during a card upgrade, Curtiss-Wright has the decades of expertise required to craft an optimal solution for your application needs.
To speed the review of SBC pinouts, Curtiss-Wright offers a Pinout Configuration tool for its SBC modules. In addition, product datasheets, hardware and software user manuals are conveniently available on line.
For information on upgrading VME SBCs, contact us today.