Edge computing provides fast and real-time decision-making on-site. By eliminating the need to connect to the cloud, edge computers can process various data inputs instantly. This is becoming more and more important as the numbers of IoT and IIoT devices continue to increase. That said, IoT devices tend to be deployed outdoors, driving the demand for durable and reliable outdoor computers to manage them by collecting and analyzing data from them. Hence, edge computing creates huge opportunities for computer manufactures to capitalize on the industry and provide solutions across a breadth of industrial applications. This blog post will discuss the 7 things to consider when choosing the best outdoor computer.
1. Climate and Placement
The very first thing to consider when choosing an outdoor computer is the environment and location of the computer’s deployment. Outdoor deployments such as remote mining equipment, livestock management, digital signage, and kiosks require outdoor computers that are capable of maintaining high-performance through fluctuating climate conditions. Such environments can experience very low heat and high heat. Hence, you want an outdoor computer that can withstand a wide temperature range. On the other hand, for placement locations, outdoor deployments are commonly placed around dirty locations with tiny dust particles, dirt, and muddy soil like in the mining industry. As such, you should also choose an appropriate enclosure to protect your outdoor PC.
There are five major climate zones based on temperature and precipitation which are tropical, dry, temperate, cold, and polar. These main climate threats commonly cause a failure for computers when deployed outside. This is so because computers are not in a controlled environment such as an office or at home. Outdoor computers are often deployed in indoor factories where they experience extreme temperatures. As such, you want to make sure your computer is resistant to a wide temperature range. Some of the great outdoor computers operating temperature range can reach from lowest heat -40℃ up to highest heat 85℃. Wide temperature resistance indicates great computer durability during deployment in cold winter or hot summer climate situations.
Having a fanless design is incredibly beneficial for outdoor computers. Passively cooling PCs allow designers to create systems without ventilation holes or openings in the device, allowing devices to score a high IP rating ranging from IP65 up to IP69K. IP69K is the highest score in the IP rating system where it can protect ingress from tiny dust particles and powerful high pressure, high-heat water jet sprays. This IP rating is important and useful for computer compatibility when deployed in contaminated areas where devices will need frequent washdowns.
NEMA enclosure is as important as an IP rating to consider when deploying an outdoor computer outdoors. NEMA enclosures are a popular solution that protects computers and electronic equipment, ensuring the computer’s sensitive components are safe from foreign outdoor particles and water. The NEMA 4 enclosure is a very popular option for outdoor computers. NEMA 4 can be used as a solution for computers with a lower IP rating or without any IP rating. NEMA 4 mainly provides extra protection against dirt, rain, sleet, windblown dust, ice formation, and splashing water.
Source: Northwest Tech-Con Systems "Hoffman NEMA 4 Enclosure"
Also, NEMA enclosures come with optional anti-corrosion material or epoxy e-coating for added rust protection. Despite offering foreign particle enclosure, it’s important to note that NEMA enclosure does not completely protect computers from extreme temperature. Moreover, because computers are contained inside of a closed compartment, heat can linger inside causing fan-cooled systems to overheat. For this reason, passively cooled fanless outdoor computers are the best solutions because they are low-powered and produce little heat, making them the ideal option for deployment in NEMA enclosures.
2. Size and Form Factor
Deploying an industrial PC in an outdoor environment can also draw challenges in terms of size and form factors. Some applications might need an industrial PC with various expansion slots for adding more components to meet their computing power needs. Others might need a small form factor industrial PC to fit into tight space while still maintaining powerful performance. Therefore, you can match the form factor based on the available space for your outdoor application amid deployments. Industrial PCs line up for outdoor deployments vary in weight and sizes from a powerful industrial computer. Some of the most compact yet powerful small form factor PC in the market can be measured in an outstanding 0.58L in volume and weigh merely 0.85kg. It is called a rugged mini PC, which is 77 times smaller than regular desktop PCs and 10 times lighter than standard desktop PCs.
3. Reliability and Durability
Outdoor deployments usually take place in remote locations. Therefore, what you really want is a reliable and durable computer that you can trust for 24/7 operation because, for some workloads, downtime is not an option. System failure can cost the company’s a fortune, it’s also hard and time-consuming to look for a maintenance team and dispatch them to a remote area to address the issue. Thus, it will escalate the problem and cost even more. Making sure you choose the most reliable and durable PC in the market is an essential factor when choosing an outdoor computer.
One-Piece Design – Shock & Vibration Resistance
Industrial PCs utilize a one-piece design chassis that enables the implementation of a cable-less design, producing a robust structure due to the fewer joint parts and screws. The one-piece design is constructed from extruded aluminum with heavy-duty metal. With this ruggedized design, the PC can withstands higher vibration and shock impact. The PC is following the military standard (MIL-SPEC-810G), which ensures resistance from shock capability to withstand 50G, Half sine, 11ms (with SSD), and vibration capability to withstand 5 Grms, 5-500Hz, 0.5 hr/axis (with SSD). That said, the cable-less design offers easier assembly, disassembly, and maintenance options.
Power input can vary in different regions and for different applications. The infrastructure of edge computing is pushing the performance and capabilities of edge computing solutions. In industrial and outdoor applications an outdoor computer needs to have the capability to operate in conditions where the power supply might be sporadic, and in a remote place where the power input might be less powerful. That said, outdoor PCs have the characteristics that are energy efficient and have features to tackle these issues. Equipped with OVP (over-voltage protection), OCP (over current protection), and have a wide voltage input gives the PCs flexibility during outdoor deployments where power input may not be as stable. It has protection for input voltage more than 55V and a wide input of 9V-48V to add flexibility in various regions.
EMI Compliance and Stress Test
Another thing you should consider when choosing an outdoor computer is to check whether the system has EMI compliance. It is an electromagnetic interference (EMI) that can be generated by an electronic device. Every device has a certain level of EMI, but the government will test and grant permission to the design if the EMI is below the restricted level. You want PCs that are following the EMI compliance for both European and American standards by performing a pre-compliance test. Also, it needs to obtain the certifications that are known as CE and FCC certifications. You want your PC manufacturers to also do further stress tests to ensure the durability and reliability of the PCs. Organizations must test and measure devices in advanced testing facilities using technologies such as 1500 KGF vibration tester, thermal shock ramp chamber, temperature & humidity chamber, signal integrity tester, and many more. By checking these two elements, ensuring the compatibility and longevity of your outdoor computers.
4. Computing Power and Expandability
Next, you want to make sure your outdoor computer is not only rugged but also has strong computing power to be able to quickly complete heavy workloads. Edge computing needs to be capable of calculating real-time data inputs. Instant decision-making is extremely crucial for applications within volatile environments. One example is the autonomous vehicle industry. Moreover, it’s more efficient for the outdoor computer if it has expandability features. Some applications that involve heavier workloads need an industrial PC with various expansion slots such as mini PCIe slots to upgrade the computing power. Adding components such as GPUs or SSDs can increase the capability of the PC to run heavy programs such as AI, machine learning, and deep learning. That said, expandability in an outdoor PC makes it easier to upgrade the system without changing the whole device itself, allowing organizations to save money by simply upgrading components instead of buying completely new hardware.
Ultrafast Speed – PCIe 4.0 and NVMe Protocol
Source: Signal Integrity Journal; NVM express org
PCIe 4.0 is twice faster in speed compared to its previous series PCIe 3.0 protocol. Peripheral component interconnect expresses (PCIe) 4.0 comes with an ultra-fast connection of 64GB/s bandwidth speed and 16GT/s in Giga transfers. Combine the PCIe 4.0 with NVMe (non-volatile memory express) will unlock the SSDs full potential. For instance, M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs are compact in form factor but are also tremendously fast when reading/writing data. One of the fastest SSDs on the market today can reach a maximum sequential reading speed of 5000MB/s and a writing speed of 4400MB/s. That being said, the best outdoor PCs also need to have a fast storage and connection speed.
5. Versatility and Wireless Network Connectivity
When deploying outdoor computers in a remote location, it’s important to have versatile I/O and wireless network connectivity. Versatile I/O provides convenience when you need to change functions in a remote environment. Furthermore, a wireless network connection plays a big role in remote deployments because remote locations usually do not provide LAN cable for internet connection.
Industrial PCs that are compatible with various I/O are more convenient to connect with other supporting devices and connections. Some of the I/O that you want to make sure to include are various serial ports, USB ports, video ports, DIO/GPIO, RJ45 LAN ports, M12 connectors, PCIe slots, M.2 slots, USB 3.1, and many more based on your application requirements.
Wireless Network Connectivity
When you cannot connect to the cloud and internet through a LAN connection, wireless is a great solution to your device to the internet. Some wireless connections you want your outdoor computer to features are Bluetooth, 4G LTE, 5G, and Wi-Fi 6 (or Wi-Fi 5). Usually, you can look for sim card slots, M.2 NVMe Wi-Fi card slots, and Bluetooth card slots at the computer if it supports any of them. These specs can link the powerful CPU and GPU compute power to the cloud, network systems, and IoT devices to perform various outdoor applications.
6. Security with TPM 2.0
Outdoor computers are prone to malicious cyber hacks and can cause damages and losses from the attack. Either hack from the cloud or physical storage theft, you want to protect the stored data inside the storage drives. Thus, TPM 2.0 (trusted platform module 2.0) can fully secure stored data with the TPM crypto-processor. It includes several physical security protocols to make the system tamper-resistant. Moreover, malicious software will be unable to tamper with the security functions of the TPM chip.
7. Operating System – Windows IoT Enterprise
Finally, you want to have the right OS for your outdoor computers. Microsoft has made an operating system to specifically target the IoT industry and delivers enterprise manageability to IoT solutions that are secure as well. It is a full version of Windows 10 but with the additional feature that support IoT applications such as lockdown controls. Lockdown controls are great for outdoor deployments like a kiosk. It can make your computer only run a single kiosk app but limit the users to access other functions that are not intended by the app. Windows IoT Enterprise is great for customizing functions and systems based on your specific outdoor applications.