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Rugged PC/104 SBC offers on-board analog I/O

May 11, 2016 — by Eric Brown 960 views

The rugged “Helix” PC/104 SBC runs Linux on a 1GHz Vortex86DX3 SoC, and offers DAQ, mini-PCIe expansion, a wide range of I/O, and -40 to 85°C operation.

Over the years, we’ve seen numerous PC/104 single board computers built around DMP’s x86-based Vortex processors, including a Diamond Systems Helio SBC from 2009 based on the Vortex86DX. Diamond’s new Helix SBC taps DMP’s latest Vortex86DX3 system-on-chip (SoC), as does Adlink’s circa-2015 CM1-86DX3 PC/104 SBC. The faster, dual-core, 1GHz Vortex86DX3 SoC offers double the L1 and L2 cache of the DX2, and adds support for DDR3 memory.

Diamond Systems Helix

Designed for rugged applications including industrial, medical, on-vehicle, and military, the fanless Helix offers MIL-STD-202G-rated shock and vibration resistance. It also supports -40 to 85°C temperatures.

The 101.5 x 101.5mm SBC is available in two standard models, which differ according to the data acquisition (DAQ) features populated on the board. Model A adds a high-quality analog I/O circuit that provides sixteen 16-bit A/D inputs with 100KHz sample rate, plus four 16-bit D/A channels with voltage outputs, and also provides 27 DIO lines instead of 16 on the D model. You also get Diamond’s free, Universal Driver DAQ programming library and a DAQ GUI for both Linux and Windows. The standard Model A version also doubles the soldered DDR3 RAM, to 2GB, and supplies three additional USB 2.0 ports.

Helix block diagram

Other I/O in common with both board models includes VGA and LVDS outputs, dual RS-232/422/485 and dual RS-232 ports, and optional CANBus. You also get Fast and Gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as a SATA port with optional 32GB or 64GB SATA DOMs.


Other Helix features include analog inputs and outputs, HD audio I/O, PS/2, and PWM. You can add PC/104 ISA expansion cards, and a mini-PCIe slot provides optional WiFi, Ethernet, analog and digital I/O, and mSATA. A development kit version offers preloaded Linux or Windows Embedded 7 SDKs, the SATA DOM, cables, and more.

Specifications listed for the Helix SBC include:

  • Processor — DMP Vortex86DX3 SoC (2x x86 cores @ 1GHz); 6-stage pipeline; 32K I-Cache, 32K D-Cache, 513KB L2 Cache; FPU; integrated 2D GPU
  • Memory — 1GB (Model D) or 2GB (Model A), soldered 64-bit DDR3 RAM
  • Storage — SATA 1.5Gbps port; optional 32GB or 64GB SATA DOM MLC or SLC flashdisk; optional mSATA via mini-PCIe
  • Display — VGA and 24-bit, single-channel LVDS, both up to 1920 x 1080 (up to 1280 x 1080 in dual display mode)
  • Networking — 1x Gigabit Ethernet; 1x Fast Ethernet
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 2.0 ports — 3x (Model D) or 6x (Model A)
    • 2x RS232/422/485 ports
    • 2x RS232 ports
    • PS/2
    • HD audio (Realtek ALC892) with line-out, line-in, mic-in
    • 16x 16-bit analog inputs (Model A only)
    • 4x 16-bit analog outputs (Model A only)
    • GPIO — 16x (Model D) or 27x (Model A), independently programmable bits
    • 4x PWM (24-bit)
    • 8x 32-bit counter/timers
    • Optional CANbus 2.0 port
  • Expansion — PC/104 (ISA bus signals); mini-PCIe slot with mSATA
  • Ruggedization:
    • Shock and vibration resistance — MIL-STD-202G
    • Operating temperature — -40 to 85°C
    • Optional conformal coating
  • Dimensions — 102 x 102mm; PC/104 form-factor
  • Weight — 70.8g with heatsink
  • Operating system — Linux or Windows Embedded 7 SDKs

Further information

The Helix SBC is available starting at $425 (model D) in single unit pricing. More information may be found at the Diamond Systems website’s Helix SBC product page.

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