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What is PC104?

PC104 is a popular standardized form-factor for small computing modules typically used in industrial control systems or vehicles.

PC104 gets its name from the popular desktop personal computers initially designed by IBM called the PC, and from the number of pins used to connect the cards together (104). PC104 cards are much smaller than ISA-bus cards found in PC's and stack together which eliminates the need for a motherboard, backplane, and/or card cage. Power requirements and signal drive are reduced to meet the needs of an embedded system. Because PC104 is essentially a PC with a different form factor, most of the program development tools used for PC's can be used for a PC104 system. This reduces the cost of purchasing new tools and also greatly reduces the learning curve for programmers and hardware designers.

PC104 based systems are used in a variety places including factories, laboratories, processing plants, vehicles, and almost anywhere devices must be controlled by a programmable computer. PC104 systems are small and ususally have low power requirements so they're great for applications that simply don't have the space for a full-blown desktop PC. Additionally, PC104 systems are designed to be more rugged than desktop systems. Building a system using PC104 modules usually costs more than a commercial PC, but usually less than a rack-mounted system.

PC104 Card
Almost anything you can think of is availible as a PC104 module. This includes common functions like CPUs, Serial I/O ports, and Video Controllers; but also more exotic modules like GPS receivers, vehicle power supplies, wireless communications. A stack of PC104 modules can be attached as a component of a larger circuit board, or simply put in a small enclosure for stand-alone operation.

The PC104 form factor was developed by Ampro Computers in California in the late 1980's. The specification was published in 1992 in order to enhance popularity. Now over 150 vendors manufacture PC104 compatible products including controller cards, software, and accessories.

Learn More
The PC104 Consortium was established to maintain the specifications, publish a resource guide, participate in standards activities, and to promote PC104 at trade shows and through news releases. We encourage you to contact them for additional information.

Additional technical details about PC104 can be found on The E-Zine of PC104 Controlled Systems
and The PC104 FAQ.

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