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Advantech ARK-3440 Box PC

Intel Core i3/i5/i7-based high performance, rugged and highly configurable fanless industrial PC with PCI/PCIe expansion for advanced imaging and surveillance applications
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer; photography by Carol Cotton)

This article covers the Advantech ARK-3440, a compact, high performance Box IPC able to accommodate Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 processors. "Box IPC" refers to the device's boxlike design. And IPC stands for "Industrial PC." Like the low-power ARK-3403 with which it shares its chassis, the ARK-3440 represents a type of computing equipment that is very different from the desktop/notebook/tablet/smartphone classification that the vast majority of all consumer PC fall in. Yet, Box IPCs fill a very important role. So let's take a look at the concept of the Box IPC, and then the high-powered ARK-3440 itself.

In essence, IPCs bring various degrees of computing power into areas where it's needed, but where it makes no sense to use a laptop or commercial desktop. That can be deployments where it's too cold or too hot for a standard PC to survive, or places that cannot easily be reached so that small size and complete reliability become important. That may include applications where even the presence of a fan or a rotating hard disk are considered unacceptable reliability risks. Box IPCs must also live up to higher ruggedness standards, including vibration, shock as well as conformance with EMC and safety regulations. Finally, unlike in consumer devices, IPC performance and functionality depends entirely on the task at hand. IPCs must be configurable and adaptable to a vast variety of tasks and applications with their individual interface, power and technology requirements.

So how do industrial computer makers go about designing PCs suitable for those tasks? IPCs come in many different shapes and sizes, but the Advantech ARK-3403 generally represents what many IPCs look like these days: a compact steel box with cooling fins to eliminate the need for a fan, and with embedded systems circuitry inside.

The ARK-3440 measures 8.7 x 7.9 x 4.1 inches and weighs about nine pounds, 3.5 of which are accounted for by the precision-machined aluminum top that serves as a massive heatsink. The housing itself is steel and aluminum and extremely rigid, several classes above what you get in a consumer tower PC. The board inside at first sight looks just like any other compact motherboard, but it's really more of a Single Board Computer built to exacting embedded systems standards. There's plenty of connectivity—some available via external ports directly mounted on the main board, some on peripheral boards, and some via numerous connectors and pins held in reserve for special requirements. What you also notice is the absence of the snake's nest of wires, daisy-chained connectors, and jumper cables you find in consumer desktops.

And there is no fan. It's not unusual for a consumer tower PC to have a massive CPU fan, an almost equally massive fan for the graphics card, and half a dozen fans around the housing. There's none of that in the ARK-3403, despite the fact that it's running a powerful standard-voltage Intel Core i7 processor running at over 2.5GHz! No fans means no electrical motors that can go bad, no noise, and no wires to connect all those fans. But it also means a need for meticulate thermal engineering so that the heat is spread and removed. This means that thermal engineering is an important part of the overall system design, and also that the design requires the large heatsink that dominates the look of many IPCs.

The image below shows the top view and all four side views of the ARK-3440. The housing is all-metal and feels exceedingly solid. Note the clean and purposeful design and execution that facilitates easy integration as well as easy expansion and painless maintenance.

In terms of functionality and connectivity, this compact Advantech box PC can accommodate plenty of interface requirements. The ARK-3403 is configured to offer the following external and optional ports:

  • 6 x USB 2.0 (4 front, 2 back)
  • 1 x e-SATA
  • 2 x Serial RS232
  • 2 x Serial RS232/422/485 with auto flow control
  • Line-out, Mic-in, Line-in
  • Optional 16-bit digital I/O
  • 2 x RJ-45 gigabit LAN
  • 1 x DVI-I video
  • 1 x HDMI
  • Power (9 to 36 Volt DC)
The ARK-3440 can run off solid state storage medium via an externally accessible CompactFlash card slot and it also has internal drive bay space for two SATA 2.5" hard disks. The CF Card slot and the hard drive bays are located behind a hinged door below the power button and audio jacks. Our review unit came without storage and RAM memory, and so we had to be inventice to get it to start up and run (it did).

Below you can see what's inside the ARK-3440.

After removing the large finned heatsink that's held in place on top of the device with four Philips screws, you can see the heat spreader plate and heat transfer pipes that press against the main heatsink. Underneath the plate are the unit's 2.53GHz Intel Core i7-610E processor and QM57 chipset. Above the main heat spreader plate is a second, separate heat spreader that cools RAM modules installed in the unit's two DDR3 204-pin SO-DIMM slots.

The above-right picture shows the ARM-3440 with the bottom plate removed. This provides insight into the speedy IPC's considerable, and very flexible, expansion capabilities. At the bottom is the hard disk subframe that can accommodate two 2.5-inch disks. It is shock-mounted onto the housing via rubber bumpers. Above that, on the main board, there are two unused mini-PCIe slots. While the ARK-3440's economy-minded ARK-3403 sibling has a SIM Card caddy, there does not appear to be oen in the 3440. Above that is a daughterboard that can contain either two 5 Volt 32-bit half-length PCI slots (5 Volt keying), a PCI and a PCIe x1 or PCIe x4 slot, or two PCIe x1 slots.

In terms of ruggedness, the requirements for a boxed PC are different than those of a mobile computer. The housing is tough and very sturdy, and designed to handle the kind of shocks and vibration that may be encountered by fixed-mount system. Operating temperature is 32 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit for solid state storage equipped models—somewhat narrower than the Atom-powered ARK-3403's -4 to 131 degrees— and the computer fulfills a long list of EMC and safety requirements. Sealing against water isn't much of an issue for units mounted inside a vehicle, and so there isn't any watersealing at the ports. Vibration and shock, however, can be issues for IPCs, and so Advantec provides test data for IEC standards 60068-2-27 (shock) and 60068-2-64 (vibration).

Relative performance

Another interesting aspect of Advantech's IPCs is that they come with a wide range of performance. The ARK-3440 discussed here was designed to be equipped with mobile/embedded standard voltage versions of the powerful Intel Core i3/5/i7 processors. In RuggedPCReview's benchmark tests these new Intel processors, first introduced in January 2010, provide superior performance and better economy than comparable Core 2 Duo chips, and, of course, much higher performance than (the considerably less expensive) Atom chips.

What's interesting here is that Advantech offers the same physical package with two such dramatically different performance levels. While the ARK-3403 with its Intel Atom D510/D525 is an able performer, the difference between the two processor subsystems is really like comparing an eco-4-cylinder motor with a twin-turbocharged V8. Each serves its purposes, but the V8 certainly runs hotter and faster and uses a whole lot more gas.

Anyway, the Core i7-610E is a powerful dual core standard voltage processor that has a thermal design power of 35 watts. It provides the sophistication and various included technologies of Intel's Core i7 line, including the ability to overclock itself up to 3.2GHz via Intel's Turbo Mode, it offers ECC support, uses fast DDR3 RAM, can drive dual displays, etc. (see Core i7-610E). RuggedPCReview.com ran full performance benchmarks, and the below table shows those that relate to the processor itself (it'd make little sense to list all system benchmarks as graphics, disk, etc., depend on drivers and type of storage):

PERFORMANCE COMPARISON
CRYSTALMARK 2004R3
Core i7-610E Atom D510 Core i7-620LE Core 2 Duo T7400 Core Duo L2400 Atom N270 Atom Z530
Clock speed 2.53GHz 1.66GHz 2.0GHz 2.16GHz 1.66GHz 1.6GHz 1.6GHz
Tested in Advantech: ARK-3440 ARK-3403 SOM-5788 PPC-157T ARK-3399 SOM-5761 SOM-6760
Thermal Design Power: 35 watts 13 watts 25 watts 34 watts 15 watts 2.5 watts 2 watts
ALU 35793 11083 31419 19311 12971 5413 5376
FPU 40328 9704 35007 22560 15353 4726 4667
MEM 18458 6447 23251 10867 6407 4172 3667

What the benchmarks show is that processor performance of this powerful Core i7-based system is very clearly above that of older Core 2 Duo-based systems, and was above that of any Atom-based version.

Advantec describes the ARK-3440 simply as a "high performance solution" and particularly suitable for image processing and surveillance applications. It can certainly do that, and a whole lot more. The starting price of US$1,760 is almost twice that of Atom-based versions, but that still makes it a veritable bargain for such a high performing, and high quality, industrial PC. -- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

Advantech ARK-3440 Specs:

Type Industrial Embedded Box IPC
CPU Type 2.53GHz Intel Core i7-610 (tested), or 2.4GHz Core i5-520 or 2.13GHz Core i3-330.
Chipset Intel QM57
BIOS unknown
OS Windows XP Embedded (also supports Windows 7, XP Professional, Fedora 11)
Memory Max 4GB DDR3 1066/1333MHz in 2 204-pin SODIMM sockets (review system used one 2GB module)
Graphics Controller Integrated Intel
Watchdog Timer 255-level timer intervals, software setup
LVDS Optional 24-bit LVDS
LAN 2 x 10/100/1000 Mbps
Storage HD Supports drive bay space for two 2.5-inch SATA HDs
Storage SSD Compact flash type I/II slot
Expansion 2 mini-PCIe, 1 PCI and 1 PCIe x1 (default) or 2 PCIe x1 (optional) or 2 PCI (optional) or 1 PCI and 1 PCIe x4 (optional); note: PCI slots for 5 Volt keying, 32-bit half-length cards
Housing Aluminum housing for desk/wall mounting
Vibration With CF disk: 5 Grms, IEC 60068-2-64, random, 5 ~ 500 Hz, 1 Oct./min, 1hr/axis. / MIL-STD 514.5C-3; With hard disk: 1 Grms, IEC 60068-2-64, random, 5 ~ 500 Hz, 1 Oct./min, 1hr/axis. / MIL-STD 514.5C-3
Shock With CF disk: 50 Grms, IEC 60068-2-27, half sine, 11 ms duration; with hard disk disk: 20 Grms, IEC 60068-2-27, half sine, 11 ms duration. /MIL-STD 516.5
EMC CE/FCC Class A, CCC, BSMI
Safety UL, CCC, BSMI
Operating temperature With CF disk: 0 to 122F ( ~ 50 C); with 2.5-inch extended temperature hard disk 0 to 45 C (with air flow)
USB 6 x USB 2.0
Serial 2 x RS232, 1 x RS232/422/485
Parallel Optional D-sub 25-pin
Audio Line-out, Mic-in, Line-in (has dual output 2.2 watt aplifier)
Communication Optional via expansion slots (there is no SIM Card caddy)
GPS Optional
DIO Optionally supports 16-bit Digital I/O
Size 8.7" x 7.9" x 4.1"
Weight 8.8 lbs.
Power 9 ~ 34VDC with AT/ATX power type; AC/DC adapter optional; typical power consumption 38 watts
Price Starting at US$1760 (see price configurations)
Datasheet Advantech ARK-3403

Advantech Corporation
38 Tesla, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92618
Toll Free: 1-800-866-6008
Ph: 949-789-7178
Fax: 949-789-7179
ECGInfo@advantech.com
www.advantech.com

Advantech Co. Ltd.
No.1, Alley 20, Lane 26, Rueiguang Road
Neihu District, Taipei Taiwan 114, R.O.C.
Tel: 886-2-2792-7818
Fax: 886-2-2794-7301
www.advantech.com