Winmate EAC Mini|
Super-compact modular and highly configureable industrial IoT gateway for smart factory, machine automation and similar applications
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
In this article we're examining Winmate Communication's new EAC Mini IoT Gateway embedded computer. While the term "embedded systems" encompasses all those countless millions of industrial computers that do their work behind the scenes and come in an endless variety of shapes and forms, with the EAC Mini Winmate tackled a very specific problem: how does one package an embedded computing platform without knowing what kind of I/O a customer may need?
Why is that important? Because unlike consumer and enterprise PCs that all come with roughly the same standard set of external connectivity, embedded systems customers have wildly different I/O requirements. Some may need a large number of serial ports to connect to legacy peripherals, others may need to connect to multiple LANs, yet others may need digital I/O, support multiple simultaneous displays, connect manufacturing facilities directly to cloud servers, or require industry-specific interfaces such as CANbus.
The challenge is obvious: it makes no economic sense to include into an embedded systems platform whatever might be needed as that would require a needlessly large housing to accommodate all those possibly needed ports or, alternately, a large number of different versions with different housings and port configurations. Neither solution is optimal. Nor is a package with a motherboard that does include all possible connectivity and a housing large enough to accommodate all potentially needed ports.
With the EAC Mini, Winmate is trying a different approach. It's based on a modular system where a basic configuration contains the motherboard and a standard minimal complement of I/O in a very compact box. If additional I/O is needed, it comes in the form of other boxes that are the same exact size as the system box. The boxes connect and — voila — there's the extra connectivity. If yet more is needed, that can come in yet another modular box of the same size, and the EAC Mini now has three stories. And so on.
As is, Winmate calls these box modules "slices," and each slice measures 3.9 x 2.75 x 1.2 inches. That's a very small footprint, barely more than half that of an iPhone 7 Plus. Which means that even a system with multiple slices makes for just a tiny little box. In the world of embedded systems where space is often at a premium, such a slice-based "a la carte" system can be quite attractive.
The illustration below shows an elevation of just the basic box on the upper left, below it a double decker system that's twice as tall, and on the right a triple decker that's three times as tall and adds yet more I/O.
Note that the basic EAC Mini system module with its dual RJ45 LAN jacks, dual USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI connector always sits on top of a stacked configuration. That's because the system module contains the heatsink/spreader that dissipates heat from the processor and ancillary motherboard electronics. No fan needed.
What kind of performance can EAC Mini customer expect? For now, one size fits all, and that's provided by an Intel Celeron N3350 that runs at a base frequency of 1.10GHz but can reach burst frequencies of up to 2.40GHz. It's a modern dual-core/dual-thread 14nm design that's part of Intel's "Apollo Lake" lineup. Apollo Lake replaced "Braswell," which had replaced "Broadwell," and the N3350 is a mid-range model in that lineup. So we're not talking Intel Core processor performance, but plenty enough for most embedded systems applications.
On the operating systems side, Winmate offers the EAC Mini with full Windows 10 IoT Enterprise, but also with the minimal Windows 10 IoT Core that's used primarily for applications that do not need a display at all (see here). Linux is available as well.
On the memory side, the EAC Mini comes with 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM. Storage is on 32GB of onboard SSD, and additional optional mSATA-based storage is available.
At this point we don't know how many expansion slices can be stacked on top of one another. Winmate literature mentions "more than 30 different combinations." Optional expansion modules currently available include:
Also note that there are various mounting options for the EAC Mini. These include the default desk and wall mount methods, but also optional VESA, DIN-Rail and pole mounting.
- SKU1: 3 x RS232/RS422/485 COM ports
- SKU2: 3 x USB 2.0 Type A
- SKU3: 2 x gigabit RJ45 LAN jacks
- SKU4: 1 x 24-channel isolated Digital I/O
- SKU5: 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi with Bluetooth 4.0
- SKU6: 3G/4G/LTE mobile broadband with GPS
- SKU7: 2 x CANbus mPCIE, CANOpen, DB9
With the EAC Mini, Winmate offers a modular and extremely compact embedded IPC platform and IoT gateway whose optional, stackable I/O expansion "slices" minimize cost and space requirements.