GMS releases credit-card size board

General Micro Systems (GMS) has developed a system board that is smaller than a credit card, allowing PC-like performance to be placed into embedded devices, the company said Monday.

The Spider single-board computer measures 2.8 inches by 1.9 inches (7.1 centimeters by 4.8 centimeters), and comes with a choice of PowerPC processors from IBM Corp. GMS has been shipping the boards to early customers such as Raytheon Co. and Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) for evaluation purposes, and is releasing the board to a wider market now that those customers have completed their testing, said Ben Sharfi, president of GMS.

Raytheon is testing Spider as the brain of a missile guidance system, Sharfi said. Missile designers can put GPS (Global Positioning System) technology on Spider in a smaller package than was previously possible, he said.

SAS has designed an in-flight entertainment system around Spider, Sharfi said. Each airplane seat on some SAS planes has a computer controlled by a Spider board that is connected to a larger server. That server provides games, video and access to e-mail for each passenger.

Telecommunications companies are also expected to show an interest in Spider, Sharfi said. The boards come with Ethernet connections so they can be connected as a single telecom module with multiple processors that could fit into a confined space, he said.

Spider comes in two versions, one designed for low-power applications and another that provides more processing power, Sharfi said. The Spider P501 is based on IBM's 400MHz PowerPC 440GP, and the entire board consumes 5 watts of power. The low power consumption level means system designers can use this board in devices without a cooling fan.

For applications requiring more performance, GMS has the Spider P502. This board comes with an 800MHz PowerPC 440GX chip that pushes the board's total power consumption to 12 watts.

Both boards come with two Ethernet ports, but the P502 uses the Gigabit Ethernet standard. They each have 256K bytes of off-chip cache for storing frequently accessed data, up to 256M bytes of DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), and 32K bytes of user flash memory for general data storage.

The P501 costs US$300, while the P502 costs $400 in manufacturing quantities. Right now, these prices are too high to justify using the Spider board in any type of personal digital assistant or handheld device, but that might change as costs come down, Sharfi said.

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