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What is an embedded computer?

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What is an embedded computer?

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An embedded computer is a device which has its own computing power dedicated to specific functions, usually a microprocessor and firmware. The computer becomes an integral part of the device as opposed to a stand alone computer. Embedded computers are similar to an industrial computer in that they both are all-in-one computers. The key difference is that an embedded PC does not require a backplane, allowing all peripheral functionality to be accomplished through the serial, parallel, USB, VGA/LCD, IDE, audio, solid state disks (SSD), and even PC/104 expansion connectors. An embedded computer can be provided in a low power fanless solution, it can also have the CPU embedded on board. These boards require that software integrate the peripheral functionality and operating system. The most common operating systems found on an embedded computer are WinCE, Windows XPe, Embedded Linux and many others. Ultimately, an embedded computer board is an all-in-one computer that is compact.

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The first question that needs to be asked, is “What exactly is an embedded computer?” To be fair, however, it is much easier to answer the question of what an embedded computer is not, than to try and describe all the many things that an embedded computer can be. An embedded computer is frequently a computer that is implemented for a particular purpose. In contrast, an average PC computer usually serves a number of purposes: checking email, surfing the internet, listening to music, word processing, etc… However, embedded systems usually only have a single task, or a very small number of related tasks that they are programmed to perform. Every home has several examples of embedded computers. Any appliance that has a digital clock, for instance, has a small embedded microcontroller that performs no other task than to display the clock.

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Simply; it is the computer you don’t see! Perhaps, it has no display monitor and no keyboard. It is under your car’s hood, behind the factory equipment faceplate, or held in your palm (an old colleague of mine, Randy Rasa, maintains a nice jumping point for embedded stuff including all the magazines, etc. Check it out! Randy Rasa’s Page ) Some evening at home, when you’re bored, go through your entire house and count how many microprocessors are apparent (many embedded computers will not be detectable, of course, but often you see a small display, beeping, or just a behavior too complex to attribute to a purely mechanical or analog mechanism). You might be surprised at your number! Send me email with your number if you can. (I think it is Motorola which points out in their Ads that there are far more Microcontrollers hidden away on the planet then there are actual microprocessors in PCs and such). A wide range of embedded systems are possible.

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The first question that needs to be asked, is “What exactly is an embedded computer?” To be fair, however, it is much easier to answer the question of what an embedded computer is not, than to try and describe all the many things that an embedded computer can be. An embedded computer is frequently a computer that is implemented for a particular purpose. In contrast, an average PC computer usually serves a number of purposes: checking email, surfing the internet, listening to music, word processing, etc… However, embedded systems usually only have a single task, or a very small number of related tasks that they are programmed to perform. It is not possible to say that embedded computers have certain types of hardware, or that they lack certain types of hardware. High-end embedded computers may contain pentium 4 processors, keypads, and LCD displays. Other types of embedded computers, however may not have a microprocessor at all, using instead an FPGA chip.

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After hearing about embedded computers, you may be asking what is all about. Computers in Iraq or at the CIA headquarters? A device that can be used for spying enemies? Or to monitor babysitters? Embedded computers are the “brains” behind many everyday mechanisms, such as wireless devices, cars, climate control systems, traffic signals, and washing machines, as well as complex systems, including space mission controls, avionics, and weapons systems. One of the respected experts in this field is Sandeep Shukla, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Among Shukla’s current research focuses is the development of embedded software code generation for space and aviation mission applications. “The makers of the Airbus 380 claim to have all control software automatically generated,” he said. “We should develop similar technology to increase productivity and safety of embedded software-based space- and air

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