National Instruments Introduces Single-Board RIO

Submitted by BDTI on Wed, 08/20/2008 - 19:00

At NI Week in August, National Instruments introduced a new product line, a set of eight boards that are intended as complete, off-the-shelf computing-plus-I/O solutions for medical, mechatronic, and industrial applications, among others. The boards are called “Single-Board RIOs” (RIO is short for “reconfigurable I/O”), and each board contains a PowerPC CPU, a Xilinx Spartan FPGA, and analog and digital I/O. The I/O channels are connected to the FPGA, enabling the user to customize timing and I/O signal processing. The boards vary in CPU speed, FPGA size, and specific I/O components, and cost between $699 and $1800 (in quantity 100). Several key board characteristics are listed in Table 1, below.

Model

Processor

Speed (MHz)

Memory (DRAM)

FPGA Size (Gates)

Size mm 

sbRIO-9601

266

64 MB

1M

208 × 94

sbRIO-9602

400

128 MB

2M

208 × 94

sbRIO-9611

266

64 MB

1M

208 × 142

sbRIO-9612

400

128 MB

2M

208 × 142

sbRIO-9631

266

64 MB

1M

208 × 142

sbRIO-9632

400

128 MB

2M

208 × 142

sbRIO-9641

266

64 MB

1M

208 × 142

sbRIO-9642

400

128 MB

2M

208 × 142

 
Table 1. National Instruments’ Single-Board RIO board variants. Data courtesy of National Instruments.

The CPU and FPGA on the new boards are programmed using NI’s LabVIEW, a graphical programming tool that allows application domain experts to implement applications without having to “program” chips in the conventional sense. The boards are supported by LabVIEW Real-Time, a version of LabVIEW that is tailored for real-time control applications; programming the FPGA using LabVIEW requires the LabVIEW FPGA module as well.  Starting in September NI will be offering a $999 evaluation kit that includes a single-board RIO, power supply, and evaluation copies of LabVIEW Real-Time and LabVIEW FPGA.  

NI’s off-the-shelf hardware enables application experts to create real-time implementations of their applications (including digital and analog I/O) without having to design hardware. NI provides device drivers and the VxWorks RTOS, thus giving applications developers everything they need to implement their applications without having to track down each of these components separately and make sure they work together.  (This is a similar strategy to what TI has pursued for video applications with its DaVinci chips and development environment) Using the LabVIEW tools, users can also integrate existing C/C++ code or VHDL into their application.

These new boards are cheaper than NI’s previous low-end board product, CompactRIO, which started at $1800. The lower price tag should make the boards attractive for a wider range of applications. NI is hoping that its combination of off-the-shelf configurable hardware and graphical programming tools will appeal to users who might otherwise need custom hardware.

By offering the RIO boards and LabVIEW graphical development tools, NI appears to be evolving from its original focus on PC-based instrumentation to a focus on embedded software development tools and hardware for domain experts. It’s an evolution that makes sense; applications and processors are getting more complex, and system designers don’t want to spend all their time gathering off-the-shelf hardware and software components and making sure they all work together. By providing a more complete solution, NI is freeing system designers (and domain experts) to concentrate on those parts of the application where they can truly add value—which is better for everyone.

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