We are a small company that primarily does high-end ($1 million / each) system integration for data acquisition and functional testing equipment.
We also provide general maintenance support for our high-end customers.
Working with big companies has it challenges. You pretty much complete the up-front design work before they will cut you a P.O. for a custom project. Our customers generally need to be convinced there is very little risk the project will be successfully completed on-time even if they waste months having their lawyers argue terms and conditions.
Occasionally, we get a small project request that is a rush job and bypasses the normal channels. This recently happened. We were asked to build, essentially, a fancy thermostat controller.
We were provided the schematic of an existing system with several op-amps, dozens of pots and various obsolete parts. The provided BOM was incomplete and generally didn’t match the schematic. It was going to take weeks just to clean up the documentation.
I suggested we could easily do this with a microcontroller like the ATmega328. Surprisingly, the customer agreed.
I had on hand an Arduinio (actually, it was my son’s). I did a breadboard checkout that worked as expected. I wrote the code over the weekend. The etched panel and wired circuit board are due in a couple of days. I fully expect the project will be completed by the end of the week.
The point of this story is to explain why I am searching for a professional grade embedded solution. I want to be better prepared next time.
We rarely build more than one of anything. And if we do, it has never been more than ten units spread over several years. We have a do-whatever-it-takes attitude. Be it .NET, Java, GCC, FORTRAN, machine code, etc.
Most of our customers are comfortable with Windows, ergo my interest in Micro Framework.
We also often have a need for two Ethernet ports (one for internal use and one for external use). And, NO we aren’t allowed to use WiFi for the external Ethernet.
My options so far…
1 - FEZ Domino
Pros - looks like it is ready now. For $110, I can dip my toe in the Micro Framework waters with a system that has an LCD display and five buttons. I can also expand to try other things. I would expect to get it up and running in a couple of hours.
Cons - Mostly customer perception (“It’s a toy”). There is also a legitimate concern of having only 10 bit A-to-Ds and limited memory.
2 - iPac 9302
Pros - Definitely, not a toy. 12 bit A-to-Ds. 500 ma capable digital channels. Available now for less than $100.
Cons - Unsure of Emac’s commitment to Micro Framework. Would expect difficulty in getting it to work with doubtful technical support.
3 - FEZ Cobra / EMX Module
Pros - Less of a toy, but 10 bit A-to-Ds may be considered inadequate. Available soon.
Cons - FEZ Cobra board layout would likely be unacceptable for end customer. EMX Module requires Surface Mount soldering.
4 - GHI ChipworkX
Pros - Pluggable. Professional. Nice Development System.
Cons - $400. Does anyone know of a DIMM200 through-hole socket or a breakout board?
Please excuse the lengthy post, but I would welcome critiques and suggestions.
Complete Networks, Inc.
EDIT - corrected iPac-9302 to read 12 bit.