LabVIEW Real-Time Target Systems Benefit from Cost-effective PCI

8/8/2003 - When they think about a target system for LabVIEW Real-Time (LVRT), many engineers think of PXI. Meanwhile, PCI systems continue to offer exceptional performance at ever lower prices, and they are well suited to serve as LVRT target systems. Indeed, UEI has created the hardware and software that makes it possible to implement a LVRT target on a standard PCI-bus system using the firm's line of high-performance I/O cards. This announcement brings two major benefits: First, with a PCI target, users can save 45% or more compared to a PXI variant. Second, for their PCI-bus implementation users have a wide choice of I/O among the 50 models of multifunction, simultaneous-sampling, analog-output and digital I/O cards in the PowerDAQ family.

What makes this possible are the PowerDAQ for LabVIEW Real-Time drivers, which ship free of charge with each I/O board from UEI. The only hardware a user must purchase beyond their PCI target system and PowerDAQ I/O cards is a realtime interface card (Model PD2-LVRT-PCI), which sells for $50. (Consult the software license agreement for any applicable runtime requirements.)

With LabVIEW Real-Time, an engineer develops an application under Windows and then downloads it to a target execution vehicle that runs a special realtime kernel. The target performs local processing such as closed-loop control, while an Ethernet link maintains communications between the target and the host development system, which also handles tasks such as running a user interface, sophisticated data processing and storage.

In the UEI implementation, users develop an application on a Windows host development system using their LabVIEW Real-Time software. For a target system, users can select virtually any commercially available PCI system as long as it has sufficient free slots: one holds the PD2-LVRT-PCI realtime interface card, which establishes communications between the development and target systems; additional slots hold the user's choice of PowerDAQ I/O cards.

The next step is to boot the target system into the special realtime kernel, which then employs the PD2-LVRT-PCI card to communicate with the development host to download the application and to upload data for display on the host-based user interface as well as for additional processing and storage.

More power for less money
The ability to use PCI hardware in a LabVIEW Real-Time setting can save users considerable funds. Consider the hardware pricing for a PCI-bus system running LabVIEW Real-Time in conjunction with a 1.25-MHz 12-bit PowerDAQ card:

PCI-bus machine $500
These days a user can get a system from Dell with a 2.2-GHz Celeron, 128M bytes of SDRAM and a 40G-byte hard disk for roughly $500.
PD2-LVRT-PCI interface card $50
PD2-MF-16-1M/12 $1650

This card comes with 16 analog inputs at 12-bit resolution and 1.25M-samples/sec digitization rate; it also provides two analog outputs plus 32 digital I/O points and three user counter/timers. The total hardware cost for a UEI PCI-bus implementation is $2200.

Compare this price to an equivalent PXI-based system, which consists of a 4-slot PXI chassis (NI PXI-1002), LabVIEW Real-Time PXI controller card with a 266-MHz Pentium (PXI-8145/266 RT) and a PXI-6070E multifunction I/O card, whose specs are nearly the same as the UEI card listed above. This combination of hardware costs $3985 (and it jumps to $6485 if the user selects a controller with an 866-MHz Pentium III).

In other words, for this typical system setup, the 2.2-GHz Celeron PCI hardware setup saves the user 45% over the 266-MHz Pentium PXI solution, and in the case of the PXI-based Pentium III controller the savings amount to 66%.

Other software innovations from UEI
Besides offering a cost-effective alternative for PXI targets for LabVIEW Real-Time, UEI also offers engineers other LabVIEW innovations. For example, the PowerDAQ Software Suite ships with free drivers for LabVIEW for Linux. Unlike National Instruments, which suggests that users go to community-written/supported Linux drivers from groups such as Comedi, UEI offers professionally developed and fully supported drivers so that it's easy and reliable to perform industrial I/O under LabVIEW for Linux.

Giving users yet another alternative, UEI supports another scheme that allows realtime system development under Windows but that uses virtually any desktop PC for its target vehicles: xPC for MATLAB. The necessary PowerDAQ drivers ship along with the xPC package users purchase from The MathWorks.

UEI's realtime support extends even further to include drivers for Realtime Linux (either the RTAI or FSMLabs kernels) as well as QNX. Hard realtime performance is also possible in a distributed environment thanks to the PowerDNA Cubes, which pack 100 to 200 I/O points in a package measuring 4 x 4 x 4", including a dedicated CPU and Ethernet interface. Clearly, when it comes to hard realtime systems, UEI is indeed "The Real-Time Alternative."

Price and Availability
The PowerDAQ LabVIEW Real-Time drivers are available at no charge on the PowerDAQ Software Suite CD that ships with each I/O card. The PD2-LVRT-PCI realtime interface card sells for $50. Shipment is from stock. For more information about these or any other UEI hardware and software products, users can go to or call 800-829-4632.

About United Electronic Industries, Inc
Known as "The High-Performance Alternative," UEI is a supplier of leading-edge PCI- and PXI-based data acquisition cards, distributed I/O systems, signal-conditioning accessories and software. In particular, it has emerged as a market leader in the field of hard realtime data acquisition on PCs through its support of realtime Linux implementations and commercial RTOSs. A proprietary protocol on the PowerDNA Cube gives Ethernet-based I/O systems true realtime performance, but the system also runs with conventional Ethernet protocols, as well. Among the firm's major markets are sophisticated production test systems, process monitoring and control as well as research/development.

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