Military computers can remain in service for a decade or more, far longer than the average commercial system. This requires a different approach for rugged computers, where embedded processors and modularity are key to meeting current and future demands. This blog looks at the considerations that need to be factored in when selecting processors for a rugged computer, as well as outlining the GRiD approach to CPU selection.
A Central Processing Unit (CPU), often referred to as “processors”, is an integral part of any military computer, it is the brains of the system and is responsible for executing instructions and communicating with all other components. The type of tasks that will be carried out by the computer, and how resource-intensive they are, will determine the CPU necessary.
It goes without saying that the more a computer has to do, the more processing power it needs. In a defence context, if the computer is going to be processing a significant amount of data, or carrying out 3D mapping or simulations, then it is going to need far more processing power than, say, a system that has a basic user interface and functionality.
It is not always that simple, however, as other factors also need to be considered.
If a computer is going to be operating in hot environments, for example, then a processor that is too power intensive could cause the system to overheat, resulting in it slowing down or not working at all (not ideal for military operations!). More powerful processors can also impact battery life and take up more space, which all have an impact on size, weight and power (SWaP).
Size, processing power and battery life – as well as cost – therefore need to be considered, and there are trade-offs to be factored in when making a selection. GRiD takes a modular and requirements-led approach in processor selection, working with each customer to determine what processor is the optimum solution for the operation that is going to carried out.
The embedded advantage
At GRiD, our laptops and tablets are designed to serve militaries for many years, and a modular approach allows customers to replace and upgrade their processors when required, particularly when parts become obsolete. This helps with obsolescence management and ensures mission critical equipment does not suffer failures during operations.
We are specialists in Intel’s embedded family of processors, which typically means i3, i5 and i7, but our computers’ designs mean that other Intel processors – like the Atom – can also be used, depending on the individual customer’s requirements.
Intel is what we know and have a wealth of experience in, and it is where the majority of military requirements come from. However, because our products are modular, the specific processor can be selected as per customer requirements.
Importantly, these are embedded systems, which tend to have a dedicated function and require less power to run because they are singular, confined units, rather than having components spread across separate units. They are essentially designed from the outset to be long-lasting.
The modular nature of our systems means that not only can the processor be chosen to meet a particular set of requirements, but it can also be adapted to suit different operating systems. The latest generation of Intel processors are designed to work with Windows 10 or 11, however, many militaries still run Windows 7 or even Windows XP, meaning they require a processor from an older generation.
Because GRiD uses the embedded group of systems, we can supply a 6th generation processor that still runs Windows 7 in the same product that could also support an 11th generation processor, depending on needs.
This flexibility also applies in other ways. For example, the latest operating systems must use a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM2) chip, which provides additional security through cryptographic keys.
While older versions of Windows did not require this, GRiD has always supplied TPM chips, even for older designs, meaning that our modular systems can meet modern security standards and requirements.
Militaries have a range of particular demands from their rugged computer processors. While the processors themselves are off-the-shelf, they need to withstand the tough environments and conditions that militaries operate in. This means that they must be housed in a chassis that is fully sealed and capable of addressing environmental challenges such as sand and dust ingress, as well as being shock proof if they are dropped.
These requirements naturally impose restrictions on the size and design of systems. However, GRiD has deep experience in working with military customers to design systems that meet their specific needs and execute the required software application at the optimum level.
Each system is designed for a specific application and customer requirement, meaning we can work in partnership with operators to develop their specification or design a system to meet an already established need.
For example, in September 2022, GRiD announced a new contract with the Brazilian Army, which will see us supply GRiDCASE 2530 rugged tablets for use on the customer’s Guarani vehicle programme, a 6×6 wheeled armoured personnel carrier. The customer established a that had to be met, which led to GRiD providing the processor to meet their needs.
Owing to their long procurement cycles, militaries will always have computers that remain in service for long periods of time, with only infrequent upgrades, if any. It is therefore important to mitigate the risks associated with these long procurement cycles and acquisition methods while simultaneously ensuring that they are performing applications at the highest level and maintaining an ability to upgrade for the future.
It is vital, then, to balance demands around processing power with SWaP realities, ensuring the computer remains the right size for the application in question. At GRiD, this means working closely with our military customers to choose the right processor, operating system and hardware for their very specific requirement.
If you would like to discuss how to balance power and performance in rugged hardware, please get in touch on +44 (0)1628 810 230 or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.