What is an industrial PC and how does it differ from a consumer PC?

If you’ve ended up on this page, then you probably already have at least a basic understanding of some of the advantages that industrial computers offer over commercial grade PCs.

The main areas where they differ are discussed below.

Long-term product availability

7-15 year availability is common for industrial PCs, whereas ~12 months is more likely for consumer PCs.

Long-term availability reduces R&D and maintenance costs, as hardware only needs to be validated once and engineers will only need to learn to support a single platform.

Operating environment

Vibration, shock and extreme temperatures are a computer’s worst enemy.

Consumer PCs are intended to sit on a desk in an office and run for 8 hours a day – a fairly benign environment.

Industrial PCs are designed to operate 24/7, in hot and remote locations and continue running even if subject to heavy shocks or constant vibration.

Although a consumer PC may work for a while in such a harsh environment, operating it beyond its specifications will greatly reduce its life and increase the risk of sudden failure.

I/O ports and expansion slots

PCI slots or serial ports are a rare sight on consumer PCs these days, but are common on industrial computers.

RS232/422/485 ports are present on the vast majority of industrial PCs (IPCs), making it easy to interface with legacy equipment.

PCI slots allow you to use the same expansion card that you’ve been using for years, removing the need for redesign and revalidation of your solution.

Modern interfaces are commonplace too, with latest generation PCI Express slots, M.2 expansion, 4K DisplayPort and fastest USB ports all supported on IPCs, alongside legacy I/O.

Operating system support

Windows XP, 7 or 8 may be required for compatibility with your software application, but you’d be hard pressed to source a consumer PC with any of these operating systems, as Microsoft are only offering Windows 10 on new PCs.

All of these operating systems are still available on industrial PCs. A Windows XP-based O/S is available until ~2020, with the newer Windows versions being available for much longer.

Hardware cost vs. total cost of ownership

Comparing total costs of using consumer PCs and industrial PCs for a 5 year program is an exercise worth performing when selecting hardware. Things to consider are:

Hardware validation / R&D: Just once for an IPC, but potentially 5 times for a consumer PC (once a year)

Software redesign: Every time a new operating system and/or hardware platform is released

Maintenance: Multiple different sets of spares are required for the consumer PC, but just one for an industrial PC. Higher quality components used in IPCs greatly reduces the chance of failure in the first place

Support: Service and support teams need to learn multiple platforms when consumer PCs have been used, increasing training costs and slowing customer response. With an industrial PC, support engineers only need to learn a single platform, making them more responsive to the customer and more efficient at diagnosing faults

Initial hardware cost: Consumer PCs generally cost less up front, but the extra cost for an industrial PC is unlikely to be a much as you might think.

Find out more

If you’d like to learn more about our industrial PCs, please have a look at some of our products or get in touch with one of our team on 01527 512 400 or email us at computers@steatite.co.uk.