PC-Based vs. Standalone Cable Testers


Introductory Comment
PC-Based Equipment
Microprocessor-Controlled Equipment
What's Available and What's Popular
Benefits of CAMI's PC-Based Architecture
General Description of the CAMI Architecture

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Introductory Comment Next Topic | TOC

In general, PC-based equipment will be more versatile and offer many more features. Standalone equipment offers simplicity of operation in return for a minimal, fixed feature set. As with any computer-controlled device, a PC-based system operates under software control and can be upgraded easily with new software as advances in test technology are made. A standalone system is fixed by its design when you take it out of the box, and its operation is either difficult or impossible to enhance after it leaves the factory.

Because PC-based equipment offers many benefits not found in standalone units, there is an incentive for everyone selling test equipment use the words "PC-Based" and "PC" in their publicity whenever remotely possible. As a result, the meaning of "PC-based" is often lost among the screams of media hype and publicity. We offer the following distinction between "PC-based" equipment and "microprocessor-controlled" equipment:

PC-Based Equipment: the equipment requires a personal computer for operation and cannot function without it. To justify its expense and bench footprint, PC-based equipment must make effective use of full-screen high-resolution color graphics, high-speed computation, large data storage capacity, and the full-size keyboard. Other input devices such as a mouse, trackball, and voice control, may also be employed that would otherwise be uneconomical or impractical for a non-PC-based equipment, or would defeat the portability requirement of such equipment. Note that numerous test instruments permit the upload and download of information to PC software for off-line data analysis and storage, but operate on a stand-alone basis. As such, these instruments do not qualify as "PC-based".

Microprocessor-Controlled Equipment: an embedded, on-board microprocessor effects control of the system and executes whatever function that system is intended to perform. Such systems are usually stand-alone and totally self-contained, with the presence of microprocessor control being invisible to the User. Dedicated switches, keyboards, indicators, and numeric display units comprise a non-standardized User interface. "PC-controlled" stand-alone equipment using an embedded single-board PC (Intel 80x86 microprocessor with Microsoft operating system kernel) functions largely as an embedded microprocessor-based system, and offers advantage primarily to the manufacturer of the equipment as follows: (a) software development may employ high-level programming languages and debugging tools for which many skilled programmers are available, and (b) hardware implementation uses high-performance, off-the-shelf computer modules minimizing any custom design. The human interface, however, still relies on dedicated electrical components, although more sophisticated components, such as a touch-screen display, may be employed.

What's Available and What's Popular Next Topic | Previous Topic | TOC

Most cable and harness equipment sold today is microprocessor-controlled, but not PC-based. A popular tester design employed by several manufacturers uses a cigar-box-shaped chassis with assembly-language-driven embedded microprocessor control, rocker-switch pushbuttons, and an LCD character display. While some PC software is offered to link these testers to a PC via the serial port, the software is optional and our market research indicates that it is used regularly by only a small percentage of Users. In the past, many buyers in the cable and harness test marketplace preferred a simple benchtop design because it is easy for unskilled production workers to use, requires a small bench footprint, and is well-suited for production line testing. PC-based testers can now bring that same simplicity to the production line through one-button automatic test sequences while still offering the database, documentation, and data logging capabilities needed for ISO9000-certified companies.

Several standalone models are available that use embedded PC control ($3,000+). While an external keyboard and monitor can be connected, these systems were designed for use with a touch screen display and are more like an embedded-microprocessor tester than like a PC-based system. By designing a PC-controller into the tester, these companies add significant complexity to the tester which results in

a - considerably increased cost to the purchaser (by at least 50%),
b - reduced reliability due to a greater number of components and an added electromechanical device (the disk drive), and
c - higher repair cost should the system require maintenance.

Note also that if a hard-disk drive is installed in such systems, they become more susceptible to shock-induced failure because of the unit's small size and portability compared to a desktop PC, and because of their intended use in a production environment. However, without a hard drive installed, much of the potential of a PC-based system is lost.

Benefits of CAMI's PC-Based Architecture Next Topic | Previous Topic | TOC

General Description of the CAMI Architecture TOC | Previous Topic

CAMI's CableEye series of cable testers are PC-based units that operate on any Windows 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP computer. The tester hardware consists of a data acquisition circuit and integrated test fixture which link to the computer via a serial port (no dedicated plug-in board involved). User input occurs through menus on the PC for manual control, or a one-button TEST operation that triggers a User-defined automatic test sequence. Pass/Fail results are shown both on LED lamps and with an audible tone, while diagnostic results are shown in high-resolution color graphics on the PC screen. The system is designed for total quality management and includes software for print documentation and data logging that are very helpful for ISO 9000-certified companies. A more complete discussion of CableEye's features may be found in the area of this site entitled CableEye's Benefits.

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