More powerful alternatives to Mini-ITX?

Hi, I am building a robot and has based the architecture on a Mini-ITX system, more specifically the M10000 Nehemia from Via. The robots most cpu intensive tasks will be vision
processing from web camera images, and speech recognition by IBM Viavoice (or Dragon Naturally Speaking).
However, I have seen that tests show that the M10000 processing power lags behind even Celeron 600 systems, or about 4 times slower than an AMD XP1800. I am afraid the M10000 system would stutter if it wants to process vision and speech recognition at the same time.
Another reason for me to use the M10000 was its low power consuption, and this is very important as the system needs to run for at least 4 hours between recharges. I planned to power the system from a 12 volt 12 amp SLA battery.
Some alternatives I have been looking at:
Portable PC's - how long operating time could one expect from one of these if the monitor is not active?
P4-ITX - new itx form factor for normal P4 processors. How much power would a 2.4 GHz Celeron CPU take on this board?
Tablet-PCs - what kind of processing powers are on the latest M series processors? The battery time on these seem to be very good. Maybe a portable PC based on the M series will do just as well but the touch screen could be an extra nice feature. :-)
Any ideas?
Best regards, JC
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hi,
i'm still working for an robot firm an was on the embedded exhibition in nόrnberg / germany 2 weeks ago, to look for an mainboard, wich is an low power board, but if you want to save battery power, you will not get more power from the cpu!! take a bigger battery and take a faster mainboard, so you get the best power.
regards
sebastian
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If you want speed, it's going to cost you. The more speed the more power is needed. You'll have to get a bigger battery, that one you mentioned won't last an hour or two. Even the Laptop Mobile processors use tricks to increase battery life, like shut down HD's, serial ports, parallel ports, sound, LCD display, and they slow the processor way down to conserve power. Sorry

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John,
you can stay with mini-ITX form factor and still get several times better performance than M10000. For low power and high $ budget go with Pentium M: Commel LV-671, $395, <http://www.commell.com.tw/Product/SBC/LV-671.HTM Lippert Thunderbird, $531, <http://www.lippert-at.com/index.php?id •>
If you can live with a little bit more consumed watts and less consumed dollars, try Pentium 4 Mobile: iBase MB850, $238, <http://www.ibasetechnology.net/mb850.html Commel LV-670M, $335, <http://www.commell.com.tw/Product/SBC/LV-670M.HTM
And finally, most watts and least dollars with ordinary Pentium 4: VIA EPIA P4, $185, <http://store.ituner.com/ituner/viaepiap4itx.html Commel LV-670, $295, <http://www.commell.com.tw/Product/SBC/LV-670.HTM
This of course is just the tip of an iceberg.
Paul.

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That's a nice board, but Commell doesn't have a case for it yet.
We ended up using a Nova 8890, which works OK but has some packaging issues.
The single-board Pentium 4 embedded market is being held back by the sheet metal.
                John Nagle                 Team Overbot
Paul Jurczak wrote:

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John,
Commel came up with a very compact system CMB-670 (based on LV-670) <http://www.commell.com.tw/Product/IPC/CMB-670.HTM . Casetronics has some small mini-ITX cases like C138 <http://www.caseoutlet.com/common/products/Travla/c138/C138.html?id 3>, but I had problems with their DC/DC converter. Another source is Bytech - least expensive of all, but with relatively heavy, low tech DC/DC converter, which looks ugly, but works fine: <http://www.bytechinc.com/com1855A.htm .
Another category of slightly larger and more power hungry, but still manageable by small robot, systems consists of Pentium 4 based Sumicom S620 <http://www.kingyoung.com.tw/s620.htm and Iwill ZPC <http://www.iwillusa.com/products/ProductDetail.asp?vID 9>
It would be a gross omission not to mention the SaintSong products, with Latte being the fastest of them <http://www.saintsong.com.tw/english/products/latte-p.htm
Paul.

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This sounds like a nice alternative. Of course I understand that the more CPU power I want the more watts are going to be consumed. However how would a board like the LV-671 with a 1.2 GHz Pentium M processor be compared to the VIA M10000 in power consuption. Also some benchmarks to how these processors compare to M10000 would be nice to see (Dhrystone and Whetstone).
The specs on the Commel site indicate that it requires a 10A 12 volt supply, indicating that it would empty my SLA battery in about one hour. Is it really that bad? I mean I can always add a bigger battery to it, but then the motors will have to be scaled to carry around 10 kg of battery cells.
I understand that a typical 1.2 GHz Pentium M Tablet-PCs have around 3 hours operating time according to tests on a 4000 mAh Lithium Ion battery pack. These tests also indicate that they use the screen also. My robot would nearly never use the screen unless the user wanted to, hence it can be turned off (if that is possible through software) so I guess I would save battery time off that? Wouldnt a 10 Ah SLA battery keep one of these Tablet-PCs running for over twice that time? (of course then I assume the no motors are running).
Also, where can I buy Pentium M processors to add to these boards?
Any tips greatly appreciated! Best regards, John
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Power consumption of 1.5GHz Pentium M system with 512MB DDR 266MHz running MemTest-86 v.3.0 is about 25W, which is not more than EPIA M10000. Performance advantage will be between 3 and 10 times depending on the application. Pentium M has three unbeatable adventages over VIA CPU for image processing: large 1MB level 2 cache, much faster memory bus and SSE2 instructions. 10Ah 12V SLA battery is more than you need for Pentium M system.
Here are two other Pentium M alternatives: very small Kontron JRex-PM, $$$, <http://www.kontron.com/JRex/pdproductdetail.cfm?keyProduct5768 and Nexcomm EBC 572, $420, <http://www.nexcom.com/0330/nexweb/weben/ObjView.aspx?ObjID=Prod *10000231>
To buy the CPU, go to froogle.com and search for BXM80535GC1400E, which is 1.4GHz Pentium M. I suggest to sit down first - Pentium M stuff is expensive.
Paul.

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Thanks a lot for your information.
I have been froogling and looking around at ebay too, and am a bit confused to what kind of processors e.g. the LV-671 card can take. It says mPGA478 Pentium M, while the specs also say Socket 479. When I look at some Pentium M processors at ebay I see PPGA FC-PGA2 as factor for e.g. this processor:
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item461752669
How do I know which fit the card and not? Seems you can get them a bit cheaper used at ebay. Often pulled from laptops.
Thanks, JC

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The CPU you are reffering to is Pentium 4 Mobile - totally different thing suitable for Commel LV-670M, which is not a bad choice either (less $). Use BXM80535GC1300E, BXM80535GC1400E etc. part number in your search. It will cost you more than $200. Start with finding someone with LV-671 in stock, which may be more difficult.
Paul.

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Ok, thanks. I see now that the LV-670 exist in both a normal Pentium 4 version and a Pentium 4 Mobile version. I think I will wait for the LV-671 which also seems to have Wireless network embedded if am not wrong? That would be an extra bonus and worth the extra $$$ too.
http://www.commell-sys.com/Product/SBC/LV-671.HTM
I see that one of the distributors, BWI, sell this card but on their website they indicate that the initial batch is sold out and that they dont expect to get hold of new cards before mid-May which is really a long time to.
Also, do you think it is simple to power this from an SLA battery? The battery delivers around 13.6 volts so I guess I would need to regulate it to a pure 12 volt, or do you think the embedded PSU can handle this?
BTW, do you already have this card? If so, how is driver support and such? I mean, my old Abit KG7 card would have been useless had not Via been updating their chipset drivers (in its original state when you install XP, it reboots at random times unless you upgrade the drivers). I do not know this Commell company. Are they any good?
John

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LV-671-MP has a mini-PCI slot, which can be used for wireless network adapter or any other mini-PCI card.
There is a good chance that you can use battery connected directly to CN_12V input, as long as you keep the voltage at 12V +- 10% (10.8V to 13.2V, which is pretty normal operating range for SLA). You have to test it.
I have LV-670M and I didn't have any problems with it, except of some issues with Casetronics DC/DC converters, but it's not the only motherboard I had these problems with, so I blame Casetronics (Morex).
Paul.

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Are you following or trying to follow the Open Automation Project (http://oap.sourceforge.net/index.php )? Your project sounds very similar. I am trying to decide if I should just reproduce his equipment exactly or make modifications as I go. If I just re-produce his platform, then I can try out his modifications to code/hardware as he posts them. However, as specified the OAP prototype will have to return to the base every 2 hours and stay there for up to 5 hours before it's ready to go again. That's less than 50% duty cycle! (all that power to run the processor for simple vision processing, you would think you could lose weight just looking around!) I am thinking about having the robot drop off the old battery and pick up a new one. Just choose the docking station with the most charged battery and trade 'em out. Also, am thinking about making all of the peripheral boards USB instead of I2C, although the I2C and Parallel port I2C adapter are low cost and simple and get the job done nicely.
Steve Bates

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Hi Steve, yes I follow the OAP project with great interest and I must admit this project spawned my interest in building my own robot. The main problem for me was that I am a Windows guy and Java is my main programming language (have been for 5 years now). So Linux is just out of the question for me.
In addition I want my system to work with IBM Viavoice 10 for voice recognition (The recognition rates are great and work brilliantly for even complex AIML type conversations). I also want to use AT&T Natural Voices for speech output to make the robot sound a bit more natural and not like a Commodore 64 on helium.
So I have been researching and startet buying stuff to piece all this together as well as starting a Java modular software system for trying things out before I build it (the cognitive software tasks are more difficult than the hardware in my eyes). It consist of a "conciousness" that have modular task executers and some "creativity"-inputs that produce tasks for execution. Everything is very threaded and modular. For now it only does silly things like talking with itself. :-) But any input can produce tasks, like it can say "I see something red" if its vision is filled with red stuff or respond to questions through its ListeningProcessor (using dictation mode).
Vision is of great importance to this project and was the first thing I started researching. I found many papers on facial recognition based on simple Haar-like features which are classified in a tree like structure for quick recognition. I think this will be the basis for the recognition. I also believe that ER1 robot vision system seem to have something similar. I bought a Logitech QuickCam Pro 4000 which seems to give good images. Images are grabbed using the JMF (Java Media Framework) and I have tried simple algorithms like edge-detection and such.
I have also made some architectural and hardware designs similar to the OAP design and used a 3d modelling tool to see how it would look like. Some day I plan to put all of this up on a website so that people can see the progress of the project. Right now, I am about to get married so hobbies has to be put to side for some time as you might understand. :-)
I have bought some Globe 12 volt motors, got a pair of 6 volt SLA batteries (10 Ah), and are now looking for what I should use to construct the base. The Lynxmotion base was too expensive for me and seemed to limit my base to a rectangular or circular base while I wanted both (rectangular in front where drive wheels are, and circular in the back).
For main processor I first thought about the Mini-ITX system but lately I have seen benchmark values for the M10000 and at 1590 MIPS Dhrystone and 369 MFLOPS Whetstone I was not very impressed. Processing vision and speech recognition would need more power than this. So I was thinking about using a server computer and just stream images and sound to the server for processing and leave the Mini-ITX for more "trivial" tasks and running the "Conciousness" engine (initial name for it) as well as speech output. The system will use WLAN for communcation but still I guess it would cause everything to delay a bit (sending images continually and get responses would probably add a 1-2 second lag). But then I saw that Intel has a Pentium M processor that seem to use little power and perform much better than a Mini-ITX system, this was confirmed by Paul Jurczak's postings (thanks) which say that I could expect a 3-10 times faster execution based on what it does. This is good news indeed, and I think I will rather start looking for a Pentium M system instead.
Finally I will use many similar sensors that the OAP system uses and after some research I saw that the I2C bus seemed to be the way to go, especially if I was to integrate many sensors. The Devantech SRF08 Ultrasonic sensor, Devantech CMP03 Compass, Devantech MD22 Dual H-Bridge. These I could have controlled directly on the I2C bus but there was no information about how I could use the I2C bus on the Mini-ITX from windows (and now since I have chosen a Pentium M system I have no I2C connector), I had to look for a controller in between. I found quickly that the controller that seemed to have been around for the longest time and had tons of sample code was the Basic Stamp! The Basic Stamp 2p had I2C support also so everything fell in place. The Parallax people also have two great sensors, the Sension Humidity/Temperature sensor and the Memsic 2125 Accelerometer. The only thing I am missing now is a good barometer/pressure sensor. I'd like the robot to sense that its going to be a sunny day! :-)
One advantage of the BS2p controller is that I can offload some functions of the main processor so that in case the main CPU stalls (windows often do), the robot will still execute a certain amount of operations (e.g. moving its head in a certain position) without supervision. Also, integrating hardware to the BS2p is simple considering there are so many examples. You dont have to know too much electronics to make it work, and you learn alot about it as you experiment with it. I guess I am more of a software guy and not into the analog bits of the hardware, so I like simple off the shelf solutions.
One of the challenges I have faced is how to get good speech recognition rates if you stand a couple of meters from it, and I think I have found a solution that I will try out. I will use a directional microphone fixed to the head and the robot will turn its head/body to face the speaker to get the best signal. I have looked around found that Labtec has a USB directional mic called Verse which is quite cheap. The USB interface will also reduce the amount of digital noise often heard from microphones connected to your typical soundcard (most of the ones I have at home sound terrible).
To conserve battery power I have also looked at using the new 4 GB CompactFlash disks to boot the OS and run everything from too. Although a typical 2.5" laptop drive would work fine too.
At first I will only need two Servo motors to control the head pan/tilt and will most probably use the Hitec brand. I dont think these would need much torque either (the tilt would need more than pan). I build the robot base to be able to support one or two arms in the future too. These will add additional servos so I was thinking of the Mini SSC-12 controller for all of these and save the number of pins used on the BS2p controller (there are two types, 24 and 40 pin, the latter would probably be enough for all servos though).
Well thats about it for now. I am still designing and drawing now, and finished a drawing on the headmodule yesterday. Btw, the robot will have an all brushed aluminium body (0.1mm thick) with black rubber joints (profile lists and to hide joints). I think its going to be cool! :-)
Best regards, and good luck on your robot building, John

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