Published on Aug.26.2016
 
Winmate FM10 modular vehicle-mount PC
 

Intel "Bay Trail" based industrial vehicle-mount PC offers touch as well as function key operation
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Taiwanese Winmate Communications expanded its lineup of vehicle-mount computers with the FM series of modular, Intel Bay Trail-based panels. Introduced late 2015 in 10.4-inch (reviewed in this report) and 8-inch versions, the FM line employs a modular design consisting of the display/touch front, the system center, and the docking back.

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The Winmate FM10 is designed for applications that primarily use touch input on a large display, but also benefit from a number of readily readily accessible programmable function keys. The FM08 and FM10 actually share the system and docking modules, which means that the choice comes down to keypads and smaller 8-inch screen or larger 10.4-inch screen with just function keys.

The Winmate FM Series — modular flexibility

The picture to the right shows the modular approach Winmate took with their FM models. The actual panel computer consists of a front half with the display, a back half with the system board and related circuitry, and then a vehicle dock with extensive and very customizable I/O. The two halves of the panel from a whole and are screwed together.

The Winmate FM SeriesThe resulting Panel PC can then be inserted and removed from the dock at any time. In fact, the panel PC can even be used as a panel because it has a fairly powerful internal battery.

The sides of the FM10 are almost completely unadorned. The indents on the top and bottom are for secure parking in the dock, plastic covers on the left and right rear contain internal radio antennae (which are, however, outside of the panel's magnesium alloy housing, there's no fan because none is needed, and the only I/O in the panel itself — a USB 3.0 port, a SIM slot and an microSD card slot) is located beneath a removable protective cover on the right side.

What markets is Winmate trying to reach with their FM Series, and what differentiates the product line? In essence, FM models are for customers who need vehicle-mount computers that are tougher than tablets, offer more I/O than most tablets, can easily be integrated into vehicle power and systems, and also provide superior wireless communication and navigation reception via pass-throughs to vehicle-mount antennae.

Add to that the choice of either a large touch screen with function buttons (the FM10) or a smaller touch screen with full integrated physical keyboard (the FM08), with both having the same exact system module that fits into the same exact vehicle dock.

Meticulous design and construction

From the front, the Winmate FM10 looks almost like a consumer tablet, so when you pick it up you're surprised how solid and heavy it is. Its comparative heft, however, is a feature and not a flaw. While consumer tablets cannot be thin and light enough these days, in an industrial-grade vehicle-mount computer it's toughness and reliability that matter, and the ability to hold up for endless miles of potholes and vibration.

As stated earlier, the Winmate FM Series uses a modular system approach. Even though the panel itself looks like a thick tablet computer, it really consists of a self-contained front part and a self-contained back part. There are no wires between the two and each half has its separate inside plastic cover that protects the guts of its side. All communication between the two halves is via a single fixed-mount edge connector.

As for materials, the two halves are magnesium alloy, the two interior covers PC+ABD polymer plastics.

Performance: one size fits most

With general purpose PCs you can never have enough performance, and certainly never too much. It's not the same for industrial PCs that generally run a small number of well-defined applications, and often just one. If that's the case, then it makes absolutely no sense to incur the expense of a high-performance processor and the extra complexity such a processor generally mandates (like fans, heat pipes, heat spreaders, etc).

One could argue, of course, that while the workload of an industrial system is more predictable, different customers may still have very different performance requirements. That's why some of Winmate's competition in vehicle-mount computers offers multiple processor choices, sometimes with a substantial performance range.

bay trailWinmate chose a different approach, betting on a one (processor) size fits all. As a result, the current Winmate FM line is based on one of Intel's most popular workhorse "Bay Trail" CPUs, the quad-core Atom E3845. This is the top-of-the-line of the E3800 product family that Intel described as "the first system-on-chip (SoC) designed for intelligent systems, delivering outstanding compute, graphical, and media performance while operating in an extended range of thermal conditions."

Power

The FM10 was designed a vehicle-mount computer that primarily draws operating power through its vehicle dock. Since vehicle electrical systems voltage vary (12 Volt in most civilian vehicles, 28 Volt in US military vehicles, proposed 42 and 48 Volt in future automotive systems), Winmate designed the FM Series dock to accept a very wide range of 10 to 60 VDC without the need to switch voltage.

However, due to the compact size and low weight of the FM10, it's conceivable that the device may be moved between vehicles, or even used outside of vehicles and away from its dock.

For that Winmate gave the FM10 an internal "UPS" battery. UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply and generally means a short-term emergency backup for when power goes out or there are power fluctuations.

Winmate says the battery is designed to provide power for a minimum of 30 minutes. That's quite an understatement. When we measured the power draw of the FM10, we recorded 5.5 watts with the backlight at its lowest, and 10.3 watts with the backlight full-bright. Given the internal Li-Ion battery's 28.8 watt-hour capacity, this means theoretical running times between 2.8 hours and a full 5.1 hours.

Dock and mounting options

While, thanks to its rather powerful internal battery, the FM10 can be used as a tablet away from the vehicle or wherever it is mounted, the FM Series panel and dock are part of a system. The dock should not be viewed as an accessory, but rather as an inherent part of an FM panel. That's evident in Winmate's decision to place most I/O into the dock.

High contrast display

With displays, it's much the same situation as with processing power. In a desktop system, the larger, brighter, and higher resolution a display is, the better. But that's not necessarily the case in mobile and industrial systems.

Anything mounted in a vehicle, for example, must be compact enough to easily fit into the vehicle without taking up too much space or impact other controls, but it also must be large enough to allow the full use of Windows applications.

GFG resistive touch

There was a time when touch screens essentially came in two varieties. Those with active digitizers provided maximum precision and cursor tracking, and were primarily used for art, digital inking, and as mouse replacements when using Windows on a tablet. Those with passive resistive digitizers allowed for quick tapping on the screen with a stylus or even a finger.

Advances in capacitive touch added a degree of functionality in wet conditions and with gloves on, but use in demanding conditions remains a weak part of the glamorous capacitive multi-touch. as a result, Winmate decided to go with resistive touch for the Windows versions of the FM line (a newly introduced Android version uses capacitive touch).

Operating systems

Winmate makes the FM10 available with a variety of different operating systems. Those include Windows 7 Professional for Embedded Systems as the default, Windows Embedded Standard 7, Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Pro, and the new Windows 10 IoT Enterprise, all presumably in their respective 64-bit versions. Which is best suited for the FM10? That depends on the intended application and deployment.

Ruggedness

The FM10's -22 to 122 degree Fahrenheit operating temperature range allows deployment in a very wide range of settings, including industrial freezers and similar. And since, unlike fixed-mounts, vehicle-mounts may be operated outdoors, FM10 units have an IP65 ingress protection rating where the first "6" indicates the unit is totally dustproof and the "5" that the unit can also handle low pressure jets of water.

Do realize that shock and vibration resistance are the most important ruggedness criteria for a vehicle-mount system. And also that proper mounting is of crucial importance in minimizing the overall potential for damage in a vehicle-mount.

The Winmate FM10: bottom line

The FM10 is part of Taiwanese Winmate Communications' modular lineup of Intel Bay Trail-based vehicle-mount computers. The line was designed for use in a wide variety of commercial, industrial and government use. Goals included a cost-saving modular approach via common docks, system units, peripherals and accessories.

Unlike many panel computers, the FM10 can be operated either on vehicle power or use its own internal battery. That allows for seamless move between vehicles and locations, as well as occasional use as a self-contained mobile tablet. The latter is aided by the FM10's compact size and modest 3.9-pound weight.

The FM1's 10.4-inch offers good brightness, very good viewing angles from all directions, and exceptional contrast. Its resistive touch screen is well suited for its intended deployments, and provides extra strength and protection via its Glass-Film_Glass technology. Touch operation isn optimized via 10 programmable physical function keys and an additional 14 soft function keys.

Powered by an Intel E3845 quad-core processor, the FM10 provides a good balance between performance and low enough power draw to allow fanless operation. Wired connectivity is split between onboard basics (power, USB, expansion cards) and an extensive complement (USB, LAN, COM, CANBus, audio) on the highly integrated dock that also offers WiFi, GOS and WWAN external antenna pass-throughs.

The Winmate FM10's elegant, functional magnesium alloy housing feels invulnerable. It offers IP65 sealing, has a wide operating temperature range (-22 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit), and it's been extensively tested for sock and vibration resistance. It also offers a wide variety of mounting options as well as an external keyboard.

With the FM10, Winmate offers a well-conceived, well-executed modular vehicle-mount computing solution that provides superior flexibility both in terms of configuration possibilities as well as in very wide application potential.

-- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, August 2016
 
 

 
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