Ever wonder how companies
develop the operating systems for their devices? One great way to refine the Windows CE OS
is using the Intrinsyc CerfPod to develop your CE based product.
The CerfPod give developers everything they will need to test new builds of CE
created using Platform Builder as well as the ability to modify hardware to suit their
CerfPod comes in a huge box. This is good since it is the price of a good
quality desktop computer. Incased in the pink packing foam is the aluminum base and
the LCD/breakout board. The LCD is surrounded by the same blue aluminum as the base,
making for a very sturdy product. Exposed on the back side of the LCD is the
CerfBoard and the breakout board. The CerfBoard is Intrinsyc's main
hardware product, and is the basis for all their devices. The CerfBoard is really a
"one board computer", with the processor, RAM, ROM, expansion slots, network,
and USB connection all right on one board. The breakout board is what the
CerfBoard is mounted on. The breakout board contains many things including
three serial ports, power switch, DIP switches, and various other connection and
configuable parts. One cool thing about the design of this product is that the LCD
can be mounted either in a portrait fashion or landscape.
I was very
impressed with the included manuals. They were very helpful in setting up the
CerfPod and were also a help with connecting another Intrinsyc product, the CerfCube
(though the should be since both contain the same CerfBoard). The CD also has some
nice tools and I especially like how code examples were included.
Setup is very easy. Plug in the power, network, and serial connection, then power it
up and connect it to the base. Hyper Terminal setup is very easy since it is in the
manual, but make sure to connected with an NT or 2000 system. You actually don't
even have to do that and can start using the device via the LCD. The Windows CE
desktop on the CerfPod looks much different then a Windows CE 3.0 PDA (Pocket PC).
It has a start menu on the bottom task bar along with My Computer, a Recycling Bin,
IE, Media Player, and other apps on the desktop.
Microsoft's Platform Builder, the CerfPod can become or do anything you want.
The system accepts new "versions" of CE deployed through Platform Builder.
Platform builder allows you to decided on what options will be included in your version of
CE and how they will work. For instance, say your company likes the idea of the
CerfPod's design and decides to produces a small number of a similar product using
the CerfBoard. (Technically, a large number of devices could be
the CerfPod and CerfBoard as a platform for development.) They would
use the CerfPod to configure the board to support what they needed. If they
wanted it to support an attached keyboard, they would include that component. They
could also include components like Pocket Word, Excel, or Active Sync connectivity.
Once this OS is built, it can be deployed to the CerfPod and tested. In
smaller scale operations, the OS image could be deployed to the main board and then that
installed to the new device. Though this is not every step of the process required,
it is a general view of what could be done. b Of course companies like Compaq would never
use this to deploy iPAQ boards, but they could use a CerfPod for testing and
development. This product would be perfect for companies that wanted to use the
CerfBoard in an integrated solution within their company.
There are a few things that haven't been included that could be a vital part of a device.
One is a hot swappable CF slot. Powering down and restarting only takes a few
seconds, but this still is a nice feature. Another slight CF problem is that the
slot only supports 3.3V cards. This isn't a huge probably since most cards are 3.3V
based, but future cards could have problems.
Since I am not a hardware developer, it is more difficult for me to use this like a
hardware developer/engineer would. I do have some opinions on the usability
product (above), as well as some more about simple use of the product. The first
thing I notice is that Intrinsyc includes everything. Crossover cable, network
cable, serial cable, power, and even a stylus. USB is the only cable not included,
though this is only really needed in more specific cases. The aluminum shells of the
base and around the LCD is of great quality. Of course I didn't test it's durability,
but I am sure that it would take a hammer to damage the shells. I really like the
inclusion of the ability to turn the LCD to be horizontal or vertical. Depending on
what you are developing for this is critical and is simple to change the digital
configuration in Platform Builder. Behind the LCD, the breakout board and CerfBoard
is totally exposed. This isn't that bad in most cases, though could be a problem is
you are moving the CerfPod often. All the ports, switches, and connections are
positioned well for easy access except for two. Since the CF slot is on the bottom
of the CerfBoard, you really have to take off the board to get a card in or out of
there. The other port that is positioned bad is the network port. Plugging in
is fine, but it was more difficult for me to unplug. In some ways, it would be nice for
the port to be flipped so you could get out the cable easier, though since the board is
was not build for the Pod but the Pod for the board. (As a note, the board could be
flipped by the user but the user upside-down for CF access or better unplugging abilities
for the network cable.)
The CerfPod is priced near $2000, which seems like a lot for someone like me who
would only use it at home and for fun, but really I think this is a very economical price
for a business. It is just priced nearer to a higher end desktop computer or an
average laptop, which is what a home user might think of, but really this is a
"Reference Platform" (or a testing/building station). Considering some
business software is more then twice the price of this product, I feel this is a very good
deal. With more and more OS's on the horizon, it is good Intrinsyc
decided to make this product for development of CE based solutions. Any hardware
solution developer looking to develop a very small product the packs a punch, they
defiantly should look to the Inrinsyc CerfPod for a fantastic development
environment / Reference Platform.
Dave's Score - 8.0
This means, not exactly the "must
have item of the year," but is cool and well developed.
Though this product is overall a good deal, it is more suited for
someone with specific needs. ** Specific note on this item: This
product is for a developer, and would rank higher to a platform
developer then to even a PDA power user. **