Why a Portable Computer?

First of all, What is a Portable Computer?

It’s definitely not a laptop. Yet, It’s not a desktop either. A portable computer is a hybrid of both and more! Portable Computers, or “lunchbox” computers as some may call them, are a niche product for users and industries which require high-performance, high-storage, expansion slots, and arguably most importantly, portability. Many industries have needs for portable computers or workstations. Industrial test and measurement, broadcast, cyber security, defense, and aerospace are just a few of the many environments who require portable computers.

Now you’re probably wondering, Why a Portable Computer?

Here are some of the main reasons why anyone would choose a portable, over say a notebook or desktop.

Processing Power!

First and foremost, the process power of a portable goes above and beyond. When considering applications requiring high performance and computing, there is just so much more power available in a portable computer. If you consider the variety of configuration options, the possibilities can be endless! Using the latest Dual Xeon processors, enormous RAM capacity (up to 1TB or more) and massive SSD drive storage space, a portable computer can be one heck of a powerhouse.

Rugged Military Computer with removable Drives

Expansion Slots!

Laptops contain a reasonable amount of power for the average consumer. For others, this is simply not enough sometimes. With a portable computer, you have the ability to configure the number of PCIe expansion slots (which we’ve learned is very important per the last blog post), and is built to contain much more processing power. Available in multiple form-factors, portable computers can be massively expandable systems with excess slots, or compact systems that support just enough expansion.

FlexPac Expansion Slots

Rugged Chassis!

Portable Computers can be available in a varying degrees of ruggedness. In contrast to lightweight notebooks, Portables are a lot more rugged and durable. Portables use an aluminum chassis and are ideal for industrial use. Do you need to meet mil-spec environmental standards? The most rugged portables have rubber bumpers, mil-spec connectors, desert sand filters, and high powered fans for extreme temperatures. 

Portable computer MilPAC C4ISR

All-in-One Setup!

Portable computers are just like their name implies. Portable! They can be set up and ready to go in minutes, available with AC & DC power supplies. Built in displays can vary from 15” up to 24”, and can come in single, doubles, and triples. These portables may also have attached full size keyboard and integrated touchpad, or nothing at all.

Portable Computer

For a selection of portable computers that are designed to meet your exact standards– please visit Acmeportable.com.


Quick Guide: PCIe Lanes Explained

What is PCI Express?

PCI Express, Peripheral Component Interconnect Express or PCIe for short, can be a somewhat confusing computer component! When a computer starts up, PCI Express is what determines which devices are plugged into the motherboard. It identifies the links between each device, creating a map directing traffic and negotiating the width of each link. This identification of devices and connections uses the same protocol as PCI, so no changes are required to existing software or operating systems.

The way a PCIe connection is structured is it consists of one or more (up to sixteen, at the moment) data-transmission lanes, connected serially. Each lane consists of two pairs of wires, one for receiving and one for transmitting. There are one, four, eight, or sixteen lanes in a single PCIe slot – denoted as x1, x4, x8, or x16. This contrasts to PCI connections which are parallel (32-bit or 64-bit bidirectional parallel bus).

PCIe Lanes

PCIe Lanes on a Motherboard

How do PCIe Lanes work?

PCIe is a layered protocol – the layers being a transaction layer, a data link layer, and a physical layer.  The Data-link layer is sub-divided to include a media access control (MAC) layer.  At the electrical level, each lane consists of two unidirectional differential pairs operating at 2.5, 5, 8 or 16 Gbit/s, depending on the negotiated capabilities. While on the other hand, transmit and receive are separate differential pairs, adding up to a total of four data wires per lane.

Each lane is an independent connection between the PCI controller of the processor chip-set (Southbridge) or the processor itself (usually the graphics card slot) and the expansion card. Bandwidth scales linearly, so a four-lane connection will have twice the bandwidth of a two-lane connection. Depending on the expansion card’s bandwidth requirements, the slot may need to be sized appropriately.

A physical PCIe x16 slot can accommodate a x1, x4, x8, or x16 card, and can run a x16 card at x16, x8, x4, or x1. A PCIe x8 slot can accommodate a x1 or x4 or x8 card but cannot fit a x16 card. Just to confuse the matter further, there are different versions of PCIe interface.  It’s also possible that a motherboard may have multiple slot sizes and also different PCIe versions: 1.0a, 1.1, 2.0, 2.1, 3.0, 3.1, 4.0 and coming soon 5.0.  (Link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PCI_Express#PCI_Express_5.0)

BUS & Bandwith

BUS Bandwidth
PCI 1056 MBps
AGP 8x 2.1 GBps
PCIe 1.0 / x4 2 GBps
PCIe 1.0 / x8 4 GBps
PCIe 1.0 / x16 8 GBps
PCIe 2.0 / x4 4 GBps
PCIe 2.0 / x8 8 GBps
PCIe 2.0 / x16 16 GBps
PCIe 3.0 / x1 1.97 GBps
PCIe 3.0 / x4 7.88 GBps
PCIe 3.0 / x8 15.8 GBps
PCIe 3.0 / x16 31.5 GBps
PCIe 4.0 / x1 3.94 GBps
PCIe 4.0 / x4 15.75 GBps
PCIe 4.0 / x8 31.5 GBps
PCIe 4.0 / x16 63 GBps
Firewire 400 MBps
USB 1.0 12 MBps
USB 2.0 480 MBps
USB 3.0 4.8 GBps
USB 3.1 10 GBps​
Gigabit Ethernet 1 GBps
IDE (ATA 100) 800 MBps
IDE (ATA 133) 1064 MBps
SATA 1.5 GBps
SATA 6 6 GBps

Why do PCIe Lanes matter?

Functions your CPU’s PCIe Lanes Control:

  • Onboard Video
  • PCIe 3.0 x16 Slot (usually for video card)
  • 2/U.2 (on some Enthusiast Boards)
  • LAN (on some Enthusiast Boards)

Other functions use your CHIPSET’s PCIe bus lanes. Functions CHIPSET’s PCIe Lanes control may control:

  • SATA hard drives
  • Onboard Sound
  • Onboard RAID
  • Onboard Network Controller/LAN
  • All PCIe slots except the first one
  • Thunderbolt
  • 2/U.2

Quoted amounts of PCIe bandwidth required by individual components:

  • 8-16 Lanes – x16 PCIe Video Cards (Each)
  • 8-16 Lanes – Other Specialized PCIe Cards
  • 4 Lanes – M.2 Drive
  • 4 Lanes – Thunderbolt (uses 4 lanes PCIe 3.0)
  • 4 Lanes – Hardware Based RAID Controllers
  • 2 Lanes (Each) – SSD Drives
  • 2 Lanes – USB 3.1 (Gen. 2)
  • 1 Lane – USB 3.0 (USB 3.1 Gen. 1)
  • 1 Lane – Sound
  • 1 Lane – Network Controllers

Which chips have the most PCIe lanes?

Different chips support different numbers of PCIe lanes. For example: Intel Core i5 or i7-8700K or i9-8950HK have up to 1×16, 2×8, 1×8+2×4 with a maximum of 16 PCIe lanes.  In addition, the 6850K and up i7’s have 40 lanes. The Intel Xeon E5-4669 v4 has a maximum of 40 PCIe lanes at PCIe 3.0, whereas the E7-8894 v4 has ‘only’ 32 lanes (per processor). AMD has upped the ante with their EPYC CPU’s – they have 128 PCIe lanes 3.0.

In the tech industry today, what makes this really complicated is that motherboard manufacturers have to make their motherboards support a range of processors which may have different numbers of PCIe lanes supported.  So a motherboard using a i7-6850K chip may have the capability to address multiple slots at x16, whereas with a ‘lesser’ chip ie. i7-8700K may be fewer lanes available, with only one slot being x16.  Just to complicate things further, NVME and other types of expansions require PCIe lanes. With NVME being a must-have feature for a modern motherboard, there are now even fewer lanes available to the expansion slots.

While there are some non-PCIe interface options being explored by the technology industry, they would also require major hardware changes. All in all, PCIe looks to remain crucial for a while longer.