Is Windows 10 IoT a Suitable Replacement for Windows Embedded?

Embedded Bits, Bytes & Sensors by Chris Trum

Many engineers and IT professionals who deal with embedded and mobile systems and computers have relied upon the Windows Embedded operating systems since Windows XP Embedded back in 2002. Over those 12 years, countless industry sectors have relied on this platform for capturing process data, tracking manufacturing efficiency, optimizing resource planning, and controlling facility machinery. During that time, we have seen a dizzying array of new technological advancements that are reshaping the industrial computing landscape.

The Changing Times

Just a few short years ago IT and engineering professionals were beginning early stage discussions on Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the Industrial Internet of Things (aka Industrie 4.0); topics which are quickly evolving into an integral component of process management and new product design. This new direction can require a sometimes drastic reimagining of system hardware, software, and processes.

In an effort to keep pace with this changing landscape and provide embedded system engineers with the best tools for their application, Microsoft has halted the production of its embedded operating system (OS) offerings in favor of its new Windows 10 IoT OS. The new operating system serves as proof of Microsoft's intention to remain a major player in the IIoT device and manufacturing space.

The new Windows 10 IoT edition features three different versions to choose from; Core, Mobile Enterprise, and Enterprise.

Windows 10 IoT Core Edition

Core Edition is the cheapest of the versions, at a price tag of free. But before you run out to download this software with the hopes of saving your company boat loads of cash, make sure you've read the fine print. This version of Microsoft 10 IoT is the definition of barebones. Intended for use by devices running on only the most minimal of resources, the Core Edition is really only a viable operating system for small embedded devices, programmable logic controllers (PLC), and sensors.

There is no user interface on this OS and it can only run Windows Universal apps, so flexibility may be a real concern for many considering this option. However, for projects not requiring a robust set of software features and functionality, the Core Edition may be the perfect solution. Think vending machines, simple robots, security cameras, simple point-of-sale devices, office printers, thermostats, and network routers.

Minimum Hardware Requirements for Windows 10 IoT Core Edition:

  • Memory (Headless)- 256 MB RAM (128 MB free to OS)/2 GB Storage
  • Memory (Headed)- 512 MB RAM (256 MB free to OS)/2 GB Storage
  • Processor- 400 MHz or faster (x86 requires PAE, NX and SSE2 support)

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Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise Edition

Mobile Enterprise Edition is a binary equivalent to the Microsoft mobile operating system found on Windows based cell phones. One step up from the Core Edition in terms of functionality, this version will come equipped with a user interface but still only runs Windows Universal apps; bad news for those looking to run desktop-based applications.

Continuing its theme of device and application differentiation, Microsoft has designed this edition of Windows 10 IoT specifically to fill the needs of those building or updating mobile/handheld devices. This is the version to consider if you are looking at installing an operating system it in a small handheld device (less than an 8-inch screen), barcode scanner, or mobile point-of-sale system.

Minimum Hardware Requirements for Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise Edition:

  • Memory- 1 GB RAM (depending on device display)/8 GB Storage
  • Processor- Qualcomm Technologies System on Chip (SoC) MSM8994, MSM8992, MSM8952, MSM8909, MSM8208, MSM8996, APQ8092, APQ8094, APQ8009, MSM8x10, MSM8x12, MSM8x26, MSM8916, MSM8926, MSM8x28, MSM8928, MSM8974, MSM8974Pro, MSM8960, MSM8260A, MSM8660A, MSM8930AA, MSM8930AB, MSM8630, MSM8230, MSM8627, MSM8227, MSM8994, MSM8992, MSM8952, MSM8909, and MSM8208.

Windows 10 IoT Enterprise Edition

Enterprise Edition is the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to functionality in a Windows 10 IoT operating system comparison. This version is the best straight 1-to-1 comparison you can draw to the old Windows Embedded operating systems of the past 12 years.

Like the Mobile Enterprise Edition of Windows 10 IoT, the Enterprise Edition sports a user interface. But unlike the other 2 versions I've mentioned, this option can run both Windows Universal apps and Classic Windows apps.

With a far more robust set of features and built-in functionality, this is the operating system that is best suited to devices where greater computing power and data management/capture/analysis is required. The added complexity of modern embedded solutions are a perfect fit for the Enterprise Edition. Ideal applications for integration of this version of Windows 10 IoT are industrial touchscreen computers, digital signage, retail point-of-sale computers, interactive touchscreen kiosks, robotic control systems, and manufacturing automation systems.

Minimum Hardware Requirements for Windows 10 IoT Enterprise Edition:

  • Memory- 2 GB RAM/16 GB Storage (for 32-bit OS) or 20 GB Storage (for 64-bit OS)
  • Processor- 1 GHz or faster processor, or SoC that 1) Is compatible with x86 or x64 instruction set, 2) Supports PAE, NX, and SSE2, and 3) Supports CMPXCHG16b, LAHF/SAHF, and PrefetchW for 64-bit OS install.

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Key New Windows Features

All versions of Windows 10 IoT are touted as being the "most secure Windows ever" with a number of enhancements aimed at improving data security in this brave new IIoT world we work in. Microsoft has added other improvements aimed at the increasing need for interconnectivity between various devices and processes that are critical to a network of intelligent devices.

Microsoft is making a concerted effort to be a big part of the IIoT evolution by focusing on features that will further the growth of these initiatives across industry. One of the new features will work in tandem with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) hardware in devices to allow system administrators to set conditional access for devices on a network. There will now be a new "embedded mode", which can let you treat certain devices differently than others because as the system administrator you can essentially vouch for the device as not being a security risk.

One of the most interesting new features is the increased ability to finely tune the update process for all of your devices, which allows for more control over your systems. This allows system engineers ample time to test new Windows updates in a controlled environment before rolling them out across all devices on the network.

Final Thoughts

While Windows 10 IoT appears to share many similarities with the Windows Embedded operating systems, there are obvious and noticeable enhancements aimed at providing greater functionality to the industrial markets. Some facilities will no doubt continue to wait on upgrading, but many system administrators will not have that luxury. In a few short months, Microsoft will end its support of devices running the Windows XP Embedded operating system, increasing the need for hardware and software upgrades.

About the Author

Chris Trum is the Marketing Manager at Teguar Corporation, a rugged industrial computer manufacturer based in Charlotte, NC. Chris combines his love of technology and passion for marketing to help bring innovative solutions to the industrial computer market.

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