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Selection of host PC for FAST Comtec PCI-boards:
P788X Series Multiscaler/TOF, MPA-3 Multiparameter System and MCA-3X/P7882 Series MCA; MCS-6 USB-interface Multiscaler/TOF.

HOST PC SELECTION:  Most but not all personal computers are compatible with the FAST ComTec GmbH P7886, P7887 and P7888 Series Multiscalers, MPA-3 Multiparameter Systems and MCA-3/P7882 Series MCA boards which are designed to be compatible to the PCI-Bus, version 2.1 specification.  The host PC, including the system BIOS, must be fully compliant with the PCI Bus 2.1, 5.0 volt (not 3.3 volt) specification in all respects.

Because of the large variety of PCs available today and because the life cycles of typical PC motherboards are on the order of six months or less, it is difficult to provide an up-to-date list of exactly which currently available PCs are compatible and/or exhibit compatibility problems.  A list of the latest qualified (tested by FAST ComTec) motherboard is available upon request.  Others may work as well, though they have not been qualified.  PC systems to avoid in particularly are the Dell brand, as it appears that they may deviate from strict adherence to the PCI v2.1 standard in either their BIOS, PCI bus structure or both and therefore do not interface correctly to the AMCC PCI-Interface chip used in the PCI-based FAST ComTec products.  In very few instances have Dell PC's operated acceptably with FAST ComTec products (the MPA-3 Multiparameter System has been an exception in some instances); though recently as of 2017 it has been reported that the PCI-based FAST ComTec cards have functioned appropriately in the latest Dell systems.

The major issue with regard to PC compatibility is that the FAST ComTec P788X and MCA series boards (except the 64 bit P7889 model, which uses a different bus) requires two 32-bit IO port address ranges to be assigned to the board by the host PC.  The most common problem with incompatible computers is that they fail to properly assign the second port address range for use by the P788X or MCA series board or they do not properly communicate across the second port address.  Sometimes this can be overcome by moving the card to a different slot, swapping card slot positions, or removing other cards and/or disabling on-board devices before installation of the P788X.  A less-frequent compatibility problem involves the P788X Multiscalers and DMA transfers.  If this problem occurs, the DMA function in the P788X software is disabled and the software must run in normal priority which may result in a significantly (at least ~50%) slower transfer rate of STOP events into the host PC.  It is recommended to use a different computer if any of these problems is experienced and is a concern in your application.

If at all possible, prior to purchasing a PC or making a final PC selection, we recommend installing and test operating the FAST ComTec PCI card in the PC you intend to use to ensure that the card operates correctly in that PC.  The FAST ComTec operating software runs diagnostic tests upon startup which verifies port communication with the necessary registers on the card and address ports in the PC and also verifies the proper operation of DMA block transfers.

For a suggested PC vendor, we have referred customers to, as well as have used and purchased PCs from, Vision Computers, www.visioncomputers.com, based in Georgia. Our current contact at Vision Computer is Raj Mistry, <raj@visioncomputers.com> (800.886.4466 ext. 1163), who is familiar with dealing with our customers needs (mention our referral to him regarding obtaining a host PC for use with the FAST ComTec products).  We do not endorse or recommend Vision Computers or any other PC supplier.  Other good sources are more local PC integrators who can choose an appropriate motherboard for use and can customize the host PC as desired, as well as offer the possibility of pre-testing the system with the FAST ComTec card.

HOST PC CONFIGURATION: The host PC should be equipped with a minimum of 2 GB memory, a graphics board capable of operating in at least a 1024 x 768 pixel mode, an Intel or AMD mainstream-class processor (multi-core processor types are in the current mainstream), and a large, fast hard disk drive (SATA II types being in the current mainstream).  RAID hard disk drive systems can increase the data throughput (data files are frequently large in many applications) and these systems should be considered if writing list files is important.  In addition to drawing power from the PCI bus, the P788X cards also require connection to a separate, peripheral power supply cable (floppy drive type) from the host PC.  Though the FAST ComTec products will operate with the minimal PC requirements by today’s standards, performance improves with more memory, a faster processor, and better hard drives and graphics cards.

Special Note regarding the Model P7889 100 psec Multiscaler/TOF:   This model has a slightly different host PC requirement than the other boards in the P788X family.  It requires a single 64-bit, 66 MHz compatible PCI slot known as a PCI-X slot (this is NOT the same as PCI-Express, do not confuse them).  There are several host PCs / motherboards offering this capability (but not a large number) and most are workstation and/or server type systems. The latest qualified (tested by FAST ComTec) motherboards for use with the P7889 are the ASUS P6T WS Professional and the SuperMicro X8SAX, though others may work as well.  The P7889 is also NOT compatible with Dell or older Compaq host PCs.

Special Note regarding Model MCS-6 5-input Multiscaler/TOF module:  This is the latest, highest-performance unit in the P788X/MCS-6 series. It is packaged in a modular enclosure and is not a plug-in card.   It requires use of at least one (two recommended) enhanced USB 2.0 interface ports in the host PC rather than PCI slots, so many of the issues discussed in this note regarding PCI-slot compatibility do not apply to the MCS-6.  A single USB 2.0 port on the host PC can be used, but the transfer data rates will be less than the maximum possible. USB 1.0 ports are not compatible with the MCS-6.

OPERATING SYSTEMS:  Windows 32-bit operating systems: XP, Vista or Windows 7.  Only the 32-bit versions of Windows are compatible.  There are 64-bit signed drivers for the current 64-bit versions of Windows.  There are optional Linux drivers available for the most FAST ComTec MPA, MCA and MCS products.

PHYSICAL SIZE OF CARD:  P788X Multiscalers are full-length PCI cards (approx. 13.4 inches, 340.7 mm) which the computer must accommodate.  MCA-3X/P7882 cards are also full-length cards.  The MPA-3 IO card is a shorter length card.   For the P788X and MCA-3X/P7882 be sure that at least one of the PCI slots is available in the host PC without any obstacles (case, drives, processors, fans, etc.) within the computer case preventing the installation of a full-length card.   The case should also provide adequate airflow to keep the P788X card properly cooled.  The P7889 also has an on-board air cooling fan to cool the on-board processor.   The MCS-6 is a stand-alone module, it is not mounted in the host PC as are the P788X series boards.

09 November 2017

FAST ComTec Application Note PC Requirements

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