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The adoption of open-source operating systems for the execution of real-time applications is gaining popularity, even in the networked control systems domain, due to cost and flexibility reasons. However, as opposed to their commercial counterparts, the actual performance level to be expected from them is still little known and may often depend on the kind of real-time extension being used, its configuration, and the overall software load of the system, including best-effort components. In this paper, an open-source EtherCAT master supported by a popular real-time extension for Linux, the RT Patch, is thoroughly evaluated with long-term measurements, which build confidence on the suitability of the proposed approach for real-world applications. Special attention is devoted to the unexpected, adverse effect that some best-effort components, for instance, graphics applications, may have on the overall real-time characteristics of the system. For reference, the proposed approach is also compared with RTAI, a more traditional and well-known real-time extension for Linux already in use for demanding applications.
Date of Publication: Nov. 2011