Since the coming of the Raspberry Pi Model B, single-board computers (SBCs) have become a prevalent force in the development world. These pocket-sized devices have taken the online maker community in particular by storm, providing PC functionality to a plethora of open-source projects in amazingly compact, cost-effective, and low-power platforms.
It's not an overstatement to say these tiny computers have engendered a technological revolution of their own by pushing the limits of technological creativity achievable in the palm of oneís hand. As an added benefit, SBCs have served as cheaply obtainable educational tools for teaching the ever-important concepts of computer science to the younger generation. Test engineers, those seeking to build one-off projects, and hobbyists have embraced, and appreciate, this mini computer platform. Similar to how the smartphone changed how we use phones, SBCs are poised to change how we approach embedded systems development.
The following slideshow introduces a series of some of the most unique SBCs that have hit the market to date -- all which can be purchased for under (or very nearly) US$100.
And the winner is.. Daniel Winder from Decagon Devices who'll be re-engineering his garden monitoring and control systems. Looking forward to seeing those photos, and maybe a fresh tomato or two in the mail. Good luck, Daniel.
I really like a number of these boards in terms of their features and price, but so far I cannot justify their use in released products in my Industry (Industrial Control). I say this, as all of these and other generic controllers lack suitable industrial hardened power supplies, or transient protection/fusing, etc that are needed for long term reliability... the result is that additional boards, etc would be needed and then one has to determine if it would be cheaper to design a custom single board solution, as opposed to having multiple assemblies (the off the shelf board and one or more custom boards) and associated cabling. Secondly, how does one mitigate long term support risk? A number of the boards use devices that are not widely available and/or are consumer oriented and so design changes, etc are a real possiblity... the result is that support costs increase in order to support the different flavors of the boards. Indeed, some of the boards have released design files so that one "could" remanufacture their own board, but this is also not a simple undertaking, as some parts may be specialized or have high minimum order quantities. In my view I see these boards as excellent learning platforms, proof of concept vehicles, or even as reference designs that firms can use... but certainly nothing that I could use for my production needs.
Hey, nice piece Cabe! Some great tech for next to nothing. Speaking of which, I have an Artigo 1000 kit (http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/embedded/artigo/a1000/) that I got from DesignWest (more on DesignWest in the coming days, standby). I've been sitting on it for a few years. I went to set it up as a simply webserver the other day only to find it's way outdated and no longer supported by Via Technologies. I could mess with it, but just don't have the time for some odd reason.
Anyone want it? It's a great little package and I can't just throw it out.... If you want it, and are based in the US, I can mail it to you: no charge (how's that for a deal?:). Just ping me at email@example.com.
All I ask is that you share with us what you do with it and how you did it. Deal? Just some photos and a description.
I think this is very much the equivalent of what the mini-ITX was some years ago for embedded PC based DYI type projects, or PC104 in th 90's. Some of them will go into volume, but very often it's used only for early stage proof-of-concept development work, which is great. For real commercial volume projects though, I think most of them end up with either a Computer-on-Module and a custom carrier, or a making a customdesign with the SOC on a single board. Having said that, if you can solve all of your application requirements with only one off-the-shelf board that is manufactured in volume, that will always be the most cost-efficient alternative, the same way you have a embedded applications where an embedded PC motherboard or SBC has all the functionality onboard that's needed.
Rick, I think they really help the SOM market. For example , the beagle bone helps create a great dev ecosystem , and then these guys start offering a SOM with a processor from the same family(less capable), at an attractive price point($27/1K)for 275MHZ,128MB flash/ram, etc.
...these little single-board computers will motivate more young people to learn programming like the Commodore C64 has motivated me in the 1980s. Yes, it is not only possible to play games with computers. ;-)