Computers are getting smaller and more productive every year. For many tasks, more than desktop or laptop computers is required for performance. Credit card-sized single-board computers can often be helpful. What can these “little guys” do?
Why And For Whom?
Generally, a single-board PC is assembled on a single board with a microprocessor, RAM, connectors for external devices, network modules, etc. Such computers can be sold ready-made or as components for self-assembly. Many popular models have various additional components and devices, such as temperature or light sensors, compact display boards for information output, etc. Such PCs can not boast exceptional performance, but they have several advantages – small size and weight and reduced power consumption, allowing you to keep such devices constantly on.
Consequently, they can be used:
- To create a small home multimedia centre: These devices usually have DSI and HDMI connectors that connect displays, TVs, and audio outputs, allowing you to play music and movies.
- They can be used to download and share files on peer-to-peer networks.
- You can turn a single-board computer into a small game console using emulators of old consoles. The latest games are unlikely to be enjoyed, but for the games of previous decades, performance is enough. Of course, these are only some of the possible uses of single-board computers.
Basic requirements for SBC
Let’s take a closer look at the main requirements that should be considered when choosing a computing core for an embedded system. The operating conditions in which the device must work are particularly relevant. The economy, performance, and availability of numerous interfaces in an RS SBC will only mean something to the end user if this board can work in the required temperature range and can withstand vibration loads in mobile applications.
Therefore, a unique niche in the embedded systems market is occupied by SBCs for harsh operating conditions, which are usually understood as “industrial” temperature range (-40…+85°C) and mechanical solid effects (shocks and vibrations up to several g). As a rule, these factors are little or not taken into account in the development of conventional (office) PCs, which is explained by the prevailing price criterion, as well as entirely different operating conditions and the tasks facing the processor module.
Other important requirements
Size is vital in almost all cases but critical mainly for mobile applications, especially avionics. The form factor and the number of expansion cards determine it.
Power consumption is closely related to the allowable upper limit of the operating temperature range. For harsh environments, an essential factor is the ability to automatically lower the processor clock frequency if there is a risk of overheating. For mobile applications, the power consumption must be adequately matched to the batteries’ capacity.
Resistance to mechanical influences is essential when the product is used in industry and transportation. Systems with a maximum number of components soldered onto the board, and a minimum number of connectors sensitive to shock or vibration have an advantage in this area. Even in small vibrations, using only solid-state memory instead of standard mechanical hard disks is advisable.
Ability to operate over a wide temperature range. The permissible lower limit is most relevant for devices outdoors or in areas with unstable power supply. However, you can always consider a variant with a backup power supply and a heater controlled by a simple thermostat.
Resistance to electromagnetic interference is significant when operating devices near generators, motors, and other sources of strong electromagnetic fields and electrostatic discharges. It is also essential to select an adequate power supply that does not produce transient solid emissions when switching on and off; otherwise, it may cause an unstable system start-up.
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