What is a Single Board Computer (SBC)?
A single board computer (SBC) is a complete computer board that incorporates essential components like a processor and RAM. Unlike ATX motherboards, SBCs do not depend on expansion slots for additional features. These compact computers are commonly employed in industrial settings, either embedded within other equipment or incorporated into rackmount setups. By integrating all the necessary components onto a single board, SBCs effectively minimize the overall system size.
Different form factors are there for single board computers?
Unlike ATX motherboards, single board computers come in numerous sizes and form factors, and not all boards adhere to a strict standard. As a result, it can be difficult to determine which boards are compatible with a specific enclosure. Nevertheless, it is often possible to find boards that follow established form factor standards, such as:
1.8″ SBCs, being the smallest form factor among single board computers (SBCs), strike a balance between space-saving and computing power, making them suitable for specialized applications.
- Dimensions: Typically measures 3.31 x 2.17 inches (845 × 556 mm), although it may vary by manufacturer.
- Processor: Commonly equipped with low-power processors, such as ARM-based or Intel Atom processors. These processors are usually integrated directly onto the board as system-on-chip (SoC) processors, designed to cater to embedded applications.
- RAM: Utilizes onboard Memory Down technology, commonly supporting LPDDR3 and LPDDR4 memory. Capacities of up to 8GB are commonplace.
- Storage: Typically incorporates an Embedded Multi Media Card (eMMC) with a capacity of up to 128GB as the default storage option. Additionally, an M.2 expansion slot is often available for adding an extra SATA SSD.
- Input and Output: Provides various interfaces including USB, GbE (Gigabit Ethernet), audio, display, and serial ports. The specific availability of these interfaces depends on the manufacturer’s design.
- Operating System: SBCs of this form factor typically operate on mobile platforms like Linux, Windows Embedded, or Android, which are compatible with the ARM architectures supported by the onboard processor.
2.5″ Pico-ITX SBCs offers a compact form factor (100 x 72 mm) and are specifically designed for space-limited embedded applications, such as site management and IoT gateways in industrial plants. They prioritizes low power consumption, features a fanless design and provides rich I/O connectivity.
- Dimensions: The 2.5″ Pico-ITX board measures 100mm x 72mm, making it one of the smallest form factor boards available.
- Processor: Powered by a low-power processor, typically an ARM-based SoC (system on a chip) or an Intel Atom processor.
- RAM: Typically supports up to 4GB of DDR3 or DDR4 RAM, providing sufficient memory for most embedded and industrial applications.
- Storage: Features onboard storage options, including eMMC and mSATA, and offers support for external storage via USB or SATA connections.
- Input and Output: The 2.5″ Pico-ITX board typically provides a range of I/O interfaces, such as HDMI, DP, USB, Ethernet, audio, and GPIO pins. Some boards also include wireless connectivity options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
- Operating System: Designed to run a variety of operating systems, including Linux, Windows, Yocto 2.5 on eMMC, and Android. However, the specific operating system supported may depend on the processor and board manufacturer.
3.5″ SBCs distinguish themselves from 1.8″ SBCs in terms of functionality, versatility and computing power, offering increased performance at the expense of larger dimensions. When considering heatsinks and drives, the width and height of the board may double.
- Dimensions: Typically measures 75 x 4.02 inches (146 x 102 mm), although it may vary by manufacturer.
- Processor: Despite being nearly twice the size of 1.8″ SBCs, 3.5″ SBCs commonly employ system-on-chip (SoC) processors, including low-power options like ARM-based and Intel Atom processors. The additional space allows for better heat dissipation, enabling the use of processors with higher thermal design power (TDP). Ambitious designs featuring Intel Core processors are also feasible.
- RAM: With the extra space, 3.5″ SBCs offer more flexibility in memory design. They may incorporate onboard memory (e.g., DDR3L) and memory modules (e.g., DDR4 SO-DIMM), providing potential capacities of up to 64GB.
- Storage: Larger form factors like 3.5″ SBCs typically offer various storage options such as SATA, mSATA, and M.2. SATA and mSATA drives offer higher storage capacities but occupy more space, while M.2 SSDs provide a balance between size and high data transfer rates.
- Input and Output: Standard PC interfaces like USB, Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), audio, display, and industry-specific interfaces such as serial ports and CAN buses are available. The increased size of 3.5″ SBCs allows for a greater number of USB ports, GbE ports, and video display ports, sometimes even doubling or tripling the quantity.
- Operating Systems: 3.5″ SBCs support a range of operating systems, including Linux distributions like Ubuntu and Yocto, Windows IoT and Windows Embedded, as well as Android. These options are commonly chosen for industrial and commercial applications.
- Use Cases: Deployed in settings such as signage, kiosks, and IoT edge devices, 3.5″ SBCs offer sufficient size to handle display, storage, and video streaming requirements, making them suitable for various functionalities in these domains.
4″ SBCs may not have a significant size difference from their smaller 3.5″ counterparts, but this slight increase in size opens up possibilities for enhanced connectivity and expansion, transforming a mobile-sized board into a personalized computer.
- Dimensions: Typically measures 6.49 x 4.53 inches (165 x 115 mm), although variations can occur between manufacturers.
- Processor: 4″ SBCs offer the option of specifying ARM and x86 processors. Surprisingly, many of these boards are equipped with powerful onboard processors, including the 12th Gen Intel Core i7 series.
- RAM: Similar to 3.5″ SBCs, both onboard and module memories can be featured on a 4″ SBC.
- Storage: Storage options on 4″ SBCs are not ground-breaking, typically supporting common choices such as SATA, mSATA, and M.2 SSDs.
- Expansion: Despite the compact size, a 4″ SBC can accommodate expansion options like a mini PCIe slot and a PCIe x8 slot. These slots can be utilized for graphics cards or M.2 NVMe SSDs, providing additional functionality, although thermal solutions may be necessary.
- Input and Output: Standard interfaces are readily available, and the extra space on a 4″ SBC allows for a substantial increase in the number of USB ports. Some high-end SBCs even go beyond and offer support for triple displays.
- Operating Systems: Although 4″ SBCs offer robust functionalities and connectivity, they are primarily targeted for applications in robotics, edge computing, signage, and automation. Therefore, the expected operating systems are typically tailored for specialized tasks rather than heavy computing. Common choices include embedded and mobile platforms such as Linux, Windows IoT, Windows Embedded, and Android.
To put it simply, 1.8″ SBCs excel in compactness but lack versatility, whereas 2.5″, 3.5″, and 4″ SBCs offer expansion capabilities, robust storage options and a wider range of connectivity.
Are you ready to explore the world of Single Board Computers and find the perfect board for your next project?
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