Single Board Computers

Single board computers offer a very compact solution to computing needs. They were among the first examples of computers being made into very convenient sizes and they are used in many different applications today.

Single-boards computers are sometimes purchased as easy ways to get an inexpensive desktop PC system and are sometimes used to make very compact electronic devices. Many mobile computing devices, in fact, have single-board computers at the heart of their designs. They allow a great deal of processing power to be compacted down to a size that makes them mobile enough to be carried wherever one roams.

Single-board computers are also used extensively in the industry. They make it easy to swap out an entire computer when needed and because everything needed is included in one package, all that needs to be done is the computer put into place, loaded with the necessary software and the system is ready to go.

These computers differ from desktop systems in that they usually come as an entire unit on one board with some expansion capabilities. Desktop computers oftentimes include a motherboard, video card, network card and so forth, though they are increasingly being built on a single board, as well.

What are single board computers?

A single board computer is defined by having only one circuit board that makes it up. This means that every component needed for a complete computer, including outputs and inputs, memory, processor and other components are located on this board. This makes for a very compact design.

Single board computers are not commonly used as desktop consumer computers. Those computers are designed so that additional circuit boards can be added via expansion slots. This allows the user to install separate video cards, sound cards and so forth. A single board computer has all of this installed on it as required.

These types of computers are popular in industrial settings and with hobbyists. They were first built in the mid-1970s and have been features of computer technology since.

Today’s single board computers are surprisingly powerful and very flexible. They come in an huge range of different sizes and capacities, which makes them commonly seen in multiple products. The router that carries Internet capability to your computer probably has a single board computer in it. It never needs to be upgraded to serve its current role and is likely expensive enough to make it feasible to dispose of the technology once it is outdated.

There are some single board computers that rival desktop computers in terms of their potentiality. These typically have extra memory sockets or expansion ports included in their designs. At this point, they are only slightly different than a desktop PC, perhaps having fewer expansion capabilities but still having enough to make the computer flexible enough to be used far into the future.

What are the most popular single board computers?

Single board computers are actually more popular than most people likely realize. They make it possible to create very sophisticated embedded technologies that allow for automation and other industrial processes to be carried out with great precision and detail.

Raspberry Pi is a very popular form of single board computer. These were designed for educational purposes and pack an amazing amount of power into a package that would fit in most people’s hand.

BeagleBone also makes popular single board computers. They are low in cost and are ideal for builders.

Certain brands tend to have specific purposes with which they are usually associated., For instance, the aforementioned Raspberry Pi computers are very much associated with education, though they are also used for entertainment and hobbyist pursuits.

Who manufactures single board computers?

Because there are so many applications for single board computers, there are many different companies out there that produce them. Some of the most well-known companies include:

  • Advantech
  • AValue
  • BVM
  • Commell
  • Congatec
  • Digi International
  • Emerson Network Power
  • FIGnition
  • Portwell
  • Rabbit Semiconductor
  • VIA Technologies

Some of these computers are very popular in industrial applications and may be largely purchased by that market.

What is the Core Processor of a single board computer?

The core processor on a single board computer serves the same purpose as the processor on a standard desktop. This carries out the calculations that allow the computer to function. It uses binary math and depends upon several other components to carry out its role.

What is the role of the core processor?

A core processor functions in the same way that a CPU does on a motherboard-based computer. It provides the central functions of the computer, processing data and providing the capability to run programs, move data and so forth.

The core processors in single board computers oftentimes use the same technology that is used in desktop computers, making them very powerful. As desktop computers have gotten more powerful, so have single board computers. This has allowed an incredible amount of processing power to be included on single board computers, making them practical options for tasks that would have once required far more sophisticated technology than a simple single board computer.

What is the Processor Clock Speed?

The clock rate of a CPU coordinates the operations of the processor with the rest of the computer. The clock speed is measured in Hertz and is a frequency. The higher the frequency, the faster the processor. The processor speeds available are close to those available for desktop computers.

What is the Front-Side Bus Clock Speed?

The front side bus on a single board computer coordinates the movement of data between the processor and the memory. This term is most associated with Intel processors. There are different architectures that are currently in use other than this model.

What is considered the Supported Memory of a single board computer?

This is the type of memory that can be installed in the computer, defined by the make and the number of memory modules it can handle. A single board computer, for instance, may be able to handle 1 or 2 cards, or 2 cards of different types. This is specified in the specs for the board.

What is the Installed Memory?

The installed memory is the amount of memory that is actually installed on the computer when it is sold. This is measured in the same increments as is memory installed on any other type of computer. Computers that are intended to handle more sophisticated roles have to have more memory to accommodate that.

What is considered the Maximum Supported Memory Capacity?

This is the absolute ceiling for the amount of memory that the computer can handle. Any memory installed above this figure will either not function or cause the entire machine to not function.

What Supported I/O Interfaces are available?

Inputs and outputs make a computer functional at the most fundamental levels. The outputs available for single board computers are much the same as they are for other systems. They include:

  • Serial
  • USB
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Ethernet
  • PS/2
  • Many others

Because single board computers do not have expansion slots, it’s imperative to make sure that the correct outputs and inputs are available on the computer at the time of purchase.

What Supported Network Interfaces exist?

Most major network interfaces are supported for single board computers. They include:

  • 10 Base-T
  • 802.11b b/g/n
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Ethernet
  • More

Many networking devices have single board computers as their main components. These include routers and other devices, so networking capabilities are imperative.

Some computers have expansion slots into which additional networking hardware may be installed if the capabilities of the computer need to be expanded in the future.

What are Supported Video Ports?

Supported video ports refer to the various types of video connections available on single board computers. They include popular connectors such as:

  • DVI
  • LVDS
  • VGA
  • CRT

What are the Expansion Slots of a single board computer?

While a single board computer is an all-in-one device, some of the do have expansion slots on them that allow additional components to be added to increase their functionalities. These expansion slots include common designs such as

  • ISA
  • PCA
  • PCI/ISA
  • MicroSD
  • Many others

Expansion slots largely dictate how useful a computer will remain in the future. Simpler, smaller single board computers seldom have these and are intended as simple devices that provide limited functions. More complex single board computer may have several expansion slots, however, that make it possible to keep upgrading them well into the future.

What are Supported On-board Solid State Disk Types?

Solid state disks can sometimes be installed on single board computers as a means of providing fast data read and write access. This specification determines which of these devices can be installed on the computer. Some options include:

  • NAND Flash
  • eUSB
  • Compact Flash
  • SD

What are Supported Hard Drive Interfaces?

Hard drive interfaces for these computers are much the same as they are for any other type of computer. This specification refers to the type of connectors that are available on the computer for the installation of hard drives. They include:

  • EIDI
  • IDE
  • SATA
  • Many others

What are the Dimensions (Height, Length, Width) of a single board computer?

Single board computers are oftentimes used because their compact size allows them to be installed in very small devices. Some of them are about the size of a credit card and others are much larger, even as large as standard desktop computers.

The dimensions of the single board computer are simply its physical dimensions. These are important for installing the computer in various types of cases or, in the case of consumer electronics, for installing them in branded types of cases, such as are seen used for routers and other components.

Single board computers are sometimes large enough to be installed in a standard computer case and sometimes small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand. The dimensions sometimes make it possible to add a very small single board computer to an existing system to take up extra work or to expand the functionality of the system to which it is attached.

What does the Maximum Operating Temperature define?

This is the highest temperature that the computer can operate at and be expected to function normally. Exceeding this limit may end up burning out components. Cooling systems can be utilized to ensure that the computer doesn’t reach this temperature and burn out.

What does the Minimum Operating Temperature define?

This is the lowest temperature at which the computer can operate. This is usually not as much of an issue as the maximum temperature, but it may be an issue if the computer is intended to be used in applications where it is exposed to a cold outside environment or ambient temperature.

What are available Memory Socket Types?

Memory socket types determine what type of memory can be installed in the system. They include DIMM, SODIMM, SOUDIMM and other variations.

Memory conventions tend to change as technology gets more developed, so older single board computers may not be compatible with the newest types of memory on the market.

What is the Number of Memory Sockets?

The number of memory sockets is simply the number of slots into which memory can be installed. There may be more than one and there may be sockets of various types included in the design. For instance, some single board computers will have slots for both Flash and SDRAM or for two or more other types of memory on the same board.

What is considered Supported Memory Technology?

This is the type of memory that the computer is designed to work with. It includes specifications such as DDR, DDR2 and so forth. These memory technologies are usually not compatible with one another, so selecting the appropriate type is necessary. Newer technologies generally allow for faster memory and smoother operation.

Smaller computers sometimes use Flash memory—such as microSD—which brings the size of the entire device down considerably. A smartphone that uses this technology, for instance, may be able to hold several gigabytes of data in a pocket-sized package.

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