Single Board Computers

Single Board Computers (SBCs) have developed rapidly due to miniaturization technology, which implements more functionality in smaller spaces. The technological progression of “integrated circuit” (IC) technology, which has created the SBC by reducing sizes for the central processing unit (CPU), program memory and disk controller units, so they can be stored on smaller “large scale integration” (LSI) chips. The SBC has replaced multiple circuit boards with one single circuit board.

The earliest accepted SBC was the Intel C8080A, created in 1976; eventually evolving into the Mini-Micro Designer 1, (MMD-1). The embedded SBC was developed to perform a few, mission-critical, specialized functions (i.e. medical devices, traffic lights, industrial automation and MP3 players). Miniaturization has permitted “embedding of commercial disk operating systems within non-computer devices.”

The SBC architecture has centred around slot support and size. The PC/104 architecture has become very popular due to its “plug-and-play” interoperability (which is in contrast to most SBCs). It is ultra-compact in 3.6″ x 3.8″ stackable modules.

The PC/104 Embedded Consortium was founded in 1992 to leverage the advantages of the mass-produced, cost-effective PC architecture with the miniature embedded SBC architecture. It has improved PC/104 inter connectivity and compatibility specifications in order to combat emerging challenges from embedded intelligence and improved interconnection devices like Universal Serial Bus (USB).

The recent PC/104 Embedded Consortium specification upgrade to the PC/104 express [adding two USB connections] has allowed for improved compatibility with multimedia devices through SATA, ExpressCard and related plug-in connection support. The PC/104 is attempting to maintain its functionality edge while adding plug-in connectivity.

The PC architecture is more versatile, bulkier and cost-effective due to mass-produced standardization; it tends to be more compatible with a wider range of software and hardware plug-ins. On the other hand, according to the PC/104 Embedded Consortium, the “standard PC bus form-factor (12.4″ x 4.8″) and its associated card cages and backplanes are too bulky (and expensive) for most embedded control applications”. The reduced size of the PC/104 remains a distinct advantage.

The Via Technologies Mini-ITX architecture (6.7″ x 6.7″ measurements) has superior low power consumption, functioning more quietly than other SBCs.

The Embedded Platform for Industrial Computing (EPIC) focuses on development of small, industrial-grade SBCs fully compatible with the PC/104, offering a bridge supporting Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) Express and ExpressCard expansion. This technology uses point-to-point serial links, rather than a shared parallel bus architecture. The numerous I/O expansion options are better for larger processors which need higher heat thresholds.

Linux open source technology oftentimes needs current mainstream chipsets and normal usage for SBC functionality. Many board support packages (BSP) for Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded Operating Systems enable better connectivity with SBCs.

Leading semiconductor companies, such as AMD, Intel and Sun Microsystems are rapidly advancing SBC inter connectivity with emerging mobile technologies.
The World Wide Web has created the paradigm of interconnectedness with nearly every computer. SBC technology development is working to implement this new paradigm, while maintaining its high performance functionality in a reduced size.

This article was submitted by ECA Industrial Computers