What does single board computer (SBC) stand for?
1. What is SBC?
SBC can represent different phrases depending on the context. Here are some possible meanings of "SBC":
In the field of computing, SBC stands for Single Board Computer, which refers to a complete computer integrated onto a single circuit board, including memory, input/output, microprocessor, and all other necessary functions.
Of course, SBC has other meanings as well. For example, in the context of discussing office environments or addresses, it may refer to Small Business Center, which refers to a department or facility within a larger organization dedicated to serving the needs of small businesses. SBC could also refer to Session Border Controller, Southern Baptist Convention, System Building and Consulting, and others.
Moving on to the main point, if you want to have a deeper understanding of SBC, let's take a look at the history of SBC development and understand why this type of product has emerged.
In this article, we will introduce SBC by comparing it to traditional computers, discussing its application scenarios, and introducing common SBC products on the market. We believe that after reading this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of SBC. The next time someone talks about SBC, you will be able to discuss this topic well.
Why did Single Board Computers (SBCs) emerge?
To understand this question, we need to delve into the history of computer development.
The history of computers can be divided into four important stages, starting from the time when the concept of computers first emerged.
These stages are:
· The era of electronic digital computers (1946-1958)
During this period, the main components used in computers were vacuum tubes. However, the computers of this era were bulky, consumed a lot of power, had poor reliability, slow speeds (typically several thousand to tens of thousands of operations per second), and were expensive. Therefore, they were mainly used in military and scientific computing fields.
Figure: Electronic Digital Computers
· The era of transistorized digital computers (1958-1964)
During this second stage of computer development, there were significant improvements in computer technology. The computers became smaller, consumed less power, had higher reliability, and faster operation speeds (typically several hundred thousand to three million operations per second). The performance of these computers was also greatly improved compared to the first generation of computers.
Figure: Transistorized Digital Computers
· The era of integrated circuit digital computers (1964-1970)
During this era, small-scale integrated circuits (MSI, SSI) appeared, and the main memory continued to use magnetic cores. There were also technological innovations in software. Therefore, the third generation of computers was characterized by even faster speeds (generally ranging from several million to tens of millions of operations per second), significantly improved reliability, and further price reductions. The products became more universal, serialized, and standardized. Computers began to be applied in fields such as word processing, graphics, and image processing.
Figure: Integrated Circuit Digital Computer
· The era of large-scale integrated circuit computers (1970 to present)
In this era, computers adopted large-scale and very large-scale integrated circuits (LSI and VLSI). On the software side, database management systems, network management systems, and object-oriented languages emerged. In 1971, the world's first microprocessor was born in Silicon Valley, USA, ushering in a new era of microcomputers. The application fields gradually expanded from scientific computing, transaction management, and process control to the household.
Figure: Large-scale Integrated Circuit Computers
However, when did single-board computers first appear? In 2012, a foundation that focuses on computer science education in schools, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, officially launched the first single-board computer, the Raspberry Pi. It is only the size of a credit card, but has all the basic functions of a computer. This showed the possibility of computers being designed in different sizes and specifications to meet the needs of different fields.
Figure: Raspberry Pi
The innovation and development in hardware and software technology, as well as human exploration of tool requirements, have opened up new possibilities for single board computers, resulting in numerous SBC products.
2. What advantages do SBCs have over traditional computers?
Next, let's take a look at how SBCs differ from traditional computers, or in other words, how human needs have posed challenges to traditional computers.
Starting with their appearance, traditional computers typically look like this.
And SBCs typically look like this.
Figure: Single-board Computer (SBC) - Raspberry Pi
Figure: Single-board Computer (SBC) - LattePanda
In fact, we can tell from the appearance that they are designed differently from traditional computers.
(1) The core of SBC is to achieve complete computer functionality.
Single-board computers are defined as computers because they can first meet the requirements to achieve complete computer functionality, including memory, input/output, microprocessors, and all other necessary functions.
Figure: Single-board Computer (SBC) - LattePanda
(2) SBCs are computers with higher integration and reliability.
Traditional computers, especially desktop computers, have a mainboard as the core. The mainboard's slots contain all the major components of the device, acting as a transportation hub, connecting all the computer's cards and peripherals, supporting and coordinating the normal and stable operation of each component. Other integrated components such as storage, memory, input and output devices, and processors are not part of the mainboard, but are connected to the system through slots."
Figure: Computer Components
Comparatively, in single-board computers, all components are part of the circuit board, rather than inserted into another slot on any circuit board. Since almost everything is native to the machine, their functions have been well integrated.
Figure: Single-board Computer (SBC) Components
By putting all the features on a single board, a smaller overall system can be obtained. As we know from using computers, interface problems can easily occur, and connectors are a common source of reliability issues. Therefore, single-board systems eliminate these issues. Of course, to better adapt to different configuration requirements, some SBCs also provide expansion slots.
(3) Single-board computers (SBCs) have become a more cost-effective option for computing.
Additionally, single-board computers have become more cost-effective by reducing the number of required circuit boards and eliminating connectors and bus driver circuits through increasing the density of integrated circuits. From the production perspective, SBCs have fewer components and higher integration compared to personal computers or laptops, so they can be easily produced and quickly launched to market, reducing the overall production costs and threshold. Therefore, the price of an SBC in the hands of the end-user will be lower than that of a traditional computer.
(4) SBCs are versatile and can meet a wide range of computing needs.
Due to the advantages of small size, high integration, and low cost, SBC has gained wider recognition among users, starting from the education sector. While SBC may not be as useful in typical offices or homes, its low cost, simplicity, and ease of integration with other hardware make certain SBC models perform exceptionally well in areas such as experimental and educational tools, industrial electronics, and equipment monitoring, such as complex robotics systems, industrial automation, and equipment monitoring.
Therefore, the inherent advantages of SBC in both product design and production determine that it can meet various working requirements. For instance, if your product application scenario primarily involves audio application control and the like, opting for a single-board computer with preloaded functions would be more convenient than choosing a computer, as it can facilitate the development of your application.
3. How to select an appropriate Single-Board Computer (SBC)?
It would be helpful to have a guide for selecting the right Single Board Computer (SBC), so that we can find the appropriate product among the numerous SBC offerings.
Firstly, you need to consider the specifications of the SBC. The specifications of an SBC are similar to those of a computer, including the processor speed, clock speed of front-end ports, connector types for devices, and maximum supported memory capacity. These are all factors to consider when purchasing an SBC.
Secondly, you should take into account your cost budget. Since SBCs are generally intended for simple applications, purchasing a low-power SBC is often a viable cost-saving option compared to a regular computer. The cheapest SBCs are priced at around $20, while more expensive, powerful development boards can retail for hundreds of dollars.
Thirdly, if the SBC is required to operate in harsh environments, it is crucial to ensure that the SBC design can provide reliable performance under expected stress. Factors such as the maximum and minimum operating temperature, specified size range, expandable plug-in port quantity, and other elements can all affect whether a device is suitable for a specific application.
Finally, if you intend to further expand and develop the SBC, you should consider its underlying architecture and operating system (OS). If you are familiar with innovative devices or conducting development experiments under Windows systems, purchasing a Windows-based SBC may save you a lot of unnecessary time.
In summary, if you are considering purchasing or discussing the selection of an SBC, you may consider the following aspects:
· Cost budget
· Specific requirements: size, temperature, etc.
· Dimensional size
· Underlying architecture: ARM, X86, etc.
· Operating system: Linux, Windows, etc.
If you wish to conduct a more refined selection for a specific field of interest, you may refer to the following table of specifications and directional requirements.
Figure: Requirements for Single-board Computer (SBC)
4. What can SBC do？
Open your mind to explore the areas that SBC has changed or innovated. SBC applications range from basic Linux PCs to retro gaming consoles, smart home hubs, home servers, and various other use cases.
Education and Development:
SBCs are commonly used as teaching tools for computer science and programming courses in schools and universities. This allows students to not only learn software coding based on computers but also to combine hardware to work on projects with greater interactivity and practicality.
Figure: Single-board Computer (SBC) for Education - Raspberry Pi
For entry-level teaching board-case analysis:
The credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer, based on Linux, has created a cost-effective, versatile educational SBC with adequate performance. There are currently a large number of Raspberry Pi communities and tutorial resources with rich peripherals, making it a good entry-level choice for teaching Linux systems.
Embedded Industrial Automation：
SBCs are used in industrial automation systems to control and monitor machinery and can also be used for automation upgrades in industry. Based on the low cost and high performance of SBCs, embedded industrial automation control system solutions can be designed with maximum scalability and reusability.
Figure: Single-Board Computer (SBC) for Embedded Industrial Automation
PLC industrial automation control case analysis:
PLC can be understood as an industrial controller that controls industrial equipment such as contactors and motors and has features such as durability and stability. However, PLC's processing power is limited and only suitable for simple controls, unable to run complex algorithms. Therefore, incorporating SBC can solve the problem of computational capability. What kind of solution can we get by combining SBC? Taking the SBC product Lattepanda as an example, different industrial equipment can be connected to the PLC, and the PLC is connected to the Lattepanda motherboard via a USB cable. The Lattepanda motherboard can be connected to the Internet and can remotely control on-site equipment through a background program and a mobile phone. The complex algorithm, data networking, and large-screen human-computer interaction are implemented by the Lattepanda motherboard, fully utilizing the wireless capabilities of Wifi and Bluetooth integrated on the Lattepanda and the ability to expand video peripherals for human-computer interaction functions.
SBCs can be integrated with robotic technology, which primarily focuses on controlling the movement and behavior of robots. In the current commercial domain, there has been a noticeable increase in the use of delivery/service robots, which significantly saves on labor costs. Therefore, SBCs are a promising choice for robotic applications in terms of size selection, high integration, low power consumption, low cost, and expandability. If you have already found software that corresponds to robot control, then combining it with SBC can quickly build a prototype for market validation.
Figure: Single-Board Computer (SBC) for Robotics
Analysis of Service Robot Solutions:
Although basic mobile control is fundamental to the service robot industry's needs, the incorporation of more artificial intelligence fields, such as facial recognition, generates a certain demand for CPU performance. Furthermore, friendly human-machine interaction needs to be considered. If the human-machine interaction platform is Windows-based, it will have broader applications. If the SBC product lattepanda is selected for the solution, it also integrates with Arduino, which can better interface with external sensors, such as ultrasonic and infrared obstacle avoidance, and better assist in safety design. Therefore, combining SBC with the solution has the following advantages:
· Runs on the Win10 system, making user interface debugging more convenient.
· Runs the xojo development platform program.
· Serial port connection & hardware control, with rich interfaces, powerful functionality, and external USB cameras, microphones, and speakers.
· Specific functional requirements: obstacle detection and line tracking.
The Internet of Things (IoT)：
The Internet of Things (IoT) is an extension and expansion of the Internet, where various information sensing devices are combined with networks to form a huge network that enables interconnectivity and communication between people, machines, and objects anytime and anywhere. In recent years, edge computing technology has played a significant role in promoting IoT direction. Simply put, edge computing refers to the analysis of data collected from terminal devices directly in local devices or networks close to the data source, without transmitting the raw data to the cloud data processing center. This reduces the transmission of irrelevant data, reduces bandwidth requirements, reduces power consumption, and increases decision-making speed. SBCs can play an important role in data calculation and analysis as edge computing devices in IoT solutions.
Figure: Single-Board Computer (SBC) for IoT
IoT Edge Computing Smart Home Case Analysis:
In the smart home scenario, a common scene requirement is home security monitoring, which involves real-time monitoring of camera images. In case of any security breaches or danger, the system can record and remotely alert the homeowner. One of the challenges in this scenario is that monitoring cameras can generate a large amount of video data that needs to be uploaded to the cloud for data analysis and computation. This can result in slow data transmission and ultimately, a significant delay in decision-making. By selecting LattePanda as an edge computing device in this scenario, it is possible to quickly obtain camera data and perform analysis and computation without uploading large amounts of data to the cloud for processing. This significantly improves the speed of decision-making.
In the rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence, one of the three core foundations is computational power. Simultaneously, there is a significant increase in demand for smaller, more compact computers. With the advent of single-board computers (SBC), it is possible to deploy artificial intelligence technologies for visual and speech recognition functions in any scenario, including but not limited to access control systems and gas stations, thereby providing great convenience to people's daily lives.
For those who require AI computational power, an AISBC designed specifically for AI research and development may be a suitable option. Currently, the Rock Pi N10's core is powered by the robust RK3399Pro, which includes an onboard neural processing unit (NPU) used for deep learning and other AI applications. What is an NPU? Well, it has a close relationship with the development of artificial intelligence. When traditional computers based on the von Neumann architecture, such as X86 processors and NVIDIA GPUs, are used to run neural network applications, they are inevitably limited by their separated storage and processing structure, which affects computational efficiency. Hence, the emergence of the NPU, a specialized chip for artificial intelligence, provides certain innate advantages over traditional chips.
In summary, the versatility and flexibility of SBCs make them a popular choice for a wide range of applications. For example, SBCs can be used for retro gaming systems or as a foundation for building custom gaming machines. Alternatively, they can be used to stream video and audio content to televisions or monitors.
Furthermore, SBCs can be utilized to build small-scale servers or clusters for web servers, file servers, media servers, and other applications. If you require a computing scenario, an SBC may open up new and innovative possibilities.