A look at the top 10 best single-board computers (SBCs) in 2021.
2020 was an excellent year for single-board computers (SBCs), which ushered in the Raspberry Pi 4, an updated Nvidia Jetson Developer Kit, and the release of the Odyssey J4105 x86 series that offers native support for Windows and Linux operating systems.2021 brought with it a global pandemic with a subsequent chip shortage that has stagnated the production of everything from video cards to CPUs. While the new year hasn’t been kind to manufacturers, chip production is expected to return to normal levels later this year. With that in mind, we will look at some of the best SBCs available on the market and their potential applications.
1: Raspberry Pi 400
I particularly like this one. Takes me back to the old video game console days. The Raspberry Pi 400 is a complete computer packed inside a keyboard, which the Foundation states can be used for everyday computing tasks, including work and study. The 400 is equipped with a Broadcom BCM2711 quad-core Cortex-A72 64-bit SoC (1.8GHz), 4Gb of LPDDR4, dual-band IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ac wireless LAN, Bluetooth 5.0/BLE, and Gigabit Ethernet. It also features a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a single USB 2.0 port, 2X micro-HDMI ports, and the same 40-pin header found on almost every Raspberry Pi. The 400 can also handle 4K video via H.265 and 1080p using H.264. The Foundation designed the Raspberry Pi 400 to run right out of the box, which can connect to both TVs and monitors. It’s available in a 78- or 79-key keyboard (depending on the region) or in kit form, including a mouse, USB-C power supply, an SD card with the Raspberry Pi OS preinstalled, an HDMI cable, and a copy of the Raspberry Pi beginner’s guide.
2: Embedded Now Piconium Modular SBC
Embedded Now’s Piconium is a great SBC designed to operate in harsh environments, including manufacturing plants and other industrial settings. The board is modular and outfitted with a carrier board and a COM Express (COMX) computer module, which can utilize most Intel and AMD processors, including Atom, Celeron, Pentium, and Xeon with up to four cores. It also supports up to 8Gb of DRAM, up to 16Gb of onboard Flash, and packs no less than 7 USB 2.0 ports and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. The Piconium also features HDMI, LVDS, SATA data port, Ethernet, I2C, and Serial. Additional COMX modules can be swapped out for increased functionality in different applications.
3: Odyssey x86 Mini-PC
Seeed Studio’s Odyssey x86 Mini PC is designed for edge computing applications and touted as “The most expandable Win 10 Mini PC with 8Gb of RAM.” The board packs an Intel Celeron J4105 quad-core processor, along with an onboard ATSAMD21 Core and ARM Cortex-M0+ MCU that allows users to program Arduino on the x86 platform. The Mini-PC also features Intel’s UHD 600 graphics, up to 64Gb of eMMC storage, 8Gb of LPDDR RAM, and a pair of M.2 (B and M-key) slots for further expansion. Dual Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4 and 5.0GHz), and a 40-pin Raspberry Pi compatible header are also included on the board, as well as a 28-pin header for software as a medical device (SaMD)-based applications. As with most other SBCs, the Odyssey comes equipped with a pair of USB 2.0 ports, USB 3.0 Type-A port, USB 3.0 Type-C port, and HDMI, DP 1.2A, built-in TPM, and RTC via JST 1.0 CR2032 3V.
4: Nvidia Jetson TX2
Nvidia’s Jetson TX2 is the company’s flagship AI at the edge computing SoM (system on module) designed for real-time machine-learning applications. The board features a dual-core Nvidia Denver 2 64-bit CPU, with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A57, 8GB 128-bit LPDDR4 RAM and an integrated 256-core Pascal GPU. It also offers 32Gb of eMMC, dual ISPs (integrated signal processors), and a 400-pin Samtec board-to-board connector. The board also packs an HDMI 2.0 port, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, 10/100/1000 Base-T Ethernet, and MIPI CSI 2.0 camera port. Wireless options include 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 (867Mbps) Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.1. Familiar I/Os are also present here, including UART, SPI, I2C, and I2S, along with dual CAN Bus.
5: Raspberry Pi 4 Model B
The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B was released back in 2019, but it still holds up well today and is a solid foundation for any project. The board is equipped with a BCM2711 SoC, with a 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A72 CPU and up to 8Gb of LPDDR4 RAM. Connectivity options include dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless LAN, Bluetooth 5.0/BLE, true Gigabit Ethernet, and PoE capability via a separate PoE HAT. Ports are plentiful on the Pi 4 Model B, which comes outfitted with 2X USB 2.0 ports, 2X USB 3.0 ports, 2X micro-HDMI, MIPI Camera, and MIPI Display ports — along with 4-pole stereo output and composite video port. As with the other Pi boards, the 40-pin header is still present for the Pi 4 Model B and now includes a USB Type-C port for power (5V/3A).
6: Asus Tinker Board 2S
The Asus Tinker Board 2/2S are another pair of SBCs designed for AIoT and industrial applications, with the only difference between the two boards being 16Gb of eMMC storage and a micro-SD card slot found on the 2S. Both boards come equipped with a Rockchip RK3399 64-bit SoC, with a dual-core ARM Cortex-A72 (@2GHz) and quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 (@1.5GHz). Both also pack an ARM Mali-T860 MP4 and 2GB or 4Gb of dual-channel LPDDR4 RAM. Asus hasn’t skimped on the connectivity options either, as the boards include HDMI 2.0 (4K compatible), a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C port, and 3X USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports. There’s also a 22-pin MIPI DSI header, MIPI CSI-2 header, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 40-pin GPIO header. Wireless includes 802.11 AC Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. Asus has also outfitted the boards with a DC fan header to keep things cool and an RTC battery header for timing applications.
7: iWave Systems iW-Rainbow-G27S
iWave Systems’ iW-Rainbow-G27S Pico-ITX SBC is based on NXP’s i.MX8 Max/Quad SoC and is designed to bring high-performance and efficiency to medical and industrial embedded applications. The board features 2X Cortex-A72, 4X Cortex-A53 and 2X Cortex-M4F for the Max version, and a Cortex-A72, 4X Cortex-A53, and 2X Cortex-M4F for the Plus. The iW-Rainbow-G27S also comes equipped with 4Gb of LPDDR4 RAM (expandable up to 8Gb), and 16Gb of eMMC Flash (upgradable to 256Gb). Networking options include a pair of GbE ports, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 5.0.
Connectivity options for the iW-Rainbow-G27S are plenty and include 2X USB 3.0 host ports, micro USB 2.0 OTG port, HDMI 2.0a, micro-HDMI 2.0a, 40-pin eDP connector, MIPI-DSI/CSI, LVDS, and SAI via expansion connectors. iWave also equipped the board with an RS-232 interface, CAN interface, and Serial debug with optional JTAG and anti-tamper headers. Other features include an M.2 Key B slot, 3X 4-lane expansion connectors, RTC with battery connector, and micro-SD card slot.
8: BeagleBone Green Wireless
Seeed Studio’s BeagleBone Green Wireless is a wireless SBC based on the BeagleBone Black from BeagleBoard, that includes a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth interface and two Grove connectors for incorporating a myriad of add-on sensors. The board comes equipped with an AM335x Arm Cortex-A8 processor, 512Mb of DDR3 RAM, and 4Gb of eMMC Flash. It also includes a 3D graphics accelerator, NEON floating-point accelerator, and a pair of PRU 32-bit microcontrollers. Seeed rounded out the feature-set with a USB client (power and communications), a USB host with a 4-port hub, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 5.0/BLE, a pair of 46-pin headers, and two Grove connectors.
9: F&S armStone MX8M
F&S designed its armStone MX8M around NXP’s i.MX8M SoC, and packaged it in a Pico ITX form factor for applications with demanding graphics in building automation, all kinds of HMI in industry and medical technology, as well as POS and POI terminals. The board comes equipped with a 2X or 4X Cortex-A53, a Cortex-M4, and a Vivante GC7000Lite GPU. It also packs up to 8Gb of LPDDR4 RAM, up to 32Gb of eMMC Flash, and up to 1Gb of SLC NAND. Networking options include 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, and 10/100/1000 Ethernet. It includes 2X USB 3.0 host ports, 2X USB 2.0 host ports, a micro-USB 3.0 OTG port, CAN, RS232, 2X TTL UART, 4X I2C, 2X SPI, and 32X DIO. Additional features include a mini-PCIe slot, SD card slot, RTC with coin cell battery connector, 2X 24-bit LVDS, DVI, MIPI-CSI, and audio line in/out.
10: Novasom Industries M11
Novasom Industries’ Novasom M11 is designed around Intel’s Apollo Lake x5, 6th generation of Atom CPU and is designed for digital signage applications that require full HD movies or UHD (4k) with multiple displays. The board comes equipped with either an x5-E3930 (dual-core) or Atom x5-E3940 (quad-core), with up to 8Gb of RAM. The board comes equipped with a UPS manager with battery, redundant power input, HD audio with optical SPDIF, and mPCIe. There’s also dual Ethernet with PoE PD capability and offers native Windows 10 and Linux support.
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Cabe Atwell is an electrical engineer living in the Chicago area.