Single Board Computers

Desktop PCs are all about power/performance/price. They are commonly used for gaming, multitasking, and networking. Applications are becoming quite complex, built on vast libraries and frameworks, some of which even implement a full client-server architecture right on the PC. Modern CPUs have at least two, often four, and sometimes more cores. Each core can run one or two threads, depending on the architecture. There is of course, a tradeoff for all this power – simplicity. Gone are the days of a single thread talking to a single human.

It’s possible to streamline a computer down to bare essentials. By reducing performance, we can enter the realm of low-power, low-price, simple computing. These are called ‘Single Board Computers’ (SBCs) because it’s now possible to fit all of the computational and input/output (I/O) components onto a small, single printed-circuit board. Modern SBCs combine the CPU, GPU, and much of the support circuitry on one chip. This is called a ‘System on a Chip’ (SoC). Such computers are much better suited to a single-threaded conversation with a single human user. SBCs have more than enough power to keep up their end of the conversation, usually responding with undetectable delay.

There are many different manufacturers and types of SBCs, covering a wide range of capabilities, features, and purposes. We have experimented with many of them.

Picture permission of Raspberry Pi Foundation