Single-board computers (SBCs) are quickly becoming a staple in the maker world as the go-to development board. Professional engineers may use SBCs for prototyping as well as hobby tinkering. So exactly what is an SBC and why do so many makers use it in their projects?
A single-board computer is just that — a complete computer built on a single board. They can be fairly large like Nvidia’s Jetson TKI or incredibly small like the iMX233-OLinuXino-Nano and are popular development tools that for the most part, are incredibly cheap.
Makers and engineers often use SBCs as an affordable alternative over notebooks and desktops to design everything from home automation to robotics or just about anything that can be imagined. In this slideshow, we’ll take a look at some of the SBCs for under $200 that have been suggested by EE Times’ readers of this Top 10 Single-Board Computers Under $200.
The MicroZed ZedBoard is based on the Xilinx Zynq-7020, which packs two ARM Cortex-A9 cores, 1GB of DDR3 RAM and 128MB of QSPI flash storage along with a microSD card interface. The board also features 100 user I/O headers, which are inactive in stand-alone mode but, when plugged into a carrier card, automatically conforms to what the card’s programming. ZedBoard’s MicroZed SBC is one of the more higher priced boards topping out at $199 but its rich in features.
Intel’s MinnowBoard Max
Intel’s MinnowBoard Max features the company’s Atom processor in single or dual core flavors.
This board is actually a collaboration between Intel and CircuitCo (manufacturer) and comes in two flavors — a single core for $99 and a dual core for $199. The higher priced version features Intel’s Atom E3825 (clocked @ 1.33GHz) APU. While the board is designed for anything from hobbyist projects to embedded applications (due in part to the many ports), it can also be used for file servers and network applications as the board comes with a PCI-E port, Gigabyte Ethernet and SATA support.
Intel’s D2500HN Atom D2500 mini-ITX
Intel’s D2500HN Atom D2500 mini-ITX features just about everything a full-size desktop would have, only in a much smaller package.
This board has it all — an Intel Atom dual-core processor (clocked @ a modest 1.8GHz), two SO-DIMM slots for up to 4 GB of DDR3 memory and a mini PCI-E slot. It’s also packed with an array of connection options that include 8 USB 2.0 ports (4 internal/external), VGA port and a PS2 port for a keyboard or mouse. Like most desktop motherboards, it also features connections for external speakers or headphones powered by Intel’s HD audio. The cost for Intel’s D2500HN hovers around $90, which isn’t bad for this feature-packed SBC.
It isn’t pretty but EMAC’s iPac-9X25 is certainly no slouch as it packs Atmel’s AT91SAM9X25 processor along with a massive amount of GPIO connectors.
While it may not look ‘flashy’ like some of the others mentioned in this list, EMAC’s iPac-9X25 has a massive amount of headers for digital applications. Suggested by rossi007, EMAC’s SBC features Atmel’s AT91SAM9X25 microcontroller (clocked @ 400MHz), 16Mb of serial flash, 128Mb of DDR2 memory and 4 GB eMMC.
What sets this board apart from the other is its massive amount of digital I/O headers- 20 GPIO SAM9X25, 16 SPI Expander Based Digital I/O lines, and 8 x High Drive Digital Outputs. It also sports 2 10/100 BaseT Ethernet with RJ45 ports along with 1 USB 2.0 High-Speed (Host Port), 1 USB 2.0 Full-Speed (Host Port) and 1x USB 2.0 High-Speed (Device Port). While this board is a great development platform, it’s one of the higher priced SBCs running around $199.
The BeagleBoard-xM is powered by ARM’s AM37x 1GHz processor but has no NAND storage, so the OS has to be stored separately on a microSD card.
BeagleBoard makes some of the more popular SBCs on the market and even their older boards are still standing strong in the maker community. Suggested by Sanjib.A, the BeagleBoard-xM is actually a modified version of the original SBC and features a faster ARM Cortex-A8 CPU (clocked @ 1GHz), 512Mb of LPDDR memory and a 4 GB microSD card pre-loaded with The Angstrom Distribution for embedded devices.
It comes packed with a host of ports, including 4 USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, stereo in/out jacks and S-video. While every feature makes this a decent SBC, it truly shines with its ability to pump out an HD resolution of 1400 X 1050 using the onboard DVI-D port. It can also run many Linux flavors, including Android, Fedora and Ubuntu along with a host of others. Not bad for a board that costs around $150.
Intel’s NUC Kit DN2820FYKH
Intel’s NUC Kit DN2820FYKH is essentially a small desktop powered by the company’s Celeron N2820 dual-core processor.
While it may look like an HTPC or a streaming device like the Roku, it’s actually Intel’s NUC Kit DN2820FYKH. This one is suggested by me (Cabe) and actually houses the company’s Haswell-based SBC, which features a Celeron 2820 dual-core processor, 1 GB DDR3L RAM and support for a 2.5-inch SSD or HDD. It also sports 1 USB 3.0 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports and an HDMI 1.4a port.
While it is true that the NUC can be used as an HTPC, Cloud storage device or even a desktop PC as it runs Windows 8.1, however there are hacks that allow users to run Fedora for software or app development. Intel’s NUC Kit costs in the neighborhood of $130, which isn’t bad considering it’s a stand-alone PC and an app-developing platform.
WandBoard’s WBQUAD may not look like much but it packs a Freescale i.MX6 quad-core processor.
Another SBC I would like to suggest is WandBoard’s WBQUAD (or WandBoard Quad), which may be small in stature but it packs some serious hardware, including Freescale’s i.MX6 quad-core CPU (ARM Cortex-A9 clocked @ 1GHz). Besides the slick processor, the board also features an integrated Vivante GC2000 GPU, 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and 2 microSD slots. It also has a SATA connector, HDMI and USB ports in much the same fashion as other popular boards.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also optical S/PDIF, a camera interface as well as an expansion header and Gigabyte LAN. Users also have the option of running their favorite Linux-based flavors, including Android, Ubuntu and Fedora. For $129, what’s not to like?
Odroid’s Odroid-XU3 is based on Samsung’s Exynos5422, which packs four Cortex-A15 and four Cortex-A7 CPUs.
The last three entries on this list haven’t been suggested but deserve to be in it anyway, with the first being the Odroid-XU3, which is based on Samsung’s Exynos5422. The interesting thing about the SoC is that it features four Cortex-A15 cores along with four Cortex-A7 cores. Only one quad-core set is engaged depending on the app requirements and thereby helps to reduce energy requirements.
The board goes all out with the visual technology as well thanks to the onboard Mali-T628 MP6 GPU, which astonishingly enough is capable of pumping out 4K UHD (Ultra-High Definition) resolutions! The XU3 also sports a USB 3.0 and 4 USB 2.0 ports along with HDMI 1.4a and DisplayPort 1.1 ports. Obviously, this is one of the more expensive SBCs (@ $179) but you do get what you pay for.
Raspberry Pi 2
The raspberry graphic gives this board away but the new Raspberry Pi 2 is better in every way over the original and costs about as much as well.
What list would be complete without the Raspberry Pi? The RPi Foundation recently released the Raspberry Pi 2, which is superior to the original in just about every way but costs the same ($35). The upgraded SBC features an ARM Cortex-A7 quad-core CPU (clocked @ 900MHz), which provides about 6-times more performance over the original as well as the B+.
It also has twice the amount of RAM as the original, with 1 GB of LPDDR2 RAM. What’s truly different from the other boards is that it can run the typical Linux flavored OSes such as Ubuntu but it can also run a modified version of Windows 10! However, the best part is that Microsoft’s newest operating system will be free to Raspberry Pi makers!
Intel’s Edison may be small but it packs hardware that’s nothing to sneeze at, including two Atom Silvermont cores and one Quark core.
The final entry on this list comes from Intel with their second revision of the Edison. The SoC for the Edison contains two Atom Silvermont cores (clocked @ 500MHz) along with a single Quark core (clocked @ 100MHz), which is basically used to run the Linux-based Viper OS. The SBC also features 1 GB of RAM and 4 GB of eMMC flash for storage along with a 70-pin dense connector for USB, GPIO and UARTs.
Intel designed the board for use with wearable devices but what makes this board interesting is that it’s compatible with the Arduino Breakout Kit, which means it can take advantage of the company’s many shields. Not bad for a board that costs a mere $50.
GizmoSphere’s Gizmo 2
GizmoSphere’s Gizmo 2 has enough horsepower to run high-end applications and even graphic-intensive
As an extra-added bonus for the list of sub $200 SBCs, take a look at GizmoSphere’s Gizmo 2, which features enough power to run high-end applications, including mainstream videogames. By all intents and purposes, this board is a development kit- meaning it has a wide range of interfaces for connecting add-on devices, including GPIO, ADC/DAC and SPI connections.
It’s clear that the inclusion of a heatsink with a fan means it’s packing some power, which it is as the Gizmo 2 is powered by an AMD GX-21OHA dual-core SoC (clocked @ 1GHz), which also sports AMD’s Radeon HD 8210E GPU and 1Gb of DDR3 RAM. The 4-inch X 4-inch board is also equipped with two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, mSATA, microSD slot and HDMI port. The $199 price tag for the Gizmo 2 is justifiable given the amount of technology that’s packed on the SBC.