Based on the small-sized versions of the ITX motherboard form factor, Mini-ITX and Pico-ITX keep growing in popularity and in embedded market share. These SBCs provide system developers with complete PC-functionality and advanced graphics.
There was a time when large slot-card based form factors were the only choices for embedded systems. Those days are gone, now that a complete computing solution can be designed into a small form factor embedded motherboard. Among these so-called bus-less embedded form factors are the various versions of the ITX. They offer a more complete SBC approach, integrating most or all of the typical desktop PC kinds of functions. Applications where graphics are a priority are particularly suited to these types of board-level products.
While the ITX form factor is based on the ATX PC motherboard standard, what’s more popular in recent years are its spinoffs Mini-ITX and Pico-ITX. Mini-ITX is a 170 mm × 170 mm (or 6.7″ x 6.7″) low-power motherboard form factor developed by VIA Technologies in 2001. They are commonly used in small form factor computer systems. A more recent variant is the Thin Mini ITX, a version of Mini-ITX that is only 22mm in height, with a thinner port cluster and horizontally stacked SO-DIMM memory slots. Meanwhile, Pico ITX is a PC motherboard form factor released by VIA Technologies in January 2007. The form factor was transferred over to SFF-SIG in 2008. The Pico-ITX form factor specifications call for the board to be 100mm × 72mm (3.9″ × 2.8”), 75% smaller than the Mini-ITX form factor.
Pico-ITX technology was embraced by at least one of the teams in Audi’s 2017 annual Audi Autonomous Driving Cup (AADC), a competition for engineering students Participants develop fully automatic driving capabilities and the necessary software architectures. These are then put to the test in 1/8th-scale model cars. Specifically built for the competition by Audi, these serve as hardware platforms (Figure 1). The team named “FASzination – Autonom” from Hochschule Kempten, which was supported by Kontron, built their model car with 10 ultrasound sensors and 2D/3D cameras (RGB and deep image). A wheel speed sensor and six axis motion sensors for angular velocity and acceleration submit their data to the model car’s control unit. For that control unit, the team chose Kontron’s Pico-ITX pITX-E3845 SBC with 4-core 1.9 GHz Atom, 8GB RAM and 60GB SSD.
Whiskey Lake-U Processor Rides Mini-ITX
The IMB-1216 from ASRock Industrial Computer was among early Thin Mini-ITX boards to sport a Whiskey Lake processor. The board offers a 170mm × 170mm Mini-ITX footprint with a low profile. It supports industrial applications with a semi-extended 0 to 60°C range and offers a choice of 12V or 19V-28V DC inputs with an AT/ATX switch.
• Intel 8th Gen (Whiskey lake-U) Core MCP Processors
• Up to 32GB Channel DDR4
• 1x DisplayPort or VGA, 1x HDMI,
1x LVDS or eDP
• 5xUSB 3.1, 3xUSB 2.0, 2x SATA3,
• 1x M.2 Key E, 1x M.2 Key B, 1x M.2 Key M
• 1x Intel LAN, 1x Realtek LAN
• 1x TPM Header (IMB-1216V), 1x TPM 2.0 IC onboard (IMB-1216M/P)
• +12V to 28V DC-in (DC Jack / 4-pin ATX PWR Con)
Mini-ITX Card with 8/9th-Gen iCore or Celeron Processors
Avalue Technology's EMX-H310DP is a Thin Mini ITX board with 8/9th Gen Intel Core i3/i5/i7 and Celeron SoC Processor. It is a Triple Gigabit LAN industrial motherboard suitable application for network devices, NAS Server, media center, Industrial control systems and other embedded applications.
• Intel LGA1151 Socket Supports 8/9th Gen Xeon, Core i7/ i5/ i3, Pentium and Celeron Processors
• Up to 64GB in dual DDR4 SO-DIMM sockets
• Supports Max
• 3x HDMI, 1x dual-channel LVDS
• 2x Intel i210AT & 1x Intel i219LM Gbit Ethernet
• 3x USB 3.1 Gen 2, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1, 3x USB 2.0
• 3x RS-232, 1x RS-232/422/485,
• 1x PCI-ex16, 1x M.2 Key B, 1x M.2 Key E
• DC in +12V-28V 4-pin DC-In
Mini-ITX Motherboard Features Advanced Graphics
The MANO521 from Axiomtek is a Thin Mini-ITX motherboard powered by the LGA1151 socket 9th/8th generation Intel Core i7/i5/i3 (code name: Coffee Lake) with Intel H310 chipset or optional Intel Q370 chipset. This board provides rapid video acceleration advantage, multiple expansion interfaces and triple-view capability.
• LGA1151 9th/8th gen Intel Core i7/i5/i3 processor
• Intel H310 chipset (Q370 optional)
• 2x DDR4 SO-DIMM up to 32GB of memory
• 4x USB 3.0 and 4x USB 2.0 ports
• 2x COM ports
• 2x SATA-600, mSATA and M.2 Key M (NVMe)
• PCIe x4, M.2 Key E, PCI Express
Mini Card slot
Whiskey Lake Min-ITX Board Can Drive 3 Displays
The Conga-IC370 from Congatec supports the Whiskey Lake-U with capability of driving up to 3x independent 60Hz UHD displays, each with up to 4096 × 2304 resolution. It has up to 64GB DDR4 support, 2x Gbit Ethernet ports and USB 3.1 Gen.2 host ports and an operating temperature range of 0 to 60°C.
• 8th Gen Intel Core SoC processors with up to 4 cores
• Intel UHD-Graphics 610/620, up to 24 Execution Units
• Up to 64GB dual channel DDR4 2400MT/s
• Flexible internal and external video interfaces
• 2.5Gbit Ethernet with TSN Support
• Wide Range Power Input 12V to 24V
• Congatec embedded Board Controller Features
Pico-ITX Board Offers DSP Plus Optional AI
Estone Technology's EMB-2237-AI is a Pico-ITX (100mm × 72mm) PoE edge AI embedded board based on NXP i.MX8M Mini Arm application processor. The board features a PoE Ethernet port, on-board dual-core DSP that runs algorithms for voice control, noise suppression, and echo cancellation technology, a full set of I/Os including RS-232/485, and m.2 PCIe slot for Edge TPU AI based solutions.
• NXP i.MX8M Mini with up to four 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 processors
• One Cortex-M4 for real time requirements
• Fast Ethernet with build-in PoE
• Smart codec with dual-core DSP for digital MICs and voice control
• MIPI DSI, LVDS, RGB, I2C connectors for LCD and touch panel support
• m.2 PCIe slot supports Google’s Edge TPU for high-performance ML
• Rich I/O with RS-232/485, I2C, GPIOs, USB 2.0 ports
Pico-ITX SBC Does Depth Sensing and Deep Learning
The 6560 in a Pico-ITX SBC from InForce Computing (now named SMART Wireless Computing) taps Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 660 SoC for applications including stereoscopic depth sensing and deep learning. It supports stereoscopic depth sensing with the help of dual MIPI-CSI interfaces.
• Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 (SDA660 SoC) processor
• 3GB on-board LPDDR4 RAM
• 32GB eMMC ROM
• 1x MicroSD card v3.0 interface
• USB-C on USB 3.1/gen1 + USB-HS
• UltraHD (4K) display on USB-C
• H.265 (HEVC)/H.264 (AVC)/VP9 playback & capture at 4K30
• Dual MIPI-CSI cameras up to 16MP
• Dimensions: 100mm × 72mm
• Operating Temp: 0 to +70°C (Commercial)
Compact Pico-ITX Board Features Low Power Consumption
Kontron's embedded motherboard pITX-APL features a small 2.5" form factor and the latest generation Intel ATOM processor (formerly codenamed Apollo Lake). It offers improved graphics and computing performance and at the low power consumption of only 6W to 12W at 12VDC input voltage.
• High performance CPU, graphics, and media performance supporting up to 3 independent displays
• TPM2.0 and optional Kontron Approtect Security Solution
• mPCIe half size, MicroSD/MicroSIM Card Combo
• SO-DIMM Sockets DDR3L-1866 (up to 8GB)
• LVDS 24Bits dual channel and Display Port 1.2
• Extended temp. range of -40°C to +85°C (non-operating mode)
• -25°C to +75°C (operating mode)
Skylake-Based Mini-ITX Targets IoT Gateways
WIN Enterprises' MB-65040 Mini-ITX is motherboard for IoT gateways, robotics, industrial control, and casino gaming applications. MB-65040 supports the Intel Skylake-S CPU and Intel H110 chipset. The device features 6 COM ports and other robust I/O, making it an especially good fit in IoT gateways.
• 6th Gen Intel Core Skylake-S processor
• Intel H110 express chipset
• DDR4 / 2133MHz up to 16GB
• HDMI 1.4b, DP++ and 24-bit LVDS
• 2x Intel GbE LAN, 1x Mini-PCIe
• 6x COM, 4x USB3.0, 4x USB 2.0, LPC, SMBus
• 4x SATA w/ RAID, HD Audio
• PCIe X16 and optional PCIe X1 slot
• Optional TPM via LPC pin header
• DC 12V input
Pico-ITX SBC Serves Up
The ITX-P-C444 from Winsystems is an industrial Pico-ITX SBC based upon NXP’s i.MX8M application processor and packed with dual Ethernet, industrial I/O and expansion options. The processor supports industry-leading video processing along with M4 microcontroller for real-time subsystems.
• NXP. i.MX8M Industrial Processor at 1.3GHz
• Up to 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
• -40°C to +85°C operating temperature range
• Pico-ITX form factor (102mm × 73mm)
• Wide range power input (9V to 36V DC)
• 2x GbE, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1, 3x USB 2.0
• 2x RS-232/422/485 serial ports
• 6x GPIO), 1x MIPI-CSI (4-Lanes),
1x SPI bus, 1x I2C
• HD Audio Interface
• HDMI output with 4K UltraHD
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.