Datasheet Directories

Open-Spec SBCs

Written by Jeff Child

Community Computing

Open-spec single board computers (SBCs) have become incredibly popular over the past decade. Community-backed groups like Raspberry Pi, Orange Pi, Odroid and Khadas offer a variety of low-cost, small form factor products sought after by both makers and professional engineers alike.

  • Open-spec SBCs
  • Raspberry Pi
  • Small form factor SBCs
  • Orange Pi project
  • Odroid project
  • Khadas project

Over the past several years, the number of available open-spec SBCs has continued to grow. The definition of “open spec” can vary. For this article we’re looking at boards that fulfill most of the open source criteria. This ranges from community resources to strong open source software support to open schematics and open licensing. The nature of open-spec SBCs is such that most products tend to be smaller boards and feature very low costs in comparison to commercial non-open SBCs. To be clear, open-spec SBCs are very well suited for maker and DIY projects and even for professional embedded system developers to use as prototype boards. But they are very different than an SBC supplied by a commercial vendor that can ensure long lifecycle support. A commercial SBC vendor will take on the burden of parts obsolescence for customers in ways that open spec SBC suppliers really aren’t set up to do.

Another common attribute of open-spec SBCs is that most of them run Linux or Android. In no surprise therefore, that Circuit Cellar’s sister website LinuxGizmos.com publishes a comprehensive catalog of open-spec SBCs at least once each year. Its last updated catalog posted in January included 136 open-spec Linux SBCs. The catalog confines its scope to SBCs that cost under $200. The product gallery on the next three pages provides a representative set of these SBCs, including the most popular ones from LinuxGizmos.com’s coverage. Surveys of LinuxGizmos’s readers show that year after year Raspberry Pi SBCs are the most popular open-spec SBCs. Because of that, we eased our one 1-product-per-company rule in this article and included two Raspberry Pi SBCs. Also, open-spec SBC vendors don’t ever seem to provide traditional datasheets for their products. So, the links provided in the product gallery are to other types of documentation that lists the specs of these SBCs.

An example project that made use of an open-spec Raspberry Pi SBC is a system designed to monitor all the refrigeration units in a commercial kitchen simultaneously (Figure 1). The system uses Microchip PIC MCU-based monitoring units and is controlled by a Raspberry Pi 3B SBC.

FIGURE 1
This “Mr. Therm” project is a system designed to monitor all the refrigeration units in a commercial kitchen simultaneously. The main board, labeled Mr. Therm, was designed to attach directly to the LCD screen headers. The Raspberry Pi 3B SBC is on the upper right.

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Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | Website | + posts

Jeff Child has more than 28 years of experience in the technology magazine business—including editing and writing technical content, and engaging in all aspects of magazine leadership and production. He joined the Circuit Cellar after serving as Editor-in-Chief of COTS Journal for over 10 years. Over his career Jeff held senior editorial positions at several of leading electronic engineering publications, including EE Times and Electronic Design and RTC Magazine. Before entering the world of technology journalism, Jeff worked as a design engineer in the data acquisition market.

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Open-Spec SBCs

by Jeff Child time to read: 2 min