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Tiny Embedded Boards (2020)

Written by Jeff Child

Mini but Mighty

An impressive amount of computing functionality can be squeezed on to a small form factor board these days. These tiny board-level products meet the needs of applications where extremely low SWaP (size, weight and power) beats all other demands.

  • What’s happening in tiny embedded boards?

  • What is SGeT’s new OSM standard?

  • Exor Embedded’s NanoSOM nS02

  • OSM-MX8MM from F&S
    Elektronik Systeme

  • Ka-Ro Electronics’ QSMP module

  • Keith & Koep’s Myon II CPU module

  • MYC-C335X-GW from MYIR

  • SigmaStar’s IDO-SOM2D01

There was a time when building a complete embedded computer required a PC motherboard-sized PCB with processor, memory modules and I/O cards. But, over the years, semiconductor integration evolved, enabling more and more functionality on a board-level computer. Today you see powerful levels of functionality shrunk down to one or a handful of chips. Leveraging that trend, makers of board-level embedded computers are now able to design computing modules that now occupy extremely small form factors. Many of these are non-standard form factors. Non-standard form factors free designers from the size and cost overheads associated with including a standard bus or interconnect architecture.

One exception to this “non-standard“ form factor trend is the Open Standard Module (OSM) form factor for solderable compute modules. The open source OSM standard was developed by an SDT.05 working group within the Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET), the group behind the SMARC form factor. OSM is notable for its small footprint and capacity to be soldered directly onto a baseboard (Figure 1).

FIGURE 1
While most tiny embedded boards are in a non-standard form factor, the SDT.05 working group within the Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET) is developing Open Standard Module (OSM) form factor for solderable compute modules.

For purposes of this product round-up, we’ve selected representative products that are the smallest available on the market—most under 50mm × 40mm, and going as tiny as 29.5mm × 29.5mm. Note that side by side comparisons should take into account that some of these products are meant to be used as compute modules attached to an I/O baseboard, while others are true complete single board computers (SBCs). These tiny form factor boards seem to be targeting very different applications areas—areas where slot-card backplane or PC/104 stacks wouldn’t be practical. Many of the boards in this article’s product gallery are based on processors like NXP’s i.MX8M Mini and STMicroelectronics’ STM32MP1.

Applications that require these tiny embedded boards included a wide variety of systems. Included are systems such as professional handheld devices, automation and audio/video streaming devices, scanning/imaging, building automation, smart home, machine vision, autonomous drones, portable instrumentation with HMI and medical devices.

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • NOVEMBER 2020 #364 – Get a PDF of the issue


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

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.

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Tiny Embedded Boards (2020)

by Jeff Child time to read: 2 min