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Tiny Embedded Boards

Written by Jeff Child

Petite but Powerful

Feeding the needs of embedded systems where small size is the priority, tiny embedded computer boards offer rich sets of functionality and impressive processing muscle. With some form factors smaller than a credit cards, these boards pack a powerful punch.

  • What’s happening in tiny embedded boards?

  • Tiny Form Factors

  • i.MX8M Mini Soc

  • Raspberry Pi CM4 Carrier

  • Digi ConnectCore 8M Mini

  • ICOP NX8MM-D168

  • MangoPi-MQ1 Sparrow SBC

  • MYIR’s MYC-YA15XC-T

  • Orange Pi R1 mini-router

  • Radxa’s Raspberry Pi Zero-like “Radxa Zero”

  • Seeed’s Quantum Mini

Long gone now are the days when crafting a full-blown embedded computer meant a PC motherboard-sized PCB with processor, memory modules and I/O cards. Thanks to the magic of semiconductor integration, ever more processing and functionality can be squeezed onto a board-level computer. With today’s level of technology, such compute modules can be based on just a handful of chips. With that in mind, makers of board-level embedded computers are now able to design computing modules that now occupy extremely tiny form factors. Many of these are non-standard form factors. Even the relatively small COM Express standard computer module is 55mm × 84mm in its smallest version (COM Express Mini), which is larger than any of the boards included here.

For this product round-up, we’ve focused on representative products that are at least under 57mm for one of their dimensions and going as tiny as 28mm × 38mm. These are not the smallest boards available on the market, but rather the smallest set of representative tiny boards that are new within the past 12 months. Keep in mind 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 some are true complete single board computers (SBCs). These tiny form factor boards seem to be targeting very different applications areas—areas where a COM Express board, a slot-card backplane or PC/104 stacks take up too much space. Many boards in this article’s product gallery are based on processors like NXP’s i.MX8M Mini processor, but the Allwinner family of processors are also making a presence.

Embedded systems applications that require these tiny boards included 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, drones (Figure 1), portable instrumentation with HMI and medical devices

FIGURE 1

Drones are an example application that needs the small size and weight combined with the high-compute density offered by tiny embedded boards.
FIGURE 1
Drones are an example application that needs the small size and weight combined with the high-compute density offered by tiny embedded boards.

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • DECEMBER 2021 #367 – 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

by Jeff Child time to read: 2 min