Editor's Letter Insights

Do You Need a Purchase or a Partnership?

Written by Jeff Child

This is a subject I’ve touched on before in this column, but it warrants more discussion. Embedded board-level computers play an important role in today’s embedded system design. Thanks to board—level products— whether in the form of compute modules or full single-board computers (SBCs)—we don’t all have to be computer design experts. Just as most cooks don’t make everything from scratch, embedded computer boards integrate a key set of electronic ingredients, allowing you to focus on the application-specific parts of your system design.

 Even among the vast available market of embedded computer boards, there are some key dividing lines that sometimes may not appear obvious. That dividing line is especially important to readers of Circuit Cellar because this magazine spans the interests of both professional embedded systems engineers and electronics hobbyists. We also enjoy the readership of professional engineers that keep a keen eye on products aimed at hobbyists knowing the value of using such technologies for prototyping and development.

 We live in an exciting era for embedded systems hobbyists. You can purchase all sorts of electronics inexpensively and use numerous free open-source resources, including software, to get your project up and running. SBCs are a part of this mix, with quite powerful SBCs like a Raspberry Pi for around $35. There are countless SBCs that can be purchased in low quantities in all shapes, sizes and feature sets. That trend has unlocked huge potential for embedded hobbyists to craft cool projects.

 All that said, it’s important to keep in mind that not all embedded SBCs are the same and likewise not all embedded SBC manufacturers have the same business model. When you’re a professional engineer deciding on an SBC product to design into your system, your choices in product and in vendor have very high stakes. It comes down to whether you’re just out to make a purchase or interested in forging a partnership. That’s not to say that hobbyist SBC vendors don’t have good support. I’ve heard very good things about Raspberry Pi’s support, for example.

 If you need an SBC for your hobbyist project, it could not be easier these days to go online, shop for what you need and purchase your SBC. If it’s in stock, you can get it quickly. But there’s a lot more to think about when you’re selecting—for example—an SBC to be the control board for your new product line of industrial robotic systems. When your product is done and ready to ship, that embedded SBC is a critical piece of your design. What happens of the processors and DRAMs on that SBC go end-of-life within the next couple years?

 Fortunately, there’s a whole industry of SBC vendors that have long experience in selling products for professional designs. Many of them will guarantee a fairly long shelf life for their SBC products, and they take care of the obsolescence issues of microprocessors, memories and other ICs that are at the mercy of the fast changing consumer market. On top of that, many board-level manufacturers in that space make products that are standards-based. They have large selections of standards-based embedded computer products in form factors such as COM Express, Mini-ITX, Pico-ITX, SMARC and others.

— ADVERTISMENT—

Advertise Here

 By designing a standards-based SBC, you have the freedom to select amongst products from several vendors that make SBCs in that standard form factor. When you acquire such boards, you’re essentially making a long-term partnership with your vendor. Granted you’ll need to buy their boards at a certain quantity in order to make the partnership worthwhile on the vendor’s side, but such quantities need only be in the hundreds in most cases.

 Whether you’re building a hobbyist project or involved in a professional design, there lots of choices of SBCs— and SBC vendors—to meet your needs. But, make sure to be conscience of whether you just need a purchase or whether your requirements call for a partnership.

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE• APRIL 2021 #369 – Get a PDF of the issue


Keep up-to-date with our FREE Weekly Newsletter!



Don't miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar.

Note: We’ve made the May 2020 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.


Would you like to write for Circuit Cellar? We are always accepting articles/posts from the technical community. Get in touch with us and let's discuss your ideas.

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.

Supporting Companies

Upcoming Events

Copyright © 2021 KCK Media Corp.

Do You Need a Purchase or a Partnership?

by Jeff Child time to read: 3 min