Choosing embedded components?

What are the key considerations in choosing a single board computer or core module? When specifying the embedded platform for their next development, most customers are understandably driven mainly by the spec sheet, and tend to ignore other factors such as the relationship with the supplier or the community around the chosen platform. Here are some key points to consider:

Clearly it would be daft to choose a board that is in some way not up to the job – doesn’t have the right interfaces, the processor is too slow etc. Having drawn up a shortlist of boards that tick the technical boxes, it is well worth taking a hard look at the organisation you’re sourcing the board from. A good supplier with a partnership mentality can make a huge difference to your time to market. Here are eight key questions to consider.


  1. What is the pedigree of the manufacturer of the board?
    Do they have a reputation for producing quality, stable products? What long term availability guarantees to they offer?

  2. Is there a board support package for your chosen operating system?
    Does it contain all the drivers that you need? Have they been properly tested to work together? Will they offer a commitment to write any that are missing?

  3. What is the technical support like?
    Where is it located? Having to wait until the US or Asia wakes up each time you have a question can add significantly to the development time.

  4. Is there a local representative, based in Europe if not in the UK who is able to support you?
    How knowledgeable are they? If they have to refer back to Taipei / San Jose all the time that doesn’t actually help much!

  5. How well does technical support know the specific board that you’ll be working with?
    Are they familiar with other key system components like the display and have they performed the same or similar integrations in the past? It is often an advantage to source both from the same supplier.

  6. How good is the documentation?
    A great question this one – a well-documented design is often a sign of quality.

  7. Does the vendor or the local representative offer value added services?
    It is well worth looking at using their expertise to perform key parts of the integration.

  8. What is the tool support like?
    Are there debugging tools available and what is the cost? 

Single Board ComputerLooking through the list above highlights again the need to work with a quality industrial platform  as discussed in my post on the Raspberry Pi. I’m a great fan of this and other hobbyist platforms, but if you apply the above tests then it becomes clear that they are not a sound basis for professional embedded systems development. A community isn’t a substitute for expert professional technical support. Are you really comfortable basing your system on a patch someone has created in their back bedroom? Is your organisation happy to expose aspects of their product development online when you post questions to the community?

The other key design decision to take is whether to go for a complete single board computer or to work with a core module and design your own board around it. This is the question we will be looking at in our next knowledge base post.

In the mean time you can contact us for more information about Single Board Computer or Core Modules !


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