What is a single board computer?

3rd July 2024
Harry Fowle

A single board computer (SBC) is a complete computer built on a single circuit board, integrating all the necessary components such as the processor, memory, input/output (I/O), and storage.

Unlike traditional desktop computers, which comprise a motherboard and several add-on cards for various functionalities, an SBC integrates these elements into one compact form factor. You can find more new on SBC and other boards/backplanes, here.

Key components of an SBC

  • Processor (CPU): The brain of the computer, responsible for executing instructions and processing data.
  • Memory (RAM): Temporary storage that provides quick access to data for the processor.
  • Storage: Permanent storage for the operating system, applications, and files. This is often a microSD card, eMMC, or solid-state drive (SSD).
  • Input/Output interfaces: Ports and connectors for peripherals such as USB devices, HDMI for display, Ethernet for network connectivity, and GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) pins for hardware interfacing.
  • Power supply: Typically a small, low-power adapter or a USB power source.

Common uses of SBCs

Single Board Computers are utilised in a wide range of applications, from educational purposes to industrial uses. Some of the most common applications include:

  • Education and learning: SBCs like the Raspberry Pi are popular in educational settings for teaching programming, electronics, and computer science fundamentals.
  • Prototyping and development: Engineers and hobbyists use SBCs to develop and test new hardware and software projects quickly.
  • Embedded systems: SBCs are embedded in various devices, such as home automation systems, robotics, and IoT (Internet of Things) devices, due to their small size and low power consumption.
  • Media centres: With their ability to run media centre software, SBCs can transform TVs into smart entertainment systems.
  • Network devices: SBCs can function as low-cost servers, network-attached storage (NAS) devices, or routers.

Popular single board computers

Several SBC models have gained popularity due to their affordability, versatility, and support from vibrant communities. Some notable examples include:

  • Raspberry Pi: Perhaps the most famous SBC, it is widely used in education, hobbyist projects, and even industrial applications. Find out about the Raspberry Pi 5, here.
  • Arduino: Although more of a microcontroller than a full SBC, it is often used alongside SBCs for hardware interfacing and control.
  • BeagleBone: Known for its robustness and extensive I/O capabilities, it is favoured for more demanding projects.
  • Odroid: Offers higher performance options for applications requiring more processing power.

Advantages and disadvantages


  • Compact size: SBCs are small, making them ideal for space-constrained applications.
  • Cost-effective: Typically cheaper than traditional desktop or laptop computers.
  • Low power consumption: Efficient, suitable for battery-powered or energy-efficient applications.
  • Versatility: Can be used for a broad range of projects, from simple tasks to complex systems.


  • Limited performance: Generally, SBCs have lower processing power compared to full-sized PCs.
  • Expandability: Limited slots for expansion compared to desktop computers.
  • Peripheral compatibility: Not all peripherals and devices may be compatible with every SBC.


Single Board Computers represent a versatile and cost-effective solution for many computing needs. Whether used in educational settings, for developing new technologies, or embedded in various devices, SBCs offer a compact and efficient platform for a multitude of applications. As technology continues to advance, the capabilities and uses of SBCs are likely to expand, making them an even more integral part of the computing landscape.

Featured products

Product Spotlight

Upcoming Events

View all events
Latest global electronics news
© Copyright 2024 Electronic Specifier