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Single Board Computer or System on Module?

Single Board Computer or System on Module? Choosing the Right Computing Platform for an Embedded Application

Posted by Laura B
Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Choosing the Right Computing Platform for an Embedded Application

Choosing a platform that will best suit your embedded application, whether a Single Board Computer (SBC) or System on Module (SOM), or even something else entirely, requires a deep and wide-ranging functional analysis of everything from cost and time to market, to ruggedisation levels, I/O requirements, software support and in some cases, backwards compatibility with legacy systems.

What is a System on Module?

System on Modules (SoMs) are board level circuits that integrate a system function in a single module. There are myriad benefits in using a SoM, including a wide choice of CPUs and I/O, and that it can be integrated easily into embedded applications. The SoM design is centred on a microprocessor with memory, I/O controllers and all other features needed to be a functional computer on a single board.

SoMs have been optimised for both functionality and ease of integration, as well as Size, Weight and Power (SWaP). They are usually supplied ready to use, including the board support package. SoMs are usually designed to be used with a carrier board, which is used to interface with the SoM for debugging, testing and prototyping to provide full access to the necessary signal and power levels during development, as well as application-specific connectivity interfaces, such as USB and Ethernet.

Developers can purchase an off-the-shelf SoM and pair it with a custom baseboard to create a solution that is a perfect fit for their embedded application. This set up – SoM + Carrier Board – is functionally very similar to a single board computer (SBC).

The embedded Single Board Computer profile builds on SoM to provide a fully functional computer on compact, usually standard form factor modules, including VPX, PC/104, and COM Express.

What is a Single Board Computer?

A Single Board Computer is a computer with all of its key components such as memory, I/O, graphics and CPU built into the module itself. Embedded SBCs are SWaP-optimised, from the size of a pack of playing cards up to around the size of an A5 piece of paper, and much smaller than the average desktop PC.

SBCs are usually built with pre-determined processor, memory and I/O, which are all integrated on a printed circuit board (PCB). While some features can be made configurable, such as memory size or ruggedisation level, most of the options are fixed. Developers are slightly limited to using existing SBCs, which come with standard I/Os that may not have all the required components needed for their specific application. This being said, Single Board Computers (SBCs) do offer developers a truly ready-to-use embedded computing platform for building end-products, which minimises risk and development cost. The time to market is the time it takes to write and build the application, because all the hardware development and manufacturing test is already complete.

Sarsen Technology supplies and supports a very wide range of embedded Single Board Computer (SBC) solutions on many industry-standard formats. The embedded computers we supply have industry leading warranties, long life cycles are used in a wide variety of market sectors: military, telecommunications, aerospace, instrumentation, transportation, research, medical, industrial and broadcast.


Fundamentally, the decision about which platform to use when designing a new embedded product will be made entirely on the outcome of the developer’s analysis of each option, as well as consideration of the final, fixed design requirements of the end product. Scalability/backwards compatibility, time-to-market and technical advantage as well as in-house engineering ability/resources are key factors that will determine whether to use a SoM, SBC, or even a chip down design.

Sarsen Technology offer in excess of 200 individual SBC and SoM solutions, and many can be customised to meet your application requirements. Please get in touch with one of our embedded computing experts to discuss your application and we will provide you with the optimum solution to get your project to market on-time and on-budget.


June 2023 - Sarsen Newsletter

Check out all the latest embedded news from Sarsen Technology and our manufacturing partners.