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Consumer Motherboards Vs Industrial Single Board Computers

Consumer Motherboards Vs Industrial Single Board Computers
With the increased exposure the Internet gives average consumers, it is becoming more common for people to be looking for computing components like motherboards and run into industrial products like single board computers or industrial workstations. Unfortunately, this can be very confusing because many of the specifications and components of the industrial CPU boards may be familiar, but their application is almost always much different.
There are several commonalities between the two, and many differences. Let’s first define each of these products’ main uses, then we will compare them in greater detail.
Consumer Motherboards
A consumer motherboard is the main control board of a consumer level personal computer that is built for everyday, standard use in homes and offices everywhere. Every PC on the market today has a motherboard that peripheral devices and add-ons such as keyboards and mice, as well as video, network and sound cards plug into. These boards are produced in mass quantities by companies such as Intel, ASUS, Biostar, MSI, Gigabyte and others for the general market. Companies that you can buy pre-built computers from, such as Dell, HP and Compaq, use consumer motherboards in their systems.
Industrial Single Board Computers
An industrial single board computer is a much more specialized type of CPU board. These boards are meant for use in industrial environments and systems where temperatures, power requirements, shock forces and error tolerance levels are much more demanding. These products are found in industrial automation systems on factory floors, nuclear submarines, public works control systems, and other non-consumer based environments. Some of the manufacturers you might see associated with these types of single board computers are IEI, Advantech, AAEON, Kontron, and others.
What’s Different?
A consumer motherboard has to perform many tasks, and is a very versatile product. It uses mainstream processors, memory chips, chipsets and other components that are cheap and work on a variety of equipment. The combination of these readily available components can be used for almost any typical computing task a consumer might want. An industrial single board computer, however, is most often designed and manufactured for a specific task or operation. It may utilize the same Intel processor as a consumer motherboard, or one made by someone you have never heard of, like Cyrix, but might only have one serial communications (COM) port that controls one aspect of an automated welding robot in a Ford assembly plant. Many of these industrial CPU cards have a bus interface similar to consumer video cards and other add on cards (ISA, PCI, PCI Express, etc), and can be connected in parallel, using an industrial backplane, where each controls a different function of the same machine.
Inherently, single board computers maintain a much smaller tolerance for error in their manufacturing, making their engineering and materials costs much higher. If your motherboard in your home computer fails, it is not likely going to damage any other parts of your system, but if the CPU board controlling the navigation system on a submarine fails, it could be life or death. There are many industrial control boards that, if given the specifications and functions, one might assume it is just another consumer motherboard. They can use consumer level processors, memory and peripherals, and sometimes have built-in audio and video capabilities, but still maintain these differences in material quality and design, as well as function, that makes them stand apart.
It is important to note that you can build a system that functions like a consumer based PC using an industrial single board computer as the motherboard, but to justify the cost it would need to be for a rather specialized purpose. Some other areas that utilize these CPU boards include industrial operator interfaces, vehicle computing equipment, medical products, touch panel systems, large scale storage solutions, and many specialized military and government sectors.
Next time you run into a confusing product when looking for a consumer level computer or electronic component, I hope the distinction between consumer and industrial is more clear so that you can decipher the ever-smaller line between the two.

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