Connect The Dots: ASUS Launches Powerful SBC, but IoT Developer Beware

Create: 01/30/2017 - 18:43

The ASUS Tinker Board is a powerful entrant into the SBC arena, but serious IoT developers need to factor in ruggedness, security, scalability and longevity.

 

It’s easy to be excited by the new Tinker Board from ASUS, but as powerful as it is, the serious IoT application developer needs to think long and hard about which way to turn in a sea of open- and closed-source, single-board computers (SBC).

Asus’s entry into the SBC arena by way of the 90MB0QY1-MOEAYO Tinker Board is in itself a good thing. More competition and variety is always good, though we already have multiple open-source hardware and software SBCs. Besides the Raspberry Pi, we have the popular Arduino and, of course, the BeagleBoard.

For its part, Intel has always been a major player in SBCs, but more recently has addressed the IoT and hobbyist market with its its Intel® Edison R2 Kit with an Arduino breakout. This pairs the power of Intel® Atom™ CPU and Intel® Quark™ microcontroller, with the wide variety of Arduino shields. A good mix of power and flexibility for the IoT solutions developer.

ASUS Tinker Board

The Tinker Board is a new entrant to the single-board computer market, but serious IoT developers need to factor in hardware and software support, as well as ruggedness and scalability.

The new Asus Tinker Board is based on the RK3288 from Rockchip, and it’s more powerful than the Raspberry Pi, to which it’s being compared, and it has double the memory (2 Gbytes versus 1 Gbyte). This is important as its support of 4K H.264 video decode means it’s targeted at processing and storing intensive video streaming applications.

Other key features include 4 USB 2.0 ports, 1 GbE interface, HDMI 2.0, Audio, Micro SD, CSI (camera), DSI (display) and PWM and S/PDIF solder points. It consumes 5 W, or 2.25 W on average when running 1080p video with an HDMI display attached.

Ruggedness and Scalability

As with all new products, the Tinker Board may or may not succeed, but it does bring into stark contrast the difference between a single board with a single supporter (Asus) vs. a dynamic hardware and software ecosystem (Arduino, BeagleBoard, Raspberry Pi) as well as an ecosystem with a long history of industrial and mission-critical support (Intel x86).

While the software and hardware support behind the Arduino, BeagleBoard and Pi SCBs make it easy, if not plain fun, for an IoT developer to get an idea up and running, the trick is to make sure the hardware and software are up to snuff in the “real world.” This means meeting rugged environmental and functional safety requirements and being easily scalable in terms of processing power, both up and down.  

Temperatures in industrial and outdoor environments can range from -40˚ to 125˚C and changes in form factor to meet the application need to be done to spec according to the relevant standards (such as CISPR or ISO 26262). This is where engineering “rubber hits the road” and if the application developed on an SBC can’t be transported to a suitable platform, there can be long delays and missed time-to-market windows.

In an era of fog computing, where IoT analytics can happen at any node between the sensor and the cloud, this scalabilty of software across computing platforms of varied horsepower, becomes even more critical. The x86 is well supported in this regard, and new processors such as the Intel® Atom™ processor E3900 series add to the list of processing horsepower options. Add in Intel’s long history of embedded support, including all-important five- to seven-year processor support and long-term roadmaps, and it’s hard to beat the reliability and security (literally) of its lineup for serious applications.

That said, the Asus Tinker Board is an interesting introduction that has many applications in the broader market, but for serious IoT solutions providers it’s a case of developer beware. Ruggedness, scalability, security, interoperability and manageability are the operative words for a real-world IoT development and deployment program.

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Patrick Mannion
Patrick Mannion is an independent writer and content consultant who has been working in, studying, and writing about engineering and technology for over 25 years.

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