The scale and complexity of computer systems have changed drastically as technology has progressed. Commercial embedded computers today scarcely resemble their predecessors at the desktop tower.
Perhaps, even more importantly, the way the industry uses computers has grown to include applications that once seemed impossible.
In this article we will look at what exactly an embedded computer is, and how it differs from consumer-grade tower computers that are still prevalent in our homes and offices today.
Overview of Embedded Systems
An embedded system is a computer machine with a specific purpose within a larger mechanical or electrical machine. It is usually a combination of a computer processor, computer memory, and external input/output devices.
As part of a complete unit, it is also embedded like electrical or electronic hardware and mechanical parts.
Since an embedded system usually monitors the machine’s physical operations located within, it also has computational constraints in real-time. Embedded systems power tons of widely used devices today. 98% of all assembled microprocessors are used in embedded systems.
Where are Embedded Systems Applied?
Embedded systems are widely used in residential properties, retail, home appliances, medical services, commercial industries, and the military.
Telecommunication networks employ various embedded devices from telephone switches to mobile phones for the web. Computer networking uses dedicated routers and bridges across the network to route data.
Consumer devices include MP3 players, TV sets, cell phones, consoles for video gameplay, digital cameras, GPS receivers, and printers. Embedded devices for offering versatility, efficiency, and usability include household appliances such as microwave ovens, washing machines, and dishwashers.
Characteristics of Embedded Systems
Embedded systems are designed to complete particular tasks.
Others may have real-time performance limitations that need to be met for safety and usability. Some may have limited or no performance requirements, making it easier to simplify the system hardware to minimize costs.
Embedded systems are not necessarily standalone machines. Many embedded systems consist of small parts that serve a more general purpose within a larger device. For example, the Gibson Robot Guitar features an integrated system of tuning the strings but the Robot Guitar’s primary function is to play music.
Embedded Computer vs. Industrial PC vs. Lot Gateway
Embedded computer systems go by many names including Box PC, Gateway, Controller, and Industrial PC. An Embedded PC is basically any specialized computer system installed as part of a larger unit, smart machine, or installation machine.
Embedded computers come in an endless array of shapes and sizes ranging from the tiny ARM-based devices powering today’s smartphones, to all-in-one solutions running huge earthmovers and military gear.
In the emerging Internet of Things, embedded computers also play a crucial role, enabling communications between devices, people, locations, and the cloud.
Differences Between an Embedded PC and a Tower Computer
It is easier to describe an embedded PC from its use, but several essential features have made embedded computers a critical part of modern device design. Embedded computers deliver a range of significant advantages over conventional hardware. Their scale is one of the standout features of almost all embedded computers.
Embedded computers are mostly designed around small form factor motherboards like Mini-ITX, Intel’s NUC, and even tiny single-board devices like the BeagleBone Black. These can be mounted in locations where old towers will never work.
Reliable state storage and flexible mounting possibilities allow the use of embedded PCs in virtually any position or orientation. Embedded computers reside deep within complex systems, making reliability extremely important.
Industrial computers are designed to provide 24-hour continuous operation, often using carefully constructed, fanless, and ventless enclosures designed to efficiently dissipate heat, while shielding internal components from environmental damage.
Embedded computers are employed throughout the world by a broad array of industries that need high-performance computing capacity which is easy to incorporate into their current devices.