Single-board computer for new projects with scalability potential

Hi everyone!

Today I read this article and it made me wonder if anyone has experienced problems with RaspberryPi boards and commercial projects, what are your opinions on the article?
Do you use RaspberryPis for your project or other boards?
What would be in your opinion the best board choice to start with a new project with big scalability potential?

Thank you to whoever takes time to answer :smile:

2 Likes

Hi @Valeria, thanks for sharing this article. It is definitely an interesting read and does touch on many of the concerns I have with attempting to use “maker” style boards for a production product. Certainly, concerns over how long the boards will be available, as well as whether the manufacturer can supply them in the numbers needed for a particular project need to be considered early in a design.

Additionally, regulatory issues (of which I know very little) need to be considered. Starting with the PI 3B I know that the Raspberry Pi foundation has acquired some regulatory certificates that previously needed to be handled by the designers who were using the boards and I recall speaking with at least 1 system architect who indicated that was a big step for them.

As for “best” board choice, that’s surely going to trigger a religious war so I won’t pick any one but there are many manufacturers of SOMs and other form factor boards that we have partnerships with on Mender so if users are looking for a board, take a look at our board integrations page for some inspiration.

Drew

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I have used raspberry-pi But I have used their compute module. So some of the issues have gone away. But I think the major problem that we are facing right now. Is that, we can’t buy them in bulk and cost of CM3 is also another factor to consider when you go to production.

As there are other cheaper options available for which you might have to spend the same amount of effort in the beginning

As for best board choice. Is there a preference? As software engineer. “We don’t get to choose boards, we just learn to love it” But all jokes aside. I don’t think I am facing that much issues with my cm3 at this stage

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Hi @Valieria,

This is a very interesting question.

Raspberry Pi:

Are you allowed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to use it for commercial products?

I think so. Ideally you write “Powered by Raspberry Pi” somewhere, but it’s not required.

How about conformance testing?

If that’s[1] OK for you, you are good.
[1] https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/hardware/raspberrypi/conformity.md

Compute Module?

That’s just a scaled down RaspberryPi without the network interface, since the network interface did not fulfill temperature specs.

So be careful about hardware requirements!

Availability?

As others already mentioned there might be an issue, since the Broadcom chips in the Raspberry Pi(s) are typically used for consumer devices and their specs are made for those are well, including availability. There is no guaranteed amount of available boards and also there are no guarantees how long each board will be available.

Price?

For a few pieces it might not be expensive, over powered for what you want to do, but it does not really scale - with bigger quantities you should either use a SoM from a board manufacturer and/or build your own boards.

Software support?

Which software do you plan to run on the board?
Who maintains this software?
Most examples you find out there in the web are in my opinion “how not to do it for professional stuff” like e.g. simulating an i2c or spi bus via Python - I’m getting sick about this. People use boards like the Rapberry Pi, they have no idea how Embedded Linux actually works and hack something in node.js or Python which they found in some magazine. This is the biggest damage happening to the Embedded Industry. It’s fine with me, since companies hire me afterwards to fix it, but why start it wrong?

BTW if you would use a Beagle you are not allowed to use it in commercial products unless you buy the commercial version.

So generally speaking I would not use any of those “maker” boards for real products, but I saw them used in commercial products - good luck with that!

Regards,

Robert

2 Likes

Very interesting topic to discuss and thank you @Valeria for initiating the discussion.

My 2cents :slight_smile:

These type of discussions can come of as negative, so I wanted to take a step back and go back to the origins.

From https://www.raspberrypi.org/about/

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK-based charity that works to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world. We do this so that more people are able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively.

One has to keep in mind that Raspberry Pi devices are designed to support above statement, and imo they are doing a good job at here. A driving factor is “cheap”, and this does not normally translate to high quality when you choose components etc.

But if you start looking at using Pi devices for use-cases that are outside of the designated purpose, it will of course have limitations, because it simply was not designed for that use-case.

The Compute Module is a spinoff product from Raspberry Pi SBC’s, an attempt to support a “more professional” use-case. I guess because they saw that there was a demand as I do not see how it supports their “mission”, beside maybe that it will make money so they can focus on the “true mission”.

Since CM is largely based on the Pi SBC’s, it also inherits many of the issues that are outlined in the linked article, and that have been brought up by other people in this thread. Making it something “in between”.

A couple of things that I would like to highlight:

  • comment from @thesillywhat:

    we can’t buy them in bulk

    The ability to buy the components you need for your product is of course critical, and the RPi supply chain is not transparent and you rely on resellers. You soon realize that official resellers are out of stock and you have to go to unofficial resellers typically paying a higher price, because you need the components.

  • comment from @robert.berger:

    there are no guarantees how long each board will be available

    Actually for the CM products they do have an obsolescence statement, e.g:

    Compute Module 3+ will remain in production until at least January 2026

    I do not believe there is anything like this for the SBC’s

  • Regarding software support

    Raspberry Pi boards are remarkably supported via online forums and community

    This is primarily for “maker” use-cases imo. If you want to run Kodi, Home Assistant or whatever you will probably find very good support for this in the community.

    But professionally, the software support for Raspberry Pi is not much better then other traditional production grade vendors. It is also a common misconception that Raspberry Pi is “more upstream” then others.

    Yes, it might be a “reference board” for many projects (such as Mender :slight_smile: ), but you should not base your hardware decision based on this alone. It mostly a reference board because it is generally available.

    Traditional vendors also provide commercial support for the products they built and you are able to have the possibility to build a strategic business relationship with the supplier (underrated!).

  • Security anyone?

    If you care about security and would like to support secure boot, you are out of luck if you are using a Raspberry Pi (regardless of CM or SBC).

  • Updateability

    Made up word :), but since we work with OTA, Raspberry Pi devices get a very low rating in ability to update the software of the device. Mostly because of how the boot process works and the boot firmware files. You can find more info in Updating Raspberry Pi boot firmware files using Yocto Project and Mender

In the end the question is should you use Raspberry Pi SBC’s or CM in a commercial product? It depends. You need to be aware of the limitations and match them against your short/long-term requirements and make a informed decision.

I personally would probably never use any of them, but I also have been doing this for a long time and I am able to navigate the landscape, which is scary (so many options!) once you start looking beyond Raspberry Pi’s.

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You said that in a very “diplomatic” way. Let me say it in plain English: “Board support sucks!” I don’t really understand why, but this seems to be the general rule.

But let me add here - sometimes - especially if it’s a healthy community driven project it sucks less, or, if you are lucky, is great! I can tell you a couple of such success stories.

Here is a pretty recent one - and I was never a raspberry fanboy, but might become one:

Networking in U-Boot with a raspberrypi 4 does not work at all in meta-raspberrypi. But in only 3 days I got it fixed by the community[1]. I would really like to see a board vendor with such a short response time.

[1] https://yoctoproject.blogspot.com/2020/09/raspberrypi-4-meta-raspberrypidunfell.html