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Al Williams

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

How Low Can You Go? $50 Embedded PC

December 19, 2010

It isn't a secret that I usually think of embedded systems as something that has a processor in it that costs a couple of bucks at the most and does some very dedicated task. But I do have the occasional project that requires something more akin to an embedded PC.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could get a reasonable PC-like CPU that was cheap enough that you could use it for everything. We still aren't there, so don't get too excited. But we keep getting closer.

I ran across a "System on Module" from Variscite that starts at $49 (if you are buying 1000). I've written before about ARM modules in that price range, of course. But this is a 600MHz CPU with RAM, flash, audio, USB, UARTs, network, etc. I'm not quite sure which features add on to that $49 base price, but even a 600MHz CPU with a reasonable amount of RAM and minimal I/O is of interest if the price is low enough.

About the only downside I could see is the company has no distribution here in the US and no specific pricing on their web site. I wrote them to inquire about this. They said they do fill North American orders and you simply had to contact them. The developer's kit is a cool $1000 so I won't be ordering one until I have a specific need. But even when I do, I would much rather just go buy it online without having to engage the company -- I've gotten spoiled by the Internet, I suppose.

But business model aside, the features and price point of these modules looks very attractive and worth checking out if you need that kind of horsepower in an embedded design.

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