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Design board, Community board, Industrial board: Pluses and Minuses

We’re often exposed to those terms seen everywhere. Sometimes they are used interchangeably by mistake. And sometimes, we may discover the seemingly minor but, in fact, huge differences between those very different classes of products when it’s too late to start over.
Let’s try to clarify exactly what these terms really mean: (These apparently non-dangerous classifications) and how those adjectives affect the products we want to do with them.

Let’s start analyzing what they seem.

Before going in deep and analyze the effect of those – may be true- classifications (yes, some sellers on the market spin the story...) on our problem s solving, and how each kind of product can help us – or hinder us – let’s try to be clear on the meanings.

First of all, let’s point out that an international standard does not exist nor does a control authority that verify claims about those classifications, especially on the web or through some other sales channel, so your next ice-cream can defined as community ice-cream if it could help the seller to sell. So, we should try to carefully evaluate what we read or hear.

Generally speaking, the major part of “our” engineering community agrees on the following descriptions:

01

A Design board

is a board developed and manufactured, directly or indirectly, by a semiconductor maker (typically the CPU’s manufacturer) to help developers in the professional community to understand how to use his products, and to provide a good starting point while they evaluate this chip, with the target to convince them to start designing with their specific IC.
A CPU’s development board is, normally, a well working and well documented small Single Board Computer where you can see how “it works”.
Some examples

Qualcomm Dragonboard

Qualcomm Dragonboard

Intel NUC boards

Intel NUC boards
02

A Community Board

is a board made from a “community“ of customers and developers, mainly hobbyist or passionate students used as a “development motor “by somebody that does business by building that. Could be, because of this very democratic DNA, a well done product used to start exploring a “new” technology, and give the nice and welcome added points of a “lot” of developed software and a very active “answering community” on the web via their blogs.
Some examples

Raspberry Pi 3

Raspberry Pi 3

Orange Pi PC

Orange Pi PC
03

An Industrial Board

is a board made by a private company, with the target to accomplish the requirement of a certain segment of customers that need to solve specific things, in specific environments, rules, industrial flow and so on.
It’s like a technical dress for high altitude exploring. If you need it, you need it.
Some examples

Novasom Industries U5C

Novasom Industries' U5C - Industrial board

Novasom Industries' M8FT

Novasom Industries' M8FT
Now that is a bit clearer what those adjectives seem to mean, let’s try to go a little more in depth in their usage, or misusage and their typical applications.

If you are a hobbyist

there is nothing better than a community board to fill your time, and to enjoy an inexpensive toy with a lot of ready software to be reused while an active community of hobbyists are there ready to collaborate with you.

If you are a developer

your needs are different, as you can understand. The quality, accuracy, depth and completeness of the documentation and the “way of doing” of the board you bought as a design board, might be more focused on the overall CPU’s functions, with a clear setup of the CPU’s functions simply posted out. This is what a developer needs: food for brain, and technical docs, complete and with minimal bugs. This is a totally different focus compared with the community board of above, where docs shall be clear and probably accurate, but forced to be simple and focused on an immediate general example usable in everyday life, like playing music.

Is this what you are?

Because if you are an OEM or a system integrator trying to use one of those boards in your industrial application, you are likely to find some issues after the nice price and the checkout of your shopping list in terms of IO or RAM you may need. Mostly hidden until it’s too late. Let’s start from the kind of peripherals you may need. A field ready port, IO, connectors, power stage are all designed by an industrial board manufacturer to resist failures, to be ready for a heavy usage. MTBF is important in the real world, isn’t it?

Those are big initial differences from a “build to last” and a “build to show” board.

Then, do you know that semiconductors have the different classification? Commercial grade semiconductors for example, are made with a mission profile of a few years and a low % usage during the day, by considering that a TV or a mobile phone will not be used differently. So, money shall be saved.
Industrial grade semiconductors are made in a different way. More expensive, but more reliable.

Last: An industrial board, needs to be certified, documented, designed to be reliable, with a long life, available and supported. But also, to be manufactured on volume and shipped using a Just in Time method almost everybody needs.

Yes, do you know that neither community boards nor design boards can be purchased in this way?

How can your volume-based production depend or being supported by a product that, may be available, or may not?

So, be aware that you have to use the right tools.

Hobbyist should use the Community Board

Engineers wanting to learn about how to use a CPU use the Design Board

And those wanting to use a board in production must use an Industrial Board.