Single board computers have been growing in popularity since the Raspberry Pi appeared on the market in 2012. However, there’s one important thing to remember about single board computers. It’s tempting to assume that there can be a single best fit for everyone. But in reality the best single board computer is the SBC which fits one’s individual needs. As such it’s usually best to consider single board computers in the context of what niche they might fill.

For example, consider the case of someone who’s looking for an x86-64 compatible, fanless, single board computer. That already limits the available models given that most SBCs use ARM based processors. But the fact that x86-64 based processors usually generate a considerable amount of heat complicates things even further. But there are still options out there even if one wants single board computers fanless style. The main thing to consider is that the technology is fairly cutting edge. This might seem odd when one looks at raw specs. But it’s important to keep in mind that a laptop and a single board computer are fundamentally different things. Even a smartphone and an ARM based single board computer are distinctly different. The difference is even more dramatic when comparing x86-64 based processors. As such one would look for recent single board computers fanless designs. In doing so one might discover that the Cobra EBX has a new design which meets all of these criteria.

But aside from processors, the next consideration all comes down to usage patterns. What will someone actually use the SBC for? A hobbyist will usually want to focus on pure versatility. Basically, they should go toward wherever the best intersection of versatility and users can be found. The latter is important because the more people use a product the more interesting it becomes for hardware manufacturers. And the more hardware manufacturers show interest in an SBC the more options there will be for expanding it. This sets the criteria, but which SBCs meet these criteria? In general a Raspberry Pi 3B+ is an easy winner. It’s been one of the most popular single board computers for long enough that it has an extensive number of third party hardware extensions.

One should also consider the most popular usage patterns. Control Engineering and Reed Research Group recently polled subscribers as to what their most important criteria for a SBC might be. The majority of responders put emphasis on both reliability and cost. Ruggedness was the next in line of importance. And processing speed, rather surprisingly, was last in those ranked items. The one potential issue here is that people list ruggedness and reliability separately from each other. However, the environment one works in will often have an impact on how stable a system might be.

However, this can be impacted by simply using a strong case and scaling its ruggedness to the task at hand. In this case that would mean selecting from an SBC for overall reliability and selection of cases. And generally it’s best to go with a fanless model in order to ensure less moving parts. The less moving parts the less chance there is for failure to result from something like friction. Additionally fans tend to complicate one’s choice of a case.

The Cobra EBX is probably the best choice here for those who want an x86-64 based processor which meets those criteria. However, it’s a little harder for ARM based options. The Pi 4 is technically fanless. But it has known heating issues when compared to the Pi 3b+. Additionally the 3b+ features a greater selection of cases. This would push it ahead for those who are shopping based on these criteria.