What is an Embedded Computer?

In this article:

  1. What is an Embedded Computer?

What is an Embedded Computer?

A technical article to define 'What is an Embedded Computer' including the benefits and how Assured Systems can help build systems suitable for your next project.

Discuss your project requirements


You might be researching ‘what is an embedded computer’ because you’ve been having problems with consumer grade tower PCs and you’ve been recommended to replace your infrastructure with embedded solutions fit for purpose. Assured Systems proudly support so many customers move from consumer-grade platforms not built for their requirements and ultimately helping them choose the best embedded computer platform suitable for the application and environment it's to be deployed.

Embedded computer systems get called many things, such as; Box PCs, Vehicle Controllers, Industrial PCs and so on. When we talk about an embedded computer with our customers, we refer to a commercial grade PC that is integrated as part of a more extensive system designed for a specific purpose with software controlled tasks, not just serving purposes for desktop applications. Our customers have used Embedded Computers for a wide range of applications. Examples of these applications include simple remote data collection devices for energy monitoring or displaying content on elaborate digital signage displays or intuitive, interactive kiosks. Chances are highly likely that in your travels today you passed right by several embedded computers without even knowing they were there, silently powering the devices and systems that we’ve all come to rely on in the modern day. Later in this article we will share more detail on the different types of technology and design features within an embedded computers which makes it the best solution for their task.

Benefits of using an Embedded PC

So far, we have defined an embedded PC by how they're used, but some key features make choosing an embedded computing solution critical. Compared with consumer grade computers which you may be currently using most embedded computer systems have three key elements:

Small Form Factor Design: As demonstrated, a standout feature of nearly all embedded computers is their compact size. Utilizing small form factor motherboards such as the Mini-ITX board, an embedded computer can be installed in places where a typical tower PC or rack-mount PC would never fit. Being designed with flexible mounting options also allows for flexible integration in virtually any position or orientation. If size is one of your most significant constraints, we have filtered out our small form factor PCs which utilise the Pico-ITX board, commonly known as Mini PCs.

Efficient Fanless Cooling Avoiding Dust Ingress: A potential point of failure when using fan-based technology to cool the PC is ingress of particulate matter such as dust. Typical consumer-grade computers have openings in the case and utilize fans to create airflow . This method does circulate cooler air over its components, however, allows for dust ingress. Benefits of removing the fan for cooling the PC decreases failure rates, eliminates noise and provides more space for integral parts. You might be thinking how does the PC keep cool and prevent itself from overheating? While some embedded PCs still utilize fans typically for expansion modules or graphics cards, the majority use thermal pads on the CPU and external heat sink technology to dissipate the heat given off from core components such as the processor. All heat-generating components are segregated evenly on the PCB to avoid heat-soak. Embedded computer cases also use a external heat sink design either on top or down the side to further help dissipate built up heat from components. These passive cooling techniques allow many industrial PCs to remain sealed against the elements while still effectively dissipating heat without the need for fans. If you’re struggling with dust ingress or any other particulate matter, we have a wide range of fanless embedded computers and even IP67 waterproof computers.

Low Maintenance: Reliability is of the utmost importance. Often required to run 24/7 with an uninterrupted operation, these computers also must withstand other factors present in demanding applications. For example, if you deploy a consumer-grade PC with moving parts in a vibration prone environment, you can expect components such as the hard drive to fail. Assured Systems are proud partners with the best-embedded computer manufacturers that design and manufacturer their hardware to specific criteria and certification. Wide temperature components are often used to tackle operating temperature ranges wider than 0-60C. Conformal coatings can also be applied upon request to protect the system against moisture, dust, corrosion and electrical or thermal conduction. We have filtered our Embedded PCs for different applications or certification requirements; EN50155 Rail Certified PCs, Machine Vision PCs.

Long-term Availability: Another important factor is the difference between embedded computers and the consumer grades alternatives is the life cycle support.  Unless specifically stated by the manufacturer, most consumer grade computers offer a very limited procurement life cycle. Consumer grade computers are typically subject to discontinuation in six to twelve months which poses a big problem for embedded and industrial applications.  Unwanted side effects often come when computer components change.  Software that was proven to work on one system may not operate correctly on different hardware or even operating software.  Many of our embedded and industrial computer customers prefer to lock down an operating system image to deploy on all systems in the field.  When hardware components change, the operating system image is no longer compatible, and this requires a new software image to be created when hardware changes take place.  Managing different software deployments on multiple hardware platforms complicates IT infrastructure and is never desirable. 


Why choose Assured Systems to build the best Embedded Computer for your application?

Experience in supporting a multitude of applications is what sets us apart from our peers. A vast range of industries all over the world require low power Atom PCs or high-performance Core PCs that are easy to integrate into their existing devices or serve as the brains behind a new system. From machine vision based car parks to pipeline monitoring in the oil & gas industry, embedded computers are always in use all around us. Finding the best-embedded computer requires a complete understanding of the unique application. With so many variables in play, there’s no one-size-fits-all embedded solution.

Choosing the right Embedded System for the application: With our intuitive website, the best-embedded computer suitable for your application can easily be found by utilizing the product filters. Just select the key parameters such as the required processor or I/O. Over 70% of our staff dedicated to technical sales, we recommend solutions that don’t just fit the performance requirements but carry the correct certification. If you require support in these initial stages, our friendly technical-staff will happily make a few recommendations for you to take away and discuss with your team. Our technical expertise carries right through to integration.

Defined fixed bill-of-materials: Ensuring ongoing compatibility is paramount when deploying embedded computers in the field. Once a core platform has been chosen a fixed bill-of-materials will be defined. A fixed bill of materials means that none of the components will change if you require a continued supply. It is familiar with consumer grade components to change specifications between batches of production which can potentially result in unexpected behaviour, incompatibility and even system downtime.

Stringent approach to build: From decades of experience our technical engineers build all Embedded PCs with a consistent and rigorous approach to guarantee you receive identical systems every time. All system builds are carried out in an Electrostatic Protected Area (EPA).

A customized operating system, BIOS and installation of your application software: We look after our customers for both hardware and software. Our operating system engineer at Assured Systems will protect your system from many of the failure modes found within consumer-grade desktop operating systems. The BIOS will be preconfigured based on your application demands. If required, Assured Systems can create a ‘golden image’ with your preferred user interface or application software being preinstalled to lower its time to market.

Thoroughly soak tested: Attention to detail doesn’t stop with the build. Assured Systems soak test all embedded systems before being shipped out the door. If required, we can put the system under load and emulate any test routines you need.

Guaranteed stock holding: We understand the importance of continuous supply for our OEMs and integrators alike. An agreed stock level will be kept on our shelves after they’ve been built and tested to assure systems your systems are ready to go via next day delivery.