x86 Single Board Computer VS ARM Single Board Computer

There are abundant single board computers (SBCs) on the market, suitable for various purposes and budgets. If we classify them, there are mainly two types, based on x86 and based on ARM. Let's take a brief look at the differences between them.


Arm  vs x86 Single Board Computer (SBC)

(Credit: ruanyifeng's blog)

Figure: x86 vs ARM Single Board Computer (SBC)


What is x86?


In simple terms, x86 is a processor architecture developed by Intel. It is a common architecture used in mainstream servers, desktops, and laptops.


The processors based on x86 architecture use a complex instruction set (CISC), which includes many different instructions that can perform complex operations, but also makes the processor design more complicated.


Overall, we know that it can help computers perform various tasks, such as handling data, running applications, and games.


What is ARM?


ARM is a processor architecture developed by ARM Holdings, Ltd. It is also a common architecture used in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. (Currently, some cloud server vendors have started to introduce ARM architecture cloud servers)


The processors based on ARM architecture use a reduced instruction set (RISC), which focuses on executing simple instructions. This makes the processor more efficient, but may require more instructions to complete the same task.


Similarly, we only need to know that this also helps computers perform various tasks, such as handling data, running applications, and games. However, processors based on ARM architecture consume less power than those based on x86 architecture, although their single-core performance is not as good as x86. They are often used in smaller and more portable devices.


Now that we know about these two different architectures, let's take a look at the characteristics of x86 SBC and ARM SBC respectively.


Characteristics of x86 based Single Board Computers


x86 based single board computers usually have higher processing performance, suitable for applications that require processing of large amounts of data. One of its main advantages is better compatibility with software applications.


Single board computers like LattePanda 3 Delta 864 can run a full desktop operating system (Linux, Windows, macOS), so you can use it for almost any type of application, from gaming and multimedia to scientific research and machine learning.


Moreover, due to the built-in PCIe interface, graphics cards, network cards, SSD RAID cards, audio cards, and video capture cards can all be easily connected to the single board computer. This also means that additional hardware components (such as graphics, memory, or storage) can be easily upgraded to meet your project's specific requirements.


Characteristics of ARM based Single Board Computers


The processing capability that ARM can handle physically is smaller than x86. Many mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets), streaming devices, and single board computers (such as Raspberry Pi) use ARM architecture.


However, in recent years, ARM processors have made incredible progress. Products like Apple's latest M-series (M1, M2) are based on ARM architecture, and they can even achieve performance comparable to x86 while maintaining low power consumption, which impressed everyone (including Intel).


Moreover, more and more cloud server vendors like Oracle and Hetzner have introduced ARM-based cloud servers, claiming that these servers can save energy and lower user costs. You can get more cores and stronger performance at the same price.


Low power consumption and high performance seem to indicate that I should buy an ARM single board computer. However, regardless of whether it is a server or a single board computer based on ARM architecture, there is still a problem that is difficult to avoid: relatively poor software compatibility. For example, ARM devices can only run operating systems designed for ARM processors. Raspberry Pi can run Ubuntu, although it is a Ubuntu Linux version designed specifically for Raspberry Pi. It may look similar to the version you run on your desktop, but its underlying structure is different.Therefore, this also leads to many software that can run on your computer cannot run on ARM single board computers. Many hardware drivers cannot be installed and often require developers to do some debugging and optimization before they can be used.


Compared with the traditional x86 architecture, the ecosystem of ARM servers is currently not complete enough. This means that there may be a lack of specific software and tools for ARM servers, or more time and effort may be required to adapt to the ARM server ecosystem. For beginners, developing ARM single board computers requires some professional knowledge and skills, and the learning cost may be relatively high.




In summary, x86 based SBCs and ARM based SBCs are two common single board computers, which have different characteristics in terms of architecture, performance, power consumption, price, and suitable audience.


x86 based Single Board Computers


1. Architecture: based on x86 architecture, mainly produced by Intel and AMD.

2. Performance: x86 single board computers usually have higher processing performance, suitable for applications that require handling large amounts of data.

3. Power consumption: compared with ARM single board computers, their power consumption is higher and requires more power supply.

4. Price: x86 single board computers are relatively expensive, mainly used for high-performance computing, servers, and other applications.

5. Suitable audience: most beginners and developers


ARM based Single Board Computers


1. Architecture: based on ARM architecture, mainly produced by ARM Holdings, Ltd. and other companies.

2. Performance: compared with x86 based single board computers, the processing performance of ARM based single board computers is generally lower and suitable for simpler applications.

3. Power consumption: the power consumption of ARM based single board computers is lower and suitable for battery-powered or low-power applications.

4. Price: ARM single board computers are more affordable and mainly used in the field of Internet of Things, smart homes, and embedded systems.

5. Suitable audience: developers with certain professional knowledge and skills.


I hope this article can assist you in choosing the ideal single board computer :)