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One of the most important functions of an embedded system is the ability to connect to a variety of external signals. For my smart home energy efficiency dashboard, the signals come from a variety of sensors and use a range of different protocols. Ideally, I’d like to handle these signals in software by creating a custom driver for each signal, or better yet, by configuring an existing driver to connect each sensor. In some cases, the sensors may require additional signal conditioning or interface circuitry to before being connected to the embedded processor board. Sometimes it’s appropriate to use a small microcontroller to provide the interface or signal conditioning. This provides additional flexibility, but also requires programming a second processor. Where possible, I like to avoid programming and debugging multiple computer systems. With that in mind, I’m taking a close look at computing system selection.

Microsoft has teamed-up with six hardware partners provide a range of computing system options with a variety of different feature options. Special pricing is available for non-commercial use as part of the SPARK promotion. These prices vary from system to system depending on capability and included accessories, and each computing system is ready-to-run out of the box. Ready-to-run means different things to depending on your level of exposure to embedded systems. In most cases, these computers are ready for you to load an operating system onto the device via a bootloader. Many of the configurations of the boards are managed through standard BIOS at power-on. With the exception of the VIA Artigo which doesn’t come with RAM or disk storage installed, the computers include the basic components load an operating system and run applications.

Download my SPARK hardware comparison chart and read more about the available hardware features on the SPARK Project blog.

Kipp Bradford

Kipp Bradford is a technology consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for making things. He is the Senior Design Engineer and Lecturer in Engineering at Brown University, where he teaches several engineering design and entrepreneurship courses. Kipp is also on the Technical Advisory Board for Make Magazine.


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