I don't know if this is the right place to ask so please tell me.

I am puzzled by devices like "nvidia jetson tegra" or "Snapdragon 835 Mobile Hardware Development Kit" and many many others.
What exactly are those devices? Where do people use them? and Who uses them?

I know that raspberry PI is a single board computer and that people use it just for fun to develop some fun apps but the problem with those other devices is that they big not like Pi.
Do people use those devices for personal use?

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    \$\begingroup\$ friend of mine uses Raspberry as a music server. \$\endgroup\$ – analogsystemsrf Nov 23 '18 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that a big chunk of the "who" are people who live in third world countries. \$\endgroup\$ – Harry Svensson Nov 23 '18 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @floyd Because they're far cheaper than full-power computers, and are able to access the internet and perform all the tasks the average person might need a computer for. \$\endgroup\$ – Hearth Nov 23 '18 at 1:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ RPi makes a surprisingly good PC as it can run on Debian, which is really quite a feat for a computer that only has 512MB of RAM (or 1GB, depending on the model) and a measly Snapdragon. The fact that you have access to Unix software on a small piece of hardware should be mindblowing haha :) \$\endgroup\$ – KingDuken Nov 23 '18 at 2:14

I'll say, for two specific boards:

I am puzzled by devices like "nvidia jetson tegra" or "Snapdragon 835 Mobile Hardware Development Kit" and many many others.

you could actually look this up yourself, but, here we go:

The Snapdragon platform is Qualcomm's processor platform for the smart phone market. It's, like the processor on the Pi, a System-on-Chip (SoC), not only containing a CPU, but also things like graphics processors, and the whole radio / baseband hardware – essentially, Qualcomm makes the chip that makes a lot of midrange/highend phones do anything useful.

Someone has to develop phone hardware. Hence, someone wants a board that you can relaxed attach things like touch screens, cameras … to, with which you can start developing your phone.

Nvidia is a GPU manufacturer. Their main market isn't gaming graphics cards any more, but GPUs for computing. A GPU is very good at doing the same or similar operation on very many data. In 3D Graphics, that'd be e.g. pixels of textures or vertices of some 3D model, but you can use the same hardware to do e.g. climate simulations, protein folding, or neural network machine learning for object recognition in images.

A lot of applications would sound like "if only this small box attached to a camera could detect e.g. pedestrians walking in front of my car". Now, if you have a lot of time, and a beefy PC, then that's no real problem. But in a car, you have neither, and you need something that is very efficient computationally.

So, basically, you need a high-powered GPU and a somewhat OK-powered CPU. And that's what Nvidia sells as Tegra, a SoC with a CPU and a GPU integrated. And there's a development board for that.

I know of multiple companies that use that for real-time signal classification.

In essence, every SoC manufacturer needs to sell chips. People might want to use that chip, but somehow need to a) learn how to use them, and that's easiest by providing an example board, and b) as Edgar Brown says: if you need a working board containing a specific chip, and there is one, economically and reliability engineering-wise it would be stupid to reinvent one.

Also, it's practically unfeasible for a non-digital-hardware-oriented company to develop a high-speed board just to run e.g. the software system that they are actually selling. Just like if you're producing Recreational vehicles (RVs), you really don't need to know how to build cars – you just buy the car base frame from Mercedes, VW, Fiat … and build your RV on top of that, and sell that. People don't pay you to reinvent a modern car, but to build a good RV. The car base itself is just the platform you need to make it a RV; you should be buying that from someone who knows what they're doning.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Tweed Nov 25 '18 at 0:26

It is far cheaper and faster to design around an already made fully integrated component than to dedicate all the engineering resources to put together elements that are rather standard.

Many systems require a full-blown CPU, lots of memory, hard drives, and other peripherals along with a tried and tested operating system. Having communication interfaces and video output, although might not be necessary for the application, makes debugging and development much easier.

I’m currently designing a system in which we needed to integrate a full-blown microprocessor, an FPGA, and some memory. Finding an off-the shelf self-contained and well-tested board for $300 that saved me and my company at least six months of development, engineering, debugging, and production logistics was a total no-brainer.

Yes, it adds some parts cost to the product, but in our market that is a secondary consideration. Besides, if we needed to, we can revisit the design and integrate the individual elements once we have tested the market and have a mature system instead of just a design idea.

My company’s products sometimes have more processing power than the computers these are connected to.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've seen several manufacturers of industrial HMI touchscreens use exotic SBC's. There are the "common" ones, then the not-so-common (but still find-able) ones, then the ones with one vendor and zero information (for consumers anyways.) Might find one controlling the display in a modern car. \$\endgroup\$ – rdtsc Nov 23 '18 at 4:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ thank you so much. "if we needed to, we can revisit the design and integrate the individual elements once we have tested the market". What do you mean by "individual elements"? \$\endgroup\$ – floyd Nov 23 '18 at 11:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know it's a very naive question but I want to learn those stuff. you said that your company found a 300$ single board computer to use (to develop its software on) but then you said "My company’s products sometimes have more processing power than the computers these are connected to". Isn't the 300$ board(that your company bought from other companies) has the processing power? \$\endgroup\$ – floyd Nov 23 '18 at 11:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @floyd by “individual elements” I mean CPU, memory, Ethernet phy, etc. The $300 board is an example of something I am designing with right now, it is not technically an SBC (it does not have the physical connectors to save space) but it has all the necessary ICs to be considered one. It does have considerably more power than a Raspberry PI. \$\endgroup\$ – Edgar Brown Nov 23 '18 at 14:40

The key word is development kit, or evaluation board.

This is mostly covered by Marcus's answer, but I'd like to make clear what the process is. The target market is companies building what's known as an embedded system. Things like point of sale systems, set-top boxes, industrial control systems, scientific instruments, self-driving cars. In the case of the Snapdragon the target market is manufacturers of mobile phones.

In all cases the users of the board are trying to build a system to run some software and connect to other devices. They need a CPU for this. Eventually they will build their own board - but this costs time and money, so in the early phase of the project they use the evaluation board to develop software. They're also "evaluating" the chip and any software provided by the vendor: is its performance adequate? Is it reliable? Convenient? Power-hungry? Expensive?

It doesn't matter that the board is big for this. With the Snapdragon kit you could build a giant-size mobile phone, then now that you know the software works send it it your electrical engineers to make a smaller one.

  • \$\begingroup\$ your answer is really clear but I just have a question. If I want to develop a android application that runs on phones that have snapdragon 835, Why would I need the Snapdragon hardware development kit? another thing please. what is the difference between "nvidia jetson tegra", raspberry pi...etc and Mac mini? Is Mac mini considered an embedded device? from my understanding, embedded device is a small thing that once connected to a computer screen, mouse, keyboard can be just like a computer like raspberry pi, mac mini or others \$\endgroup\$ – floyd Nov 23 '18 at 11:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @floyd you wouldn't get a snapdragon dev kit if you just wanted to develop software for a phone. You could just buy a phone with the same snapdragon chip. It might help to have something with a lot of debug interfaces, but that's only relevant if you develop the operating system for a phone, and you're not doing that. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Nov 23 '18 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ And my answer pretty clearly explained the difference between snapdragon and tegra. For the rest, I trust you can do your own research. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Nov 23 '18 at 12:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re Mac Mini: Depends on who you ask. I'd call a Human Control Interface (HMI) for a nuclear plant an embedded system, too. If you take the mac mini to implement that user interface, the mac mini is an embedded system. If you buy the mac mini and put it on your table to use it as a computer itself, it's not. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Nov 23 '18 at 12:56

I have a Raspberry pi 3, model b, which has built-in wi fi. It can be used as a stand alone computer, with the addition of a keyboard and video monitor. I have mine connected to our home network. It is controlled remotely from my laptop over the network. The mode of operation used is called Secure Shell (ssh for short). My son uses his to monitor his central heating and other things around his flat. There are lots of input/output ports (I/O for short) This means that you can detect things like switches such as central heating roomstats or the immersion heater thermostat. Some people control their heating and lighting using a Ras pi. They are very popular in schools, I read, as they are inexpensive, and well documented. In fact, the Raspberry Pi foundation exists to make computing, using the Ras Pi, available to everyone worldwide.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "I am puzzled by devices like "nvidia jetson tegra" or "Snapdragon 835 Mobile Hardware Development Kit" and many many others. What exactly are those devices? Where do people use them? and Who uses them?" I think you haven't answered the question. See the other answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Transistor Nov 23 '18 at 9:52

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