Whether you're a newbie just getting started with electronics and embedded systems or a professional Engineer planning your next big design project, Arduino has you all covered with a Development board that best suits your requirements. For hobbyists and engineers, including me, Arduino Platform has been the go-to place for quick prototyping and design validation. But most of us fail to explore beyond the popular Arduino development boards like the Arduino UNO, nano, mega, etc. So this tutorial is focused on bringing out all the different types of Arduino development boards and doing a quick comparison of their features and applications so that you will be able to make a better choice when you want something more than the popular UNO and nano boards.
To make things quick and easy for you, we have split all the boards into three main categories, Entry Level boards, Enhanced boards, and IoT boards. Further, we have also provided a table under each section for quick skimming, so let’s get started.
Entry Level Boards
These types of arduino boards are the best choice to start with. In this category, most boards have either slow clock speed or a limited number of I/O ports. All these boards are powered by 8-bit microcontrollers. Most of them are easy to learn and make projects with. Not only that, there are a variety of modules and shield boards available on the market, especially targeting these base-level boards. Here is the table showing all the features of these boards.
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Arduino UNO R3
Arduino Uno is the most popular and widely used development board. It is powered by an ATMega328P microcontroller. It is the most popular choice among the community because it’s, cheap, easy to learn and use, and also a variety of premade modules are available for this which makes it easier for developing new projects or prototypes. It consists of 14Digital I/O out of which 6 pins are 8bit PWM pins, 6 pins are10-bit Analog inputs, and basic communication ports like SPI, I2C, and UART.
Now, there are many different types of Arduino UNO boards available across the global market, but most of these boards are the clone or copy version of the original UNO board that you see above. Hence the color or the appearance of the board might be different than what is shown above.
Arduino Nano is a small breadboard-friendly version of Arduino UNO. It has more or less functionality of the Arduino UNO but in a small form factor. The only major differences from UNO are the lack of a DC power jack, the usage of a Mini USB port instead of a USB B port, and the USB-TTL converter chip. Nano uses an FT232, a dedicated USB-UART bridge chip from FTDI instead of an ATMega16U2. It is also a very popular choice among the developers just like UNO because of its small size and cheap price.
Arduino PRO Mini
Pro mini is actually a cut-down version of Nano. It has most of the functionalities similar to Arduino Nano but it lacks the onboard USB -TTL bridge and the USB port. Instead, it has a header, in which the UART pins are brought out. We can use these pins to program the Pro mini using an external USB-UART module. This board is specially meant for applications where the space is limited. Pro mini is available in two versions, 3.3V, and 5v versions. In the 3.3V version, the CPU speed is limited to 8MHz because of certain limitations of ATMega328 for better stability.
Arduino Leonardo is powered by an ATmega32U4 chip rather than the ATMega328P chip which is used in all the previously mentioned boards. It has more IO pins (20) and more PWM (7) and analog input (12) pins. One other major difference is that the ATMega32U4 has built-in USB communication eliminating the need for a second processor or a dedicated USB to UART bridge chip. This allows the board to connect to a computer as a Human Interface Device (HID) or as a Virtual (CDC) serial / COM port. We use this Virtual COM port along with the bootloader to program the Leonardo.
Just like Arduino Nano is a UNO in a small form factor, Arduino Micro is actually a Leonardo in a small form-factor breadboard-friendly sized board. Its functionalities are the same as the Arduino Leonardo. The only difference is the lack of a DC input jack. Similarly, Arduino Micro can also act as an HID or Virtual COM port device.
Arduino Nano Every
Arduino Nano Every is a new generation board in a small form factor. As we already discussed Arduino Nano is the preferred board for many projects requiring a small and cheap solution. We could call the Arduino Nano Every, an upgraded Arduino Nano with lot more features. Nano Every is powered by a more powerful processor ATMega4809. It has 50% more program memory and a 200% bigger RAM which will enable us to muse this board for bigger programs. The castellated holes allow us to use the Nano Every on a PCB without the need for the header pins.
Arduino Mega2560 Rev3
Arduino Mega 2560 is the biggest of all the boards we have discussed so far. It is designed for applications where a lot of I/O or peripherals are needed. It is powered by a bigger and more capable processor the ATMega2560. This board has the greatest number of I/O than most other boards, 54 I/O pins (of which 15 can be used as PWM outputs), 16 analog inputs, and 4 UARTs. It has more flash storage and SRAM than most other basic Arduino boards. It is most popular with the opensource CNC and 3D printer community as well as the opensource PLC community.
Enhanced Features Boards
Arduino boards in this category are meant for projects where advanced functionalities and faster performance is needed.
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Arduino Nano 33 BLE
The Nano 33 BLE is a more powerful board from Arduino in the same form factor as the popular Arduino Nano. Even though it has the same size, it is more powerful than the Nano. It is powered by a more advanced NRF52480 from Nordic Semiconductors, a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 CPU running at 64MHz. The larger 1MB flash and 256KB SRAM make it the better choice where a lot of memory is needed. The main feature of this board is there in the name itself – BLE, Bluetooth Low Energy. The Nano 33BLE can be both BLE and Bluetooth client and the host device. In this era, where everything is connected together this will allow us to develop energy-efficient wearables.
There is also another variant of Nana33 BLE available named Arduino Nano 33 BLE Sense with some additional sensors on board. Such as 9 axis inertial sensor, humidity and temperature sensor, barometric sensor, microphone, and gesture, proximity, light color, light intensity sensor.
Arduino MKR Zero
The Arduino MKR Zero is a development board meant for music makers or music-related projects. It has an onboard SD connector and dedicated SPI interface, which can be used for I2S communication. I2S is the most common communication protocol used for digital audio. The MKR Zero is powered by a powerful 32-bit ARM Cortex M0+ SAMD21 MCU. It’s a 3.3V device and not tolerable to 5V. Another main advantage of this board is that we can power it with a LiPo battery through the onboard Battery connector. The battery monitoring is also easy since the connection between the battery and the ADC is already implemented on the board.
Arduino UNO WIFI Rev2
As the name suggests we can consider it as a UNO with an additional feature. Even though it is in the same form factor as Arduino Uno the components and features are entirely different. This board is powered by an ATMega4809 MCU and it uses u-blox NINA-W102 for WIFI and Bluetooth communication. The NINA SoC with integrated TCO/IP protocol stack makes it easier to access a Wi-Fi network or to act as an access point. The board also has an onboard crypto chip accelerator, ECC608, for enhanced security and an IMU for Inertial measurement.
The Arduino Due is like an upgraded Arduino Mega and has the same form factor as the Mega but it is powered by a more powerful 32-bit ARM microcontroller. Just like Mega, Due has 54 Digital I/Os and 12 Analog inputs. The powerhouse of this board is an Atmel SAM3x8E Arm Cortex -M3 CPU. Due runs at a higher clock speed of 84MHz and has additional interfaces like USB OTG, DAC, and JTAG. Also, keep in mind that Due is a 3.3V only device and its I/Os are not 5V tolerant.
Arduino MKR Vidor 4000
The Arduino MKR Vidor 4000 is a very special board with a very special feature that no other Arduino boards have – an onboard FPGA chip. With the onboard Intel Cyclone 10CL016 FPGA, this board is highly configurable and powerful. Vidor 4000 can perform high-speed digital audio and video processing. Even you can make your own controller within the FPGA. The board also has some more advanced features such as a Micro-HDMI connector, MIPI camera connector, and Wi-Fi and BLE powered by the NINA W102 module. It also supports LiPo batteries through the onboard connector. The Vidor 4000 is powered by SAMD21 Cortex M0+ MCU.
Arduino Zero is another board with the same form factor as the UNO. Even though the size and shape are the same, Arduino Zero is much more powerful and feature-rich than the UNO. The board is powered by Atmel’s SAMD21 MCU, which is a 32-bit ARM Cortex M0+ MCU. One of the important features of Arduino Zero is the Embedded Debugger or the EDBG, which provides a full debug interface without the need for an external debugger or any other additional hardware. EDBG also supports a virtual COM port, which can be used to program the board.
Nowadays many of the products we use are IoT-enabled, from a simple switch to all of the household appliances. The types of arduino boards we are going to take look at are designed for such applications. Let’s see which are these boards and what are their features.
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Arduino Nano 33 IoT
As the name suggests this’s board comes with the same form factor as a Nano. The board is powered by a low-power 32-bit ARM Cortex M0, Atmel’s SAMD21. The WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity is performed with a u-blox module, the NINA-W102. The Board also features a Microchip ECC60r crypto chip which ensures secure communication. Also, the onboard 6 aixs IMU enables the board to be used in projects which need or implement features such as vibration alarm, pedometer balancing, and relative positioning, etc. This board is also compatible with most of the IoT cloud services such as Arduino IoT cloud, Blynk, IFTTT, AWS IoT Core, Azure, Firebase, etc.
Arduino MKR FOX 1200
The Arduino MKR FOX 1200 is a cost-effective solution for Sigfox connectivity. The Sigfox is mostly used in the European region. The Sigfox infrastructure enables you to run projects to collect data around the clock without any maintenance or full-time supervision. This board is based on a SAMD21 MCU and the Microchip Smart RF ATA852o is used for the Sigfox connectivity.
Arduino MKR WAN 1300/1310
The MKR WAN 1300 and MKR WAN 1310 boards use LoRa connectivity for communications. MKR WAN 1310 is an upgrade version of MKR WAN 1300. Both boards use a SAMD21 low power processor, Murata CMWX1ZZABZ LoRa module, and the ECC508 Crypto chip. The MKR WAN 1310 includes a new battery charger, 2MB SPI flash, and improved power consumption. Both boards support 433/868/915 MHz frequency bands.
Arduino MKR GSM 1400
The Arduino MKR GSM 1400 takes the advantage of the cellular network for communication. As similar to all other MKR boards this one is also powered by a SAMD21, 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 MCU. SARA-U201 module from u-bolx is used for the GSM/3G connectivity. This board supports cellular bands such as GSM 850MHz, E-GSM 1900MHz, DSC 1800MHz, and PCS 1900MHz. Same as many other MKR boards onboard ECC508 crypto chip ensures secure communication. This board supports a Li-Po battery, which makes it an ideal candidate for any portable project.
Arduino MKR WIFI 1010
The MKR WiFi 1010 is the best choice for basic IoT and pico-network applications. It can be powered from a LiPo battery. MKR WiFi 1010 uses the NINA-W102 module for communication and ECC5087 as a crypto chip same as many other MKR boards. You can also find an RGB LED on board.
Arduino MKR NB 1500
The NKR NB 1500 enables you to add narrowband communication to your project which is a perfect choice for projects or devices meant to be used in a remote location where internet connection is not feasible or in situations where powering the device is a challenge such as field deployments, remote monitoring, solar-powered devices, etc. The onboard SARA-R410M-02B module supports many Cat M1/NB1 bands such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28. The board also features an onboard battery charger and a connector for an external antenna.
Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect
Last but not least the Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect is the newest addition to the Arduino family. It features the rather popular, raspberry Foundation’s first in-house chip, the RP2040. The RP2040 is a dual-core ARM Cortex M0+ SoC running at 133MHz and it has 264KB SRAM and 16MB external flash chip. Not only that the board has NINA-W102 for both WiFi and BLE connectivity. A built-in mic is there for sound activation, Audio control, and even voice recognition. There is also a 6 axis IMU onboard. The board is also RPi Pico compatible.
Portenta H7- The Fastest Arduino
Have you ever thought about which Arduino board is the fastest? If you have, then the answer to the question is Protenta H7. Many of the Arduino users might not even hear about this board. The Protenta H7 is capable of running High-level code along with real-time tasks simultaneously. Protenta H7 is meant for applications such as High-end industrial machinery, Laboratory equipment, Computer vision, PLCs, Industry-ready user interfaces, Robotics controllers, Mission-critical devices, Dedicated stationary computers, High-speed booting computation, etc.
The H7 is powered by a dual-core STM32XX, which features a Cortex M7 core running at 480MHz and a Cortex M4 core running at 240MHz. The two cores communicate through a process called Remote Procedure Call or in short RPC, which is used in most modern desktop CPU architectures such as x86, x64, Power PC, etc. The STM32H747 also features an on-chip GPU, the Chrom-ART Accelerator, and a dedicated JPEG encoder and decoder.
We hope that everyone got a better understanding of different Arduino boards and their features. So, which Arduino is best for you will entirely depend on your needs. If you are a starter or if you are doing projects that didn’t require a lot of computing power or onboard communication you may choose the most popular UNO or Nano as they are cheap and easy to program. When you need a more advanced board you may select one from the above list depending on your requirements.
Section IoT-Boards, table overview: MKR WiFi 1000/1010, WiFi: "no".
But the MKR WiFi 1000/1010 has WiFi as the name says.