Selecting from a wide range of ham Arduino boards can be daunting for a starter. Here’s a simple path through the maze to get you going.
If you have been looking around, you might have been confused by the many, many different types of development boards available. Don’t worry. Just start with the most popular ones. And don’t worry about genuine versus clones. Many makers will buy a few genuine boards to support the community, but mostly the clones work fine. Boards mentioned in this article range from $5 to $10 on e-bay. Buy one and play.
Start with the UNO or Mega. They are quite similar in terms of CPU and footprint. The Mega has more memory and way more I/O pins. Their form factors are designed to allow expansion boards, called shields, to be stacked on top. All you need is a bunch of jumpers to connect to a breadboard circuit, and a USB cable to connect to a computer.
These bigger boards are fine for prototyping, but eventually you will want something smaller to package into a finished product. This is where the Arduino Pro Mini (or Pro Micro) comes in. They are just as powerful as a UNO, but really small and easy to attach to a printed circuit board. The Micro has a built in USB connector, but fewer I/O. With the Mini, you need to use an external USB-to-Serial adapter. Both are available in 5 or 3.3 volt versions. The 3.3V version is useful for interfacing with many lower power displays and sensors without doing level conversion.
Finally, after you have mastered Arduino, you may want to try NodeMCU. This is not an Arduino, but you can program it using the Arduino tools. It has built in WiFi, so you can easily connect your project to the Internet. By the way, the Arduino boards discussed here are all 8 bit devices, while NodeMCU is 32 bit and faster. However, with since NodeMCU contains a complete wireless system-on-chip, you have to time share between wireless and microcontroller.
Ham Arduino Boards – About Using Shields
Many beginners use shields or stackable expansion boards. They are useful for things like controlling motors. I use a shield called the RAMPS board for running my 3D printer and CNC machines. Also useful is the 1602 LCD Keypad shield for display and input while prototyping. Most shields are supported by free code libraries that make them truly plug and play.
Lots of information, eh? In our next article, we focus on easy ways to learn Arduino fast.