Choosing an Arduino for Beginners
Created on: 11 May 2017
Which Arduino is best for beginners to start with? There are many different Arduino boards which can cause confusion for beginners who are interested in starting with Arduino. The number of different Arduino boards can be a bit overwhelming. See the list of Arduino boards available on the Arduino website.
This article explains how to choose an Arduino for beginners. It shows why you may choose one Arduino over another and which are the most popular Arduino boards for beginners.
Recommended Arduinos for Beginners
The two most popular and recommended Arduinos for beginners are the Arduino Uno and Arduino MEGA 2560. Both of these boards are explained in this section, followed by information on why you may want to choose one board rather than the other.
An Arduino Uno is a basic Arduino board that many beginners will start with. Below is an image of an Arduino Uno R3. R3 is the revision number of this Arduino which means that it is the third edition of the board. In other words changes were made to the original Arduino Uno to improve it. An R2 edition was followed by additional changes in the Arduino R3. See differences between the original Arduino Uno, R2 and R3 for details on the differences between different Arduino Uno revisions.
Some reasons for choosing an Arduino Uno follow.
Easy to Use
This Arduino can be powered from the same USB cable that is used to program it. Because of this it is not necessary to have an external power supply, although one could be used if needed.
Header connectors on either side of the board make connecting the board to an electronic breadboard easy. All that is needed to make connections is jumper wires. A breadboard allows external experimental circuit to be connected to the Arduino for experimenting and learning.
Add-on boards, called shields, will plug into the Arduino Uno headers allowing the functionality of the board to be extended.
Replaceable Microcontroller Chip
A socket on the board holds the microcontroller which is the main component of any Arduino. The socket makes it easy to replace the microcontroller if needed. In situations where the microcontroller becomes faulty or is "bricked up" by software, it is easy to replace the microcontroller by removing it from the socket and inserting a new one.
Compared to some of the bigger Arduino boards, the Arduino Uno is relatively cheap. Some Arduino Uno clone boards are even cheaper than original Arduino boards, so there are options for many different budgets.
Arduino MEGA 2560
An Arduino MEGA 2560 is basically a bigger Arduino Uno in terms of number of pins or header connections, size of the board and size of the memory. An Arduino MEGA 2560 is shown below.
All of the advantages of the Arduino Uno apply to the Arduino MEGA 2560, except for price. Some reasons for choosing an Arduino MEGA 2560 follow.
More Input / Output Pins
Arduino MEGA 2560 boards have more I/O (Input/Output) pins than an Arduino Uno as can be seen by the extra headers on the sides and end of the board. These additional pins allow additional hardware devices to be connected.
More Analog Pins
A MEGA 2560 has 16 analog input pins compared to the 6 found on an Arduino Uno.
MEGA 2560 boards have significantly more memory than Uno boards allowing much larger sketches to be loaded to the Arduino.
Standard Arduino shields that work with an Arduino Uno will work with an Arduino MEGA 2560. As can be seen in the Arduino Uno and MEGA images above, the Arduino MEGA has identical pins to the Arduino Uno and then some additional pins.
Choosing Between an Arduino Uno and MEGA 2560
An Arduino Uno is a good board for beginners, but one must be aware of its limitations. Memory limitations can become a problem on an Arduino Uno, especially when using it for bigger projects, such as creating an Arduino web server. Although an Arduino Uno can be used as an Arduino web server, as soon as the web server is extended, the Uno will run out of memory resources.
For beginners on a budget, an Arduino Uno is a good choice. There are many sketches that will run on the Uno, allowing the beginner to evaluate Arduino and use it as a learning platform. Many small projects can be built using an Arduino Uno.
If you have specific need for an Arduino with more memory, and/or pins, then the MEGA 2560 is a good choice. It will cost a bit more than an Uno.
Most Arduino users will start with an Arduino Uno and end up with a MEGA 2560 and/or some other Arduino board as well, after advancing from the basics of learning Arduino.
Other Arduino Boards
Unless there is a specific project that you want to build that requires an Arduino other than an Uno or MEGA 2560, an Uno or MEGA 2560 will do just fine.
Some of the other Arduino boards require soldering which beginners may not be comfortable with. Although some of the other boards could easily be used by beginners, they are more expensive. The risk of damaging an expensive board while learning is a reason not to start with one of these boards.
Choosing an Arduino Summary
An Arduino Uno is good entry level board for beginners and will give beginners an understanding of Arduino. Choose a MEGA 2560 if you foresee needing extra memory and/or I/O pins. Be aware that the microcontroller on the MEGA 2560 is not socketed so can't easily be removed and replaced should it be damaged.
Other Arduino boards would only be needed by beginners if a specific project that a beginner wants to build requires a board besides an Uno or MEGA 2560.