Author Topic: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?  (Read 2192 times)

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Offline RyanT

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Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« on: March 20, 2018, 03:43:03 pm »
Tiny bit of background: I'm getting back into electronics as a hobby after a brief 30-year(!) break, in part thanks to Dave's excellent content and this intellectually electroplated gold mine of a forum. I threw together a few simple circuits (555 stuff, bench meters, fixed our ice machine, etc.), but would like to start some Arduino hacking (probably with an UNO R3, but really any of them would be fine for now).

[Edit: See post #12 for more background. I stupidly left out the fact that I've been an embedded programmer (including ARM/Atmel micro programming) for a couple of decades.]

Right, background over. :P

The problem I'm having getting an Arduino is that there are so many darned options, and what seems like a dearth of credible reviews on any of them. I can buy a brand name Uno R3 from Sparkfun for $24.95, or one of the many clones for $5-10 shipped on a slow dinghy from Shenzhen. It turns out I'm still pretty decent with a soldering iron, so I don't mind putting the thing together if it'll save a few bucks. Money is a bit tight at the moment as I'm not able to work, so if I can save and put that toward other components, and/or get two Arduino boards, I'm all for it, as long as the board isn't likely to let the blue smoke out the third or fourth time I power it up, barring stupidity on my part.

So what would you all recommend? Go brand name, or no? And if no, it would really help to have a link to some known good ones. (As best you can, anyway, as it seems the Arduino clone market is a fast moving target.) At least then it'd be an educated guess.

Finally my apologies to the mods and regulars if this question has now come up n + 1 times or is off-topic here. I spent quite a bit of time with the forum search and couldn't find anything relevant.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 08:42:14 pm by RyanT »
 

Offline imidis

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2018, 03:46:30 pm »
If you are on a budget buy a clone, 5ish bucks. I've got several, no problems. Same with lots of the aliexpress stuff. I just don't trust any of the mains powered stuff.
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Online blueskull

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2018, 03:51:24 pm »
Why AVR8 in 2018? CY8CKIT-059 is a good option if you need a bit more speed and versatility, and it's damn cheap. It's not Arduino compatible, but it has equally good software library straight form IC manufacturer.
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Offline Ian.M

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #3 on: March 20, 2018, 06:49:43 pm »
The main reason to start with Arduino, specifically an ATmega328P based one, is its popularity that has resulted in a massive ecosystem supporting Arduino users.   There are many things about the Arduino that suck from the point of view of an experienced developer, but its got the mass market penetration, and wealth of add-on shields, hardware libraries and tutorials to appeal to a novice.  However you need some aptitude for programming. 

If you've ever programmed an 80's era 8 bit home computer, or done any C programming for a resource limited system, you wont have any issues that cant be resolved with a little research or a quick question here or on one of the many specialist Arduino forums.   If 'programming' a VCR is outside of your comfort zone, then forget about it and stick to analog electronics!

I would suggest a UNO clone with a socketed ATmega328P (or even a genuine official one if you are rich and want to support Arduino.cc anonymously), simply so you know you can easily replace the chip if you let the holy smoke out. 

To prepare in advance for accidents, get a couple of spare PDIP ATmega328P chips, either from a specialist Arduino supplier, preloaded with the Arduino bootloader - 16MHz version, or blank from your preferred regular distributor.   If they are blank, set up the Arduino with the ArduinoISP sketch to burn them with the UNO bootloader. 

See: https://www.arduino.cc/en/Tutorial/ArduinoToBreadboard and https://www.arduino.cc/en/Tutorial/ArduinoISP

Once they have the bootloader installed, check them in your Arduino board with the Blink sketch, then put the two spares aside.   Unless you are really unlucky and fry the USB<=> logic level serial chip on your Uno, you've then got some chances to fix it if you do something stupid like blow out an I/O pin.

Also, you can easily use those spare chips in your own projects - simply prototype it on the Uno then move the programmed chip to your own board and replace the Uno's one with one of the spares.

Once you've dabbled your toe in the Arduino waters, you'll have a much better  idea of where you want to go from here - whether its deeper into Arduino-land or abandoning it totally for a more powerful MCU.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 09:30:30 pm by Ian.M »
 
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Offline josip

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2018, 06:54:06 pm »
Money is a bit tight at the moment as I'm not able to work...

I will not suggest anyone today to start with 8-bit mcu. Even for blink example.
Blue Pill (Cortex-M3, 72 MHz, 64 KB Flash, 20 KB RAM) can be found on ebay for around 2$...
http://wiki.stm32duino.com/index.php?title=Blue_Pill
https://www.ebay.com/itm/201414966215
And ST-Link cone for around 2$...
https://www.ebay.com/itm/191736124906
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 06:56:31 pm by josip »
 

Offline Ian.M

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2018, 07:29:19 pm »
One starts with a socketed 5V, 8 bit MCU for the simplicity and ease of interfacing.

Of course it doesn't make sense from a price/performance viewpoint, but if that PSoC kit Blueskull recommended or that Cortex-M3 you just proposed sits in the cupboard gathering dust because the learning curve is slightly too steep for some novices, the price/performance ratio is infinitely unfavourable.

Worst case, if the O.P. decides embedded programming isn't their cup of tea, an Arduino Uno can easily be passed on to someone else locally.  A more specialised MCU board is either likely to end up in the trash, or one has to advertise it online to find anyone to take it off your hands then ship iit to them.
 
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Offline Brumby

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2018, 08:02:56 pm »
I will not suggest anyone today to start with 8-bit mcu.

What a stupid exclusion.

When getting started, let's not muddy the water with issues THAT ARE BEYOND the Op's ability to utilise at this point in time.  Let them start cheap and easy, gain success, find limitations, learn more and develop their skills.

To the OP:  Go and grab yourself a couple of UNO clones and just dive in.  They are cheap and there is an established following and an IDE that you can download for free and get something simple running in minutes.  Sure, it may not be as "perfect" as some of the hard-nosed might prefer - but you can do a huge range of stuff.  You can even rise above the IDE and get really serious if you want.  The choice is up to you.

Just ignore the other noise people will make about "Get this" or "Don't get that" - until YOU find you are encountering limitations that are really affecting your progress ... but unless you have exotic projects in mind, it's going to take you a while to get there.  I'm not saying these people don't have a point - but until you get enough experience to be able to judge for yourself, you are simply going to get spun out by it all.

As for where to get the boards, I have purchased MEGA, UNO and NANO clones from whoever had the cheapest and all of them have been OK.

Just jump in.
 
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Online NivagSwerdna

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2018, 08:12:24 pm »
Uno eBay auction: #142051313005

So cheap it's not even worth thinking about it for very long.  I prefer Unos that have two crystals (rather than a resonator) due to some of my applications which are timing sensitive. I even buy these sometimes for parts for my own designs since they are so cheap.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 08:13:55 pm by NivagSwerdna »
 

Offline picandmix

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2018, 08:22:26 pm »
Agree with most of what IanM says, a clone Uno board is the best way to begin with, its got the widest support and masses of online tutorials of any of the micros.

The Uno is also preferred  because it has all its i/o pins on handy sockets ready to plug into breadboards etc.

While I agree with Ians point about a dip chip version of the Uno in principle, I don't think its worthwhile these days,  the price of a new 328 dip chip is typically the same or more than the cost of a new clone Uno board with a smd chip.

Not sure about Canada, but here in the UK you can pick up clone Unos cheap enough locally without having to wait weeks from the far east.
 

Online Mechatrommer

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2018, 08:26:26 pm »
Money is a bit tight at the moment as I'm not able to work...
I will not suggest anyone today to start with 8-bit mcu. Even for blink example.
Blue Pill (Cortex-M3, 72 MHz, 64 KB Flash, 20 KB RAM) can be found on ebay for around 2$...
http://wiki.stm32duino.com/index.php?title=Blue_Pill
https://www.ebay.com/itm/201414966215
And ST-Link cone for around 2$...
https://www.ebay.com/itm/191736124906
+1 i've been meaning to move to arm chip in fact i have all the tools already but atmega/attiny/pic poison still flow in my intervein blocking my desire to move on. |O if you have to go arduino way, buy clone there is no justification to buy original other than to support the original creator. and if you have to solder in, i think you'll need avr programmer as well such AVR Mk 2 or such. the cost might be similar to buying arm ecosystem anyway.
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Offline ggchab

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2018, 08:29:29 pm »
My son is still learning the PIC16F84/16F627 at school. They designed a small PCB and they are now playing with I/O ports, timer, interrupts to control a few LEDs and keys and even a 2x16 characters LCD. Programmed in assembly. This is simple and fantastic the discover how things are really working  :)
 

Online blueskull

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #11 on: March 20, 2018, 08:33:18 pm »
I started MCU coding with AT89C51, a cracked copy of Keil, a crappy breadboard, an ancestor of TL866 and a few books written in the late 90s to early 00s.
No compiler tech support, no debuggers, no scope, no LA and the only logic indications are LED and UART, and the UART was a bodged Sipex 232 (now Exar).
No fast Internet, certainly not possible to watch online videos, and no teachers. Nothing to learn from besides literally a few books.
Arduino was unheard of, not even HAL libraries. All we could do was to write to and read from registers, and delay and bit bangs were written in ASM.
That was when I was 13.

One must start embedded system designing from Arduino as a beginner? Think twice.
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Offline RyanT

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #12 on: March 20, 2018, 08:39:00 pm »
Thanks for all the replies so far! Great info.

One apparently very important point that I left out of the OP in some misguided attempt at Canadian humility and clearly failed brevity is my programming background. I've been a ARM/x86 C/assembly/etc. embedded software developer for 25+ years, with a good amount of Atmel and PIC micro programming, talking to custom FPGAs for which the "datasheet" was literally a guy named Steve who sat next to me, for a number of years.

As such I know I can program just about anything with inputs and a clock pin. However I've also more than once pissed away weeks of (fortunately, paid) work patching toolchains and writing drivers to port and cross-compile libraries for poorly supported or downright unpopular architectures my employer used in their products to save five cents and a couple milliwatts. I don't have any particular love for the Arduino as I've never worked with it, but as far as I'm aware, it has one of the largest (if not the largest) collections of free and supported libraries/software in the land, and most of it Just Works™. Is that reasonable, or am I on the wrong track?
 

Offline bd139

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #13 on: March 20, 2018, 08:39:40 pm »
Arduino is absolutely fine to start with. It has a few advantages that make it easier to start with:

1. Clones are dirt cheap. I mean really cheap. They all work fine.
2. Provided libraries are quite good. They do the job certainly.
3. Set up time is minimal. This is the opposite of every other embedded platform out there.

When you have had enough or hit a limitation, you can reuse the hardware and just program it with AVR-gcc, AVR-libc and avrdude.

Personally I started with Z80, hand assembled and toggled in. Then 6502 assembly+BBC BASIC. Then moved to 68k, x86 and SPARC assembly and C. Then PIC, then AVR. The AVR is pretty nice and the tooling is way more mature than elsewhere.
 

Online NivagSwerdna

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #14 on: March 20, 2018, 08:45:51 pm »
Uno is entry level, mega2560 has multiple uarts and more I/o, esp32/esp8266 is awesome for WiFi connectivity, STM has some interesting stuff (blue pill?), Rpi for some Linux and some I/o, de10-nano for FPGA soc, and I love PIC (various series) since they brainwashed me with their samples program over the years.

It rather depends on what you are trying to achieve!
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 10:11:22 pm by NivagSwerdna »
 

Online blueskull

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #15 on: March 20, 2018, 08:47:19 pm »
I don't have any particular love for the Arduino as I've never worked with it, but as far as I'm aware, it has one of the largest (if not the largest) collections of free and supported libraries/software in the land, and most of it Just Works™.

If you just need something to work, without having speed or timing requirement, then Arduino should work fine, plus you can grow into faster ARM based ones or even x86 based ones.
I have a MEGA2560 board sitting somewhere which has the sole task of reading a few dozens of DS18B20 and control a few PWM fans.
Or if you need complicated connectivity (USB other than ACM/CDC, Ethernet, WiFi) that writing everything from scratch is very hard, then consider Arduino.
But if you need real time performance or you are trying to chew large amount of data at once, think twice.

BTW, if you are already into embedded, and you know how to use Linux shell, makefile and menuconfig, then ESP32 is also a good thing to work on. It's an amazing magic chip.
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Offline RyanT

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #16 on: March 20, 2018, 09:37:21 pm »
If 'programming' a VCR is outside of your comfort zone, then forget about it and stick to analog electronics!

Does electrical tape over the clock count? ;D

Seriously, thanks for this really comprehensive reply. You did say "There are many things about the Arduino that suck from the point of view of an experienced developer". Would you care to elaborate on that a bit? I do have significant professional experience in embedded dev, but I'm not so stuck in my ways that I wouldn't work with another IDE if absolutely necessary (though 99% of the time I'd be happier with Vim and a good command line toolchain in a Linux terminal).

My use case for this is really just to have a relatively general purpose dev board on hand for miscellaneous prototype/experimental/fun projects. Nothing real-time, high performance, or high power. If I was to build anything more serious, I already know how to spec an appropriate micro for a specific set of requirements. It's just that my current requirements are deliberately and frustratingly non-specific. :P
 

Offline Ian.M

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #17 on: March 20, 2018, 10:04:53 pm »
While I agree with Ians point about a dip chip version of the Uno in principle, I don't think its worthwhile these days,  the price of a new 328 dip chip is typically the same or more than the cost of a new clone Uno board with a smd chip.
Good point.  Maybe keep a spare Arduino with a SMD MCU, but if you don't get a socketed Uno, you loose the easy option for moving the programmed chip to your own project board when you get fed up with jumpering over to a breadboard or scratch-building proto-shields.

However if you can stand the  excrescence of an unused USB<=>UART chip and USB connector sitting inside your project, getting a ten pack of Arduino Nano clones cheap from China (for the bulk price) and soldering it in as a daughter-board may be easier and equally cost effective.  Where that approach falls down is battery micro-power projects, as there's a lot of board hacking to disable stuff you don't need that will cause excessive quiescent current consumption if you leave it, and when you've hacked out the LEDs and lifted the CH340g supply, RXD and TXD pins, there's a significant risk the ATmega328P is *STILL* going to draw excessive sleep current due to damage due to poor ESD control at the factory and during distribution and shipping.  OTOH  If you get a bare chip from a reputable western distributor, it comes in an antistatic bag, and you can be fairly confident it will deliver its rated sleep current unless you FUBAR it by lack of ESD precautions yourself.

Anyway a ATmega328P-PU chip isn't very expensive at MicrochipDirect:
https://www.microchipdirect.com/product/ATmega328P-PU
The only issue will be prohibitive P&P on very small orders, which is why I recommended using one's usual distributor so you can combine it with other stuff - unless they are ripping you off on Atmel MCUs.

3. Set up time is minimal. This is the opposite of every other embedded platform out there.

When you have had enough or hit a limitation, you can reuse the hardware and just program it with AVR-gcc, AVR-libc and avrdude.
more mature than elsewhere.
Installing the Arduino IDE is one of the easiest ways of getting a reasonably current AVR-GCC toolchain installed on a Windows PC, even if you never use the Arduino IDE because you prefer your own favourite IDE or programmer's editor.
 

Online NivagSwerdna

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #18 on: March 20, 2018, 10:16:34 pm »
"There are many things about the Arduino that suck from the point of view of an experienced developer".
This is oft quoted but personally I don't agree.  The default Arduino environment has a very basic IDE and the device itself has 'wiring' which abstracts away the hardware but there are no reasons you cannot drop down a level and get at the registers directly or put all your code in your own routine and avoid the overhead of loop(), or use the ICSP connection and Atmel ICE or Dragon and use AVR Studio.  Even assembly level programming is available in the Ardunio IDE with a few tweaks,

[I'm assuming this is non-commercial tinkering]
 

Offline Ian.M

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #19 on: March 20, 2018, 10:43:51 pm »
Things that IMHO suck about Arduino Uno and Arduino IDE.
Hardware - crazy Italian design decisions:

#1. Off-grid header layout that makes it difficult to use stripboard or matrix board.  Seriously, how hard is it to set the grid to 0.1" and enable snap to grid when placing connectors on a PCB?   There *MUST* have been some other agenda - maybe to encourage the sale of shields.

#2.  Crappy capacitive coupling of Reset pin to USB UART chip's control line. Would an isolation resistor or pluggable jumper so AVR debugWIRE would work 'fresh out the box' with an external debugger, have cost that much?  Having to take an Xacto knife to your Uno if you want to use debugWIRE or even if you want to avoid the Uno resetting if you close and reopen the USB serial port from the PC, is a PITA.  Not putting unpopulated pads for the user to add a pluggable jumper after making that cut is unforgivable.

#3.  Marginal heatsinking for 5V regulator - it could have used a lot more copper area and possibly pads round its tab for the user to solder on additional heatsinking.

#4.  When the Uno was revised to use an AVR for its USB interface, which required a real 16MHz crystal, would it have been too much to ask to add a single gate  buffer to tap that reasonably accurate 16MHz for the ATmega328P to replace the crappy ceramic resonator?

IDE & toolchain suckitude:

#5.  The code 'pre-munger' that attempts to automate forward declarations, (but FUBARs some legitimate C++ stuff) and parses the primary .ino file of the sketch to determine what files go in the build. 

#6.  Ditching main() and forcing the use of setup() and loop().    IMHO it would have been better if a hidden auto-generated main.cpp was created for each sketch, containing the main() function (with calls to initialisation functions and user supplied setup() and loop() functions) and Timer 0 interrupt vector definition, so the expert user could un-hide it and customise it to write vanilla AVR GCC code that hits the bare metal.  There are some workarounds that let you write your own main(), but you cant get the Arduino timekeeping ISR off the timer 0 overflow vector unless you write your own patched AVR core.

#7. Sucky IDE editor - lets not go there - EMACS with the apocryphal and  infamous space bar heating hack would be preferable.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 11:11:55 pm by Ian.M »
 
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Offline Brumby

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #20 on: March 20, 2018, 11:03:00 pm »
One apparently very important point that I left out of the OP in some misguided attempt at Canadian humility and clearly failed brevity is my programming background. I've been a ARM/x86 C/assembly/etc. embedded software developer for 25+ years, with a good amount of Atmel and PIC micro programming, talking to custom FPGAs for which the "datasheet" was literally a guy named Steve who sat next to me, for a number of years.

Well .... ummmm .... that is something of a disclosure.


But if you want some inexpensive and useful hardware, Arduino clones are good value.
 

Online NivagSwerdna

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #21 on: March 20, 2018, 11:03:22 pm »
or vim with a vim clutch?

https://github.com/alevchuk/vim-clutch

PS
+1 to everything Ian said, but an experienced developer will be able to work around quite a few of the niggles... and the hardware is SO SO SO cheap.  But don't disregards the ESP32 suggested earlier... that's very fun for IoT
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 11:05:41 pm by NivagSwerdna »
 

Offline RyanT

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #22 on: March 20, 2018, 11:29:34 pm »
or vim with a vim clutch?

Ha! Yeah, I have a very similar looking pedal that plugs into the back of my Kinesis Ergo with an RJ11 plug that I've mapped for the same purpose. Also doubles as a great hands-free push-to-talk button in online voice chat. As you do, I guess...

Thanks again for the advice.
 

Offline RyanT

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #23 on: March 20, 2018, 11:38:34 pm »
Well .... ummmm .... that is something of a disclosure.
Yeah, mea culpa. I really should have known you all don't know me as well as Steve does.

I miss Steve.
 

Offline josip

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Re: Arduino: To(o) cheap or not to(o) cheap?
« Reply #24 on: March 21, 2018, 02:00:36 am »
Just to clarify...

I mentioned Blue Pill, because it can be integrated in Arduino IDE...
https://hackaday.com/2017/03/30/the-2-32-bit-arduino-with-debugging/
https://onetransistor.blogspot.hr/2017/11/stm32-bluepill-arduino-ide.html
It is 3.3V device, but this voltage is enough for driving 5V logical input / signal. It has 5V tolerant pins, and board can be inserted (stacked) to another proto board, so chip package is irelevant here.

Unfortunately, when I was starting in micro world (30 years ago), I used what was available at that time. But if I am starting today, I will do it by ARM way, definitely. Don't see any reason for comeback to stone age. If I am teacher in class, and I have privilege to chose devices by myself, it will be ARM, and I will do low cost boards by myself for this. No PIC, Atmel or MSP.

My 2 cents, only. :popcorn:
 


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