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Different Development Boards

If we are planning to start working with microcontrollers (MCUs) /microprocessors (MPUs), we would want to start with something which is simple and required minimum hardware to assemble. In that case, development boards are the things we should be looking for. So let’s look at what development boards are.

Skip to the list of popular development boards.

MCU or MPU development boards are printed circuit boards(PCBs) that contain a microcontroller with certain necessary components (like voltage regulator and crystal) so that an engineer or hobbyist can become accustomed to the MCU/MPU programming environment. They generally have an on-board debugging IC, voltage regulator, crystal, and all IOs as pinouts. They are provided with many example programs to get us started. Also, the content and the details of the board and the MCU, are well documented, so that anyone can quickly learn its architecture and get some programming know-how. It is a good marketing strategy to attract engineering companies to evaluate the microcontroller with minimum resources before deploying it. For now, we shall be concentrating more on development boards for hobby purpose.

When we choose an MCU/MPU development board for hobby purpose, we look for:

Availability in our country In a country like the USA, there are almost all development boards at your disposal. But in India, we are left with few options to choose from. Yes we can definitely order them from the USA, but the custom and delivery charges are very high (sometimes even more than the price of the development board).
Documentation and Support It is a key point, but almost all development boards have great support available on the web. We would want something easy to start off, like – plugin and program. ST has many development boards which I feel are relatively easier to develop because of the lucid but, detailed documentation that is available online.
Cost Definitely, as hobbyist’s, we will not be willing to shed a lot of money (unless it is worth it). We would want a development board which has a more to give than to take.
Purpose What purpose is the development board going to serve? Or to rephrase it, for what application are we going to use the board for? Well, a development board should have a lot of peripherals, so that we can integrate it into a lot of applications and hobby projects. We wouldn’t the development board to be application centric.

Different development boards:

1. ST Microelectronics

ST has 3 main series of 32-bit microcontroller development boards and is the most popular development platform as of now (my personal favorite).

Nucleo boards Are relatively the cheapest; with an onboard debugger and USB port.
Discovery boards Have a fine balance between rich onboard peripherals and optimum cost. They generally have onboard ICs to integrate it in innumerable applications. Like STM32F4 discovery board has onboard accelerometer, gyro sensor, IC for USB and audio support as well (great for quadcopter development).
EVAL boards Are heavily loaded with onboard peripherals and are costly; mainly designed for evaluation purpose for companies.

Note: There is a difference between on-chip peripherals and onboard peripherals, don’t get confused between the two. On-chip peripherals lie inside the microcontroller chip, while the onboard peripherals lie on the PCB of the development board.STM32f4 discovery

As shown in the image of the stm32f4 discovery board, 3 axis accelerometer, Audio DAC IC, Microphone IC are onboard peripherals, while 3 SPIs, 2 I2Cs, 3 ADC, 2 DAC are on-chip peripherals which are integrated inside the stm32f407vgt6 MCU IC.

Links to the website:

Nucleo boards Discovery boards Evaluation tools

2. Arduino

Arduino boards were introduced to the market mainly targeting all hobbyists. These provide easy integration of a microcontroller in our projects.  There are a lot of prebuilt libraries to get us started quickly. Such development platform is recommended for hobbyist and not industrial applications. The board mainly has an 8-bit microcontroller except Arduino Due which has a Cortex M3 32-bit microcontroller.

Links to the website:

Arduino (USA) Genuino (Outside USA)

3. Texas Instrumentation

TI has 4 different types of development boards called TI LaunchPads. They are priced from about 10$ to 20$ and have a lot of software support from TI.

MSP LaunchPads for Ultra Low power and general purpose applications
C2000 LaunchPads for motor control design and digital control applications
Connected LaunchPads for Wifi, USB, Ethernet and other communication peripherals
Hercules LaunchPads for functional safety applications. Have Cortex-R (ARM’s high-performance real-time processor series) in the lock step cores.

The about tab will get you started with the TI terminologies and IDE’s and the LaunchPad tab in the link will guide you through all the development boards in detail.

Links to the website:

All TI Boards LaunchPad Board Details TI terminologies

4. PIC (Microchip)

PIC (Peripheral Interface Controller) is a family of modified Harvard architecture microcontrollers made by Microchip Technology. There are 8,16 and 32-bit PIC MCU development boards. Also, there are a lot of development tools, targeting almost every possible application.

Links to the website:

32-bit MCU boards Development Tools

5. Atmel (Acquired by Microchip in 2016)

Atmel Xplained is a fast prototyping and evaluation platform for Atmel AVR and Atmel ARM-based microcontrollers (MCUs). Atmel also has expansion boards to add more peripherals to your embedded project.

Links to the website:

Atmel Xplained

6. MikroElektronika

Mikroelektronika is a company based in BelgradeSerbia which manufactures and sells microcontroller development boards, accessory boards, compilers, and books. It is not a semiconductor chip manufacturers, but rather integrate MCUs, and other peripherals on a PCB to form a development board. It provides proper software support along with prebuilt libraries and  easy Integration environment for the boards. It sells Development boards for PICdsPIC / PIC24PIC32AVRARM Cortex-M, 8051, PSoC and NXP microcontrollers. (relatively costly)

Links to the website:

MikroElektronika

7. Microprocessor Boards

These are microprocessor based development boards. They have high processing power similar to the processors on your mobile phone.  You can develop your own personal computer using such boards. The Raspberry Pi is a very prominent microprocessor development board.  BeagleBone is another development board which has recently been in the limelight. Intel Galileo is another very powerful microprocessor board. They are considerably cheap and rich in prebuilt libraries and resources, ideal for hobbyists.

Links to the website:

Raspberry Pi BeagleBone Intel Galileo

Before you buy anything online, I highly recommend that you investigate about the delivery and international customs while making an international order. Though, I would always prefer to buy from the local online stores.

If you are an Indian resident, do visit my next blog to get the list of online sites to buy embedded and robotic parts in India.

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