Welcome to the 2019 Guide to Boards! It's often said, when you're looking to make a project, be sure to use the right tool for the job — this applies as much to woodworking as it does to a high-powered electronics endeavor. With that in mind, this guide is designed to help you find the perfect brain for your creation. We've gathered and listed the specs of nearly all the latest and greatest boards available now, including microcontrollers, single board computers, and FPGAs. From robotics to AI to IoT, you'll find what you need here. Dig in!
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By Sam Brown
The Feather M4 Express is at the crossroads of Adafruit's two recent pushes: It has the Feather form factor that makes it breadboard-friendly with plenty of plug-in boards to add to its features. And it has the ATSAMD51 processor, giving you the option to code it in classic C++, or Python. A spot of perf board at the end of the Feather even gives you room to solder on a few extra components, to hold whatever last few bits your project needs. For more information or to purchase, click here.
Does the Uno finally have competition as Arduino's most beginner-friendly board? Arduino's new MKR format is more breadboard-friendly than the original, with stacking headers so you have the option to seat it in a breadboard or wire straight in. The MKR WIFI 1010 adds Wi-Fi, so the projects you build on it can be internet enabled. For more information or to purchase, click here.
Raspberry Pi returns to its roots with the model A+, now in the middle of RPi's offerings between the I/O-rich model B+ and the tiny Pi Zero line. This one's a just-right fit for embedded computers that need a bit more horsepower than the Zero can muster, but don't need all the desktop-friendly features of the B+, like the added USB jacks and memory. For more information or to purchase, click here.
A single board computer from a storied maker of overclockable desktop computers, the Tinker Board does not skimp on horsepower. This year sees the release of the new model "S", with hardware tweaks, like 16GB of non-volatile RAM, so you can load your OS and software package on the board and reclaim your SD card. The classic Tinker Board got a price drop to differentiate it from the model "S", giving us another reason to love this board. For more information or to purchase, click here.
It's inexpensive. It fits in a small mint tin. It has 52 (52!) GPIO pins to interact with the physical world. The main processor runs at 1GHz, with a half-gig of memory for running whatever Linux programs you have in mind. It has two "PRU" subprocessors that react in a single clock cycle; great for tending sensors and keeping PWM motors running smoothly even while the main processor is loaded with the heaviest tasks you can heap on it. For more information or to purchase, click here.
This is a fantastic board for learning to program FPGA chips that rewire themselves. Small and inexpensive, the TinyFPGA BX has power enough for maker-scale projects. The toolchain for programming this board is 100% open source, so you don't have to wait for your license to be approved to start creating. The tutorials start you at step one, neither hiding nor exaggerating the complexities of hardware description languages. For more information or to purchase, click here.
By Limor Fried, founder and CEO, Adafruit
Designing and producing microcontrollers isn't just my job, it's my passion. I've been creating electronics for 18 years, starting with my very first kit, the MiniPOV, up to the newest board, Adafruit Grand Central Express. Every engineer and electronics maker has an individual process of coming up with a new product; here's what I do for mine.
1. Most boards start by watching new chips from companies, and listening to what customers and fans are looking for.
2. I study component specs and samples to determine value for beginners and experts alike.
3. From there, we design the board layout — I use Eagle CAD, but some folks here like KiCad.
4. Next, we hand-assemble a PCB prototype. Usually there are 2–4 revisions depending on complexity.
5. Tester design! We make sure to test every element of the board.
6. Production: We do an initial run of about 100 boards to start. Once those sell, we do 250 pieces, and then finally 1,000 at a time.