Welcome to the 2020 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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The Clue is a stand-alone powerhouse, able to complete many projects without expansion. On board, you’ll find a 1.3" color LCD screen, Bluetooth, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometric pressure sensor, humidity sensor, proximity light and gesture sensor, buzzer, and two buttons. Like most of Adafruit’s boards, this comes with built-in battery management for mobile applications. An expansion plug for STEMMA accessories allows for easy additions if needed. And it has that useful BBC micro:bit form factor. Mix in the ease of CircuitPython and you have a pretty great platform for learning, experimenting, and tinkering. For more information or to purchase, click here.
Arduino makes a return to their breadboard-friendly Nano line with the cheap, basic, Arduino Nano Every. This board fits directly into a breadboard, making it even easier to connect to other parts during prototyping. What caught our eye about the Nano Every was the header-free version. This wee feature is a nod to more experienced makers: You can treat it as a module. Prototype and design your PCB around it, then solder the Nano Every straight onto the board, as if it was just one more part. That’s a godsend for turning out small batches of electronics. For more information or to purchase, click here.
The H7 is the fourth generation of machine vision microcontroller OpenMV has released in as many years. That rapid iteration shows: the IDE feels polished. The documentation holds your hand with a quick-but-complete guided tour of how to get set up and what this little smart camera can do.
OpenMV has more than a dozen machine vision routines, including recognizing faces and QR codes. Perhaps more importantly, they provide more than 100 sample programs, several for each of the different vision routines the camera knows. They bring a previously difficult technology into reach, letting any maker get started in vision-activated gizmos. For more information or to purchase, click here.
Stamp-sized and costing less than $5, the Seeed Xiao puts the respectable power of an SAMD21 ARM chip into a tiny but fully Arduino-IDE-compatible package. We’re happy to see a robust USB-C power and data input jack — microUSB has been a weak link on devices for years. Four pads on the back offer an additional battery option, great for those wanting to put this to use for affordable wearable computing projects. Optionally, a tidy Grove shield gives you up to 8 connections for fast hardware expansion. For more information or to purchase, click here.
With 600MHz clock speed, the Teensy 4.0 and 4.1 have horsepower beyond anything we’re used to seeing in the microcontroller space. The NXP proccessor at their hearts brings a smattering of features you might expect in a single- board computer rather than a hobby microcontroller: a CAN bus for communicating with automotive electronics, audio output, and processing for graphics and encryption. The Teensy 4.1 offers additional memory, additional I/Os, fast Ethernet, SD card and USB access, in a package that’s just an inch larger than the diminutive Teensy 4.0. You get the power of a Y2K desktop at a price of a board with less than a tenth of the specs. For more information or to purchase, click here.
Jetson Nano is built for flexibility. It runs all the popular machine learning frameworks. If drawing 10W of power is too much for your creation, it can down-power half its cores to run at 5W. And if you discover that you just can’t do without faster performance after making version 1 of your creation on Nano, the same deep learning models you built on Nano will run on the higher-end Jetsons, no changes needed. If you’ve been interested in trying out Deep Learning to make a self-driven robot or other trained- rather-than-programmed creation, this kit occupies a sweet spot of power and price. For more information or to purchase, click here.
Reviews by Mel Ho, Sam Brown, Caleb Kraft, and Mike Senese
By Limor Fried, founder and CEO, Adafruit
What breakthroughs happen to help advance embedded electronics? Form factor, IC development, and cost of production all have a lasting effect on development boards. As semiconductor companies release new chips with faster processing speeds and lower power requirements, they make their way into devices of all types, including the boards that makers use for their projects. These new chips often include additional functionality over previous models; we’re seeing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi now available at a very low cost. These capabilities allow for easier prototyping and MCU integration for production. Many of these boards also have a vast ecosystem ready to expand with an abundance of sensors, peripherals, and other I/Os. And in the end, the end user gets more for their buck. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Use the “Boards Guide” augmented reality app to watch Adafruit’s Limor Fried discuss the latest developments in board development.