Microcontrollers basically follow similar designs. They have limited onboard memory, operate at low power, and feature a set of General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) pins that are typically programmable via a USB cable.

There are so many boards to choose from that it can be hard to choose the perfect one for you. Beginners have a completely different experience with hardware than people who could program or work with electronics before.

No matter what level you’re at, one of these microcontrollers should work well for you.

1. Best microcontroller for beginners
Arduino Uno R3

If you have an interest in microcontrollers, you have almost certainly heard of the Arduino. They popularized open source hobby hardware with their set of development boards and an independent development environment (IDE) to code them.

The Arduino Uno R3 is the standard Arduino found in most starter kits and is the easiest to use. If budget is an issue, note that Arduino is open source hardware. Therefore, copies of the design are completely legal. If you’re looking for Arduino clones, you’ll find plenty at a much lower price than the official Arduino boards.

2. The best microcontroller for kids
Makeblock mCore Robot Controller

Wait, that doesn’t look like a microcontroller board!

Well, the mBot Robot Kit has a microcontroller as its brain. Its design makes it ideal for teaching kids about robotics without having to deal with complicated code. The visual code of the block, collected in the Blocky app, is transmitted to the board via Bluetooth to influence the behavior of the robot.

You can buy the microcontroller separately from the robot kit, but why not? Robots are the best!

This kit covers everything from building robots to the basics of programming. For introducing microcontrollers to a young audience, there is nothing better!

3. The best microcontroller for programmers
STM32 F3 Discovery

The STM32 F3 Discovery board is an ARM Cortex-M4 based MCU for experimenting with all aspects of hardware programming. The board is equipped with a built-in motion detector, a three-axis gyroscope, a linear acceleration sensor and a magnetic field sensor.

There are also eight LEDs in a circular arrangement. Please note that this board requires a separate FTDI adapter to communicate with computers via USB. If you’re not sure what they are, one of these was used in our build of our own Arduino guide to communicate with the ATMega328P chip.

Learning to program the F3 Discovery is a deeper process than many other microcontrollers. Luckily, there are libraries that make this process more accessible, and many tutorials start with the basics. Along with its use of the C++ programming language, the board is the subject of The Book of Discoveries; Getting Started Guide to Implementing the Rust Programming Language.

4. Best microcontroller for wearable
Adafruit Gemma M0

With microcontrollers combining advanced control over LEDs and other components with small form factors and low power requirements, it’s no wonder they show up in costume design and cosplay. Adafruit’s Gemma M0 board is a coin-sized microcontroller ideal for connecting LEDs or other components with a conductive thread. Alternatively, you can use DotStar’s built-in RGB LED.

The ATSAMD21E18 chip (try to say hurry up) is a step up from the usual onboard controllers for microcontrollers of this type. While you can use a standard C++ type Arduino, the board comes pre-installed with CircuitPython for Python programming and its own USB connection, which is not usually found on other boards of this type.

5. The best microcontroller for power
Teensy 3.2

For raw power in a tiny form factor, the Teensy 3.2 line is considered the best. The 32-bit ARM Cortex microprocessor runs rings on almost any other board. Beyond speed, Teensy has I2C audio integration and several high-quality analog-to-digital converters (ADCs).

Each pin on the Teensy is configured as an interrupt, and the boards run with 64KB of RAM and 256KB of flash. All of this is compatible with the Arduino IDE using the Teensyduino library, and if the 28 pin Teensy 3.2 isn’t enough for you, the 48 pin Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 headers are available on the PJRC website.

6. Best microcontroller for intermediate users
Mbed LPC1768 Development Board

Taking the next step away from hobby microcontrollers is more like a leap. Industrial use of embedded hardware can be much more complex and have a much higher cost of entry at both the hardware and software levels.

A good example of a board right at the interface between consumer and industry is the Mbed LPC1768 Development Board. This board is a leap forward in quality and tools, and the price reflects that. Mbed provides an online hardware IDE and a library to perform tasks with GPIO pins and onboard LEDs.

This significant price jump also reflects the difference in use cases. Boards like the LPC1768 find use in standard industry situations, and using the board to deepen your knowledge can be an important part of learning embedded programming.

Small Boards, Big Plans

This list should help you make an informed decision about which microcontroller is right for you. This, however, is by no means exhaustive, and misses out on great boards like the Arduino killing the NodeMCU.

Whichever board you end up with, microcontrollers are the perfect way to combine electronics and coding. Any of these Arduino help you deal with both!

Image Credit: Ha4ipiri / Depositphotos

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