Because the Arduino design is open source, there are many clones of the original range available online for significantly less than the official boards. Using a clone board can save you a lot of money. and these boards do everything the Arduino boards do, but they still might not be exactly what you’re looking for.
There are many great alternatives to Arduino, each with their own differences and benefits. In this article, we will look at some of the cheapest, fastest, and most interesting alternatives to the Arduino line.
1. NodeMCU: A cheap alternative to Arduino
NodeMCU (also known as ESP8266) can run the familiar Arduino architecture. What makes it more versatile is the ability to program Lua right on the board. Throw in built-in Wi-Fi and Arduino-like pinouts, and you can see why many consider these miniature microcontrollers to be a powerful alternative.
Aside from this extra functionality, the real benefit here is the price. They are an affordable alternative to most Arduino models. We used one of these in our Wi-Fi Controlled PC Case Lighting Tutorial, and in almost all home electronics projects, the NodeMCU is the perfect ally.
2. Teensy 3: A fast Arduino alternative
Speaking of fast Arduino alternatives, it’s hard to find anything better than the Teensy range of boards. Now in iteration 3.6, these little boards are similar in shape to the smaller Arduino Nano and Arduino Micro boards, but with a hidden punch.
The latest version of Teensy 3.6 uses a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 processor clocked at 180MHz, delivering an astonishing level of processing power for its size. The latest release comes with a built-in microSD card slot for additional onboard storage. Teensy is also an acceptable alternative in terms of cost, with the 3.6 board priced at just over $30. YouTuber MickMake has a detailed video test of the board and demonstrates some of its features:
As mentioned in the video above, the already powerful onboard processor can be overclocked, giving even more speed to this wonder board. These boards have become popular with many tinkerers as they are compatible with the Arduino IDE using the Teensyduino library. This works in tandem with Teensy’s own upload software, making writing and uploading code familiar to anyone who has worked with Arduino boards.
Teensy also works as a USB HID device, much like the Arduino Pro Micro. This makes it ideal for builds that require board recognition in the same way as our custom shortcut buttons project.
Teensy boards are growing in popularity and it’s easy to see why!
3. MSP430 Launchpad: A Low Power Alternative to Arduino
While price and speed are important factors in most DIY builds, power consumption is also an ongoing issue. Recording devices designed to be left in place for some time can struggle to maintain their function even with today’s powerful battery banks.
The solution to this problem can be found in the MSP430 line of boards. Many users report that for 15 years they have been using a low power alternative, and the operating current is three times lower than similar Arduino boards. For an introduction to the MSP430, see Ben Heck’s introductory video: