The Arduino is a fantastic microcontroller. Though it's not the only microcontroller unit (MCU) on the market, the Arduino has become the de facto standard for microcontrollers. Using an Arduino, it's possible to perform a number of projects, from blinking an LED to creating an automatic garden waterer. Buy you can use a variety of Arduino clones and alternatives. Which Arduino IDE-compatible MCU you pick depends on your needs. Check out the best Arduino clones you can buy!
What is an Arduino Clone and Why Should You Buy One?
Although there are plenty of official Arduino microcontrollers, tons of Arduino IDE-compatible devices exist. For instance, there's the Arduino Uno, and a slew of other MCUs. Still, it's worth considering an Arduino clone. Essentially, these microcontrollers retain compatibility with the open-source Arduino IDE, or integrated development environment. The IDE is a software component that features a text editor, message area, text console, and toolbar. Using an Arduino means uploading code into the IDE, which in turn powers various components on the Arduino board to control connected hardware including LEDs, servo motors, and more.
Buying Arduino clones is a fantastic option. Since the Arduino IDE is open source, you'll benefit from functionality with loads of MCUs besides official Arduino boards. In this case, unofficial is by no meant illegitimate. Instead, it's simply third-party. You'll be able to select from a variety of unofficial Arduino boards that flaunt features for specific projects such as wearable tech and more.
Are Arduino Clones any Good?
The biggest question you might have is "ard Arduino clones any good?" Luckily, the answer is a resounding yes, with a caveat. I've used tons of Arduino IDE-compatible microcontrollers. Since Arduino software and hardware is open-source, virtually any company can order a suitable MCU that functions with the Arduino integrated development environment. I've had major success with offerings from Elegoo, Elecrow, and a handful of others. But I do suggest reading reviews, and purchasing from a legitimate website such as Mouser, Amazon, Adafruit, or directly from a company.
Hailing from Evil Mad Scientist, the Diavolino is worth buying on its edgy aesthetic along. Black with red accents, and flame designs on the back, the Diavolino, or Little Devil, is an affordable Arduino-compatible microcontroller. This development board touts the same form factor of an Arduino Pro or Arduino Deumilanove. At its core you'll find an ATmega328P microcontroller. Helpfully, the Arduino bootloader comes pre-loaded. Although the Diavolino is mostly assembled, it does come as a through-hole soldering kit so you'll need basic soldering skills in order to get up and running with it. At about $12 USD, the Diavolino is a ridiculously affordable Arduino clone.
Designed by Leah Buechley, the LilyPad Arduino is aptly-named. Its form factor does indeed resemble a lilypad, and chances are that if you're looking for an Arduino to add to a wearable tech project, this is the microcontroller for you. It's intended for e-textiles and wearables.
When comparing the Freeduino vs. Arduino, there are tons of similarities. The Freeduino project aims to publish an open version of Arduino's closed PCB design. Any users may recreate Arduino hardware with Freeduino Eagle SCH, BRD, and Gerber production files. It's a novel idea, and really useful for open-source buffs.
The ESP8266-based NodeMCU Internet of Things (IoT) board is a fantastic Arduino-compatible board. There's an Arduino core for the ESP8266 NodeMCU that allows for compiling an Arduino source file for the MCU. This ESP8266 Core for the Arduino IDE makes developing with the Arduino integrated development environment a breeze.
From Texas Instruments (TI) comes the MSp430. A low-power MCU for a smattering of uses, from measuring and sensing to connecting both digital and analog devices. Although the Arduino IDE isn't directly compatible, it is easy enough to use Energia for running the majority of Arduino libraries, as well as Arduino Sketch, on the MSP430. Thus, the MSP430 is a great beginner-friendly Arduino board that appeals to new users and seasoned makers alike.
The Teensy is, as the name suggests, a small, USB development board. Using Teensyduino, a software add-on, it's easy to run Arduino programs on the Teensy board. Boasting compatibility with the Arduino IDE. Despite its tiny footprint, the aptly-named Teensy features a powerful ARM Cortex processor.
SunFounder offers a slew of Arduino-compatible boards. I'm a fan of its Arduino Uno R3 MCU. Helpfully, SunFounder features tons of different all-in-one Arduino kits. What I really appreciate about SunFounder is the way that it not only provides Arduino IDE-compliant boards, but also starter kits and specific project bundles.
Offering a smorgasbord of Arduino clone microcontrollers and kits, SainSmart delivers loads of affordable Arduino-compatible MCUs and bundles. SainSmart offers everything from Arduino Uno kits to Uno R3 boards Uno Nano V3s, Mega 2560s, and more. There's a ton of choice for snagging a standalone Arduino alternative or comprehensive kit.
Adafruit provides many superb projects and maker boards. One of my favorite dev boards is the Flora, a wearable tech platform similar to the LilyPad. At a mere 4.4 grams and just shy of 2-inches in diameter, the Flora is small but mighty. Onboard, you'll find GPS modules, chainable LED NeoPixels, and a smattering of sensors. It's easy to integrate into fabric for cosplay or other wearable electronics projects. Remaining functional with the Arduino IDE, the Flora simply works as a uniquely-shaped Arduino-compatible MCU.
When it comes to affordable electronics, Elegoo is a consistent go-to. The Elegoo Neptune and Mars 3D printers truly dominate as budget 3D printers punching well above their weight classes. Elegoo provides Arduino-compatible devices including an Arduino Uno R3 starter kit. You'll even find accessories such as an Elegoo Uno R3 touch screen. For high-quality Arduino alternatives, Elegoo is a winner.
Best Arduino Clones You can Buy - Final Thoughts
Arduino clones are fantastic, especially from well-known third-parties such as Elegoo, Elecrow, and SunFounder. In addition to standalone boards, you can snag starter or specific projects like a smart plant watering system. Then the Flora and LilyPad are perfect for wearable tech projects. Likewise, the Teensy is the Noisy Cricket of Arduino alternatives with a small stature but big processing power. Not only does the Diavolino look rad, but it's super affordable and well speced.
Check out these other MCUs and dev boards in our Electromaker board guide!