This guide helps to clarify the uses and costs of each of the different Arduino types. When I started with Arduino I was overwhelmed by all the different types of Arduino – I had no idea which one to buy or which one I should use for my projects. I put together this guide based on my experience and some research to hopefully make it a bit clearer for you.
These are the 9 families of Arduino boards, with their typical costs compared in the following table:
|UNO||$20 – $45|
|MKR||$24 – $77|
|Nano||$12 – $34|
- UNO and MKR are fairly beginner friendly, with the more expensive MKR offering greater connectivity (WiFi and Bluetooth) options
- Mega is good for robotics projects, including CNC machines and 3D printers
- Nano family are cost effective alternatives to the MKR, and are good for networks of sensors
- Due is good for efficient graphics and sound processing
- Leonardo and Micro are good alternatives to the UNO, particularly for USB connectivity
- Yun offers an embedded Linux system which can function as a multi-tasking server
- Portenta is incredibly powerful
In this guide I’ve gone into more depth on what each of these types of Arduino are good at, and what alternatives can be considered. I’ve also looked at what sort of projects would benefit from each type of Arduino.
I’ve included a References section at the end of this guide if you’re interested to know where I got my info from. Prices in this guide do not include tax or shipping.
UNO family boards typically cost between $20 and $45 depending on whether you get the Rev 3 or the WiFi Rev 2. The Surface Mount Device (SMD) version of the UNO Rev 3 is the cheapest board in the UNO family. The WiFi Rev 2 is the most expensive due to its built-in WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.
The UNO family boards are designed for:
- Introductory projects in the world of Arduino
- Simple and easy to use hardware and components
- Greatest compatibility with shields (thanks to the 5V operating voltage)
Anyone getting started working with Arduino will get the most out of the UNO family. I’ve found it to be a great platform to learn how to get the Arduino to work with external hardware, and all the basics of using libraries in sketches.
The UNO family short-comings are that they’re not very powerful and are more expensive (considering what you get) than some of the other options.
Good alternatives to the UNO family include:
- MKR family, for WiFi, Bluetooth, and more wireless connectivity options
- Mega, as a powerful alternative for robotics-focused projects
- Nano, to save money
- Leonardo, for improved USB connectivity
I cover all of these further below in this guide.
MKR family boards range from $24 to $77, though expect to spend $30 on the more popular boards. The MKR Zero is typically at the cheapest end of this range, however it does not include the connectivity options that other MKR boards have. Expect to spend $32 for an MKR board with WiFi and Bluetooth.
The MKR family is designed for:
- Internet of Things (IoT) projects
- Projects with a distributed network of sensors
- Easy battery compatibility
- Cloud connectivity
I feel the MKR boards are great for projects where a lot of information has to be moved around. That might include collecting data from a network of sensors and uploading it to the cloud, or it might also include capturing sound input and processing that.
Connectivity is also an important feature of MKR family boards. Most MKR boards come with WiFi and Bluetooth. If you’re interested in Bluetooth or WiFi connected Arduino boards, I recently wrote guides on which Arduinos have these connectivity options, and how to use them. Check out my guides here: Bluetooth, WiFi.
If connecting shields to an MKR board it’s important to check shield compatibility. Most MKR boards run at 3.3V whereas most shields are designed for 5V (other Arduino boards). The lower voltage helps the MKR use less power when running, however it also means that there are less shields it works with. For projects related to collecting data from sensors, I haven’t found this to be a problem.
The latest board in the Mega family is the MEGA 2560 which typically costs $40. Mega boards are designed to be similar in compatibility to the UNO while offering a greater number of digital and analog input/output pins. Mega boards also have a slightly larger amount of memory as well.
The MEGA 2560 is great for:
- Projects that involve 3D printers or robotics (due to its ability to control a greater number of external devices)
- More complicated programs, as it has a larger amount of memory
- Compatibility – it is designed to support the same shields and interfaces that the UNO boards do
The Mega has more flash memory, SRAM, and EEPROM than the similar UNO boards. If you’re curious what this means, check out my guide to Arduino memory here: chipwired.com/arduino-memory-amount-guide/
I’ve found the Mega family can be a good alternative to the UNO family for any project that involves controlling many motors, such as robotics. The only thing it lacks is WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity built in (these have to be added using a shield, or also consider the UNO WiFi Rev 2).
The Nano family typically offers the cheapest Arduino boards, ranging in price from $12 to $34. The more expensive Nano boards include WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, while the cheaper boards are designed to offer a full Arduino experience in a small and cheap package.
Nano boards work well with:
- Projects that have a very small form factor (Nano boards don’t take up much space)
- Networks of sensors (low power consumption and great connectivity options)
- Saving money – they’re a more affordable way to get started with Arduino
While it is possible to control motors (and hence robots) with an Arduino Nano, it may be a better option to consider a different family if this is your intended project.
I’ve found networks of sensors or remote control projects (e.g. plant feeder) to be most suitable for the Nano family. They may also make good boards for designing custom peripherals for a PC (e.g. custom keyboard) due to their Bluetooth connectivity options.
Some Nano boards operate at 3.3V and some at 5V, please bear this in mind if looking to work with shields and Arduino Nano boards.
The Arduino Due typically costs $40 and includes a 32-bit microcontroller with serial, SPI, JTAG, and USB interfaces.
An Arduino Due seems good for:
- Graphics and sound processing
- Efficient processing
- Relatively low power use to accomplish the above
I’ve seen the Arduino Due used in projects that involve manipulating/generating graphics, working with sound, and complicated robotics projects. I’d say it’s ability to process larger numbers efficiently helps it with these applications.
The Arduino Due operates at 3.3V. This should be noted when looking at shields to use with the Arduino Due.
The Arduino Leonardo costs roughly $20 and is designed around its USB interface. The Leonardo has one microcontroller responsible for running sketches and communicating over USB, as opposed to the UNO family which typically has a separate USB controller.
Thanks to this integrated USB connectivity, the Leonardo is great for:
- USB communication with a computer, such as acting as a USB peripheral (e.g. keyboard or mouse)
- Replacing an UNO family board with a cheaper package (having everything on one chip reduces costs compared to some UNO family boards)
Most projects I’ve seen with the Leonardo are either interfacing with a computer (I saw one that was an ’emoji keyboard’ made using a Leonardo), or as a replacement for an UNO (Leonardo also runs at 5V).
The Arduino Micro costs approximately $20 and appears to be designed as a smaller alternative to the Leonardo. It boasts built-in USB connectivity without the need for an alternative USB communications chip.
I’ve noticed that most projects which use a Leonardo can use a Micro instead, though with some modification to the design. While the Micro also runs at 5V, some modification to circuits might be needed as the board itself is a different size. The Micro seems to work well with breadboards, so it might be easy to modify these designs.
An Arduino Yun typically costs $56 and includes a Linux-targeted processor built-in. The addition of a processor running Linux and WiFi allows the Yun to be used as an embedded processor for WiFi and internet communications.
It is recommended to purchase an SD card to use as memory for the Yun.
As the Yun has a more general purpose operating system and processor, it can be used for:
- Running as a server handling multiple connections to other devices simultaneously
- Executing Python scripts
- Projects which require a small footprint, such as embedding a tiny computer into something else
I feel the Yun competes a little with the Raspberry Pi. While they have different design intents, the Yun’s ability to run a general purpose operating system – allowing it to act as a server and control multiple things at once – pits it against the cheaper Raspberry Pis.
An Arduino Portenta starts at approximately $103. It is possible to order custom Portenta boards from Arduino with options for changing at least the memory, some of the onboard chips, or the antenna. These customisations attract a higher price and may include a minimum order quantity.
Highlights of the Portenta features include:
- WiFi and Bluetooth
- Graphics processor, allowing it to be connected to an external monitor
- Dual core processor allowing independent code (and languages) to execute on each core, while communicating between cores
The Portenta is the same size as the MKR family.
Projects that are suitable for the Arduino Portenta include:
- Industrial interface and control projects, by offering the ability to program custom user interfaces and display while controlling an array of PLC or other control devices
- Computer vision, by being able to execute AI image processing algorithms
- Advanced robotics, by being able to control significantly more external devices than other Arduino boards, and by being able to execute in real time
I mention real time like this as the Portenta can work with a real time operating system. This is a special type of operating system that is configured to ensure functions are executed at precise timings even if the operating system is overloaded with many tasks to execute. This is the difference between a airplane operating system (works regardless of how loaded it is) compared to Windows (sluggish if you run a lot of programs at once).
I haven’t seen a real competitor to the Portenta either. Apparently it can function like any other Arduino (I haven’t seen how this works yet, but apparently the functionality is there), as well as be used as a general purpose computer with display. This variety of features seem to position it as a more powerful (in terms of options available to you) alternative to the Raspberry Pi.
The Portenta seems to be the ultimate Arduino, though with a price tag to match. While it’s all powerful, I find it tough to recommend to most people who work with Arduino.
If you’re interested in more details on costs of Arduino, check out my guide here: chipwired.com/arduino-cost-guide/
If you’re interested in the best online stores to buy Arduino from (there are good alternatives to Amazon!), check out my guide here: chipwired.com/arduino-component-shops/
Other references I used in this guide include:
Chris first worked with Arduino over a decade ago. He’s amazed at the diversity and power that Arduino devices have developed since then.