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What is the Best Smallest Arduino Board in the Market?

Are you looking to buy or use the smallest Arduino board but unsure of which to go for? Several options exist and choosing one over the other is a matter of preference, cost and performance of the board.

In this article, we help you streamline the different options in the market and narrow down to the smallest Arduino circuit board.

What is Arduino Board?

Before we proceed, here is an idea of what to expect from the smallest Arduino board. Generally, Arduino is an open-source platform used for the development of electronic projects. Based on an easy-to-use software or IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and a Microcontroller/hardware; it allows for the flexible development of electronics.

Several Arduino boards exist today, but the ones with a smaller real estate are becoming more popular. You can use these boards for a wide range of purposes, including:

  • Reading inputs, such as the finger on a button and the light on a sensor.
  • Turning the read input into an output, such as turning on a Light Emitting Diode (LED) and activating a motor.

Smallest Development Boards from Arduino

Small Arduino Board
Small Arduino Board

A wide range of boards are available and some of them come in their smallest of sizes. From the classics to the new entries, you can be sure of finding a smaller Arduino board from the list.

1. Arduino Micro

As the name signifies, Arduino Micro is meant to be “micro” – small. It is a successor to the Arduino Leonardo, but it takes a few of the predecessor’s features.

Here are some of the attributes:

  • The Microcontroller: it is based on the ATmega32U4 microcontroller – the same as what the Arduino Leonardo used.
  • Zero Need for a Secondary Processor: the Arduino Micro board doesn’t need a secondary processor, thanks to the built-in USB connection. This is also a major boost to the connection capabilities, as the board’s flexible connection and communication with the computer is assured.
  • Memory: the Arduino Micro’s ATmega32U4 microcontroller uses a 4 KB for the bootloader, 1 KB of EEPROM and up to 2.5 KB of SRAM.
  • Power Options: you can power the board in two ways. On the one hand, it uses a Micro-USB power connection, which is automated. On the other hand, it also supports an external power supply, which doesn’t use a USB. The external power supply is derived from either a battery of a Direct Current (DC) power supply.
  • Programming: the Arduino IDE can be used for the board’s programming. Also, there are flexibilities here, as you get to choose between the preprogrammed and bypassing programming options. For the preprogrammed, you are using the ATmega32U4 preprogrammed with the bootloader to make new code uploads, without needing n external hardware programmer. You can also use the In-Circuit Serial Programming (ICSP) header to make a bootloader bypassing. This allows for the microcontroller to be programmed via the ICSP.
  • Virtual Serial Port: the Arduino Micro also has a virtual serial port that allows for the connection to a computer in any of the following forms: a generic peripheral, a keyboard and a mouse.

2. Arduino Nano

The Arduino Nano boards interface between the Arduino UNO and Arduino Micro boards. Designed to offer a combination of affordability and smaller real estate, they are one of the smallest microcontroller boards you can find out there.

Although it maintains a similar connection as the Arduino UNO, it uses a different kind of microcontroller – the ATmega328P.

The wide range of boards in the Arduino Nano family are known for the following attributes:

  • Memory
  • Central Processing Units (CPUs)
  • Onboard sensors
  • Flexible and versatile usage for robotics, the Internet of Things (IoTs) and wearables.

The following are some of the popular Arduino Nano boards:

Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect

Featuring the RP2040 chip from Raspberry Pi, the board supports both the libraries and ecosystems from both Arduino and Raspberry.

The properties include:

  • Connectivity: it supports the 12C, Wi-Fi, UART, BT/BLE connectivity, SPI and up to 23 GPIO pins.
  • Memory: this includes 264-Kb SRAM and 16 Megabytes of Flash.
  • A dedicated port for TensorFlow Lite.

Arduino Nano Every

Measuring 45 by 18 mm, the Arduino Nano Every board is a significant improvement to the previous generation of the Arduino Nano.

The features include an improved processor and increased Random Access Memory (RAM).

3. Arduino Portenta Boards

Arduino would soon realize that despite the versatility and adoption of most of the boards, there was one nagging problem. Some of these boards didn’t meet the industry standards and that is a great cause for concern.

Hence, the platform had to release a sophisticated and professional variant to the boards. This is called the Portenta and a variety of boards have been made out of it.

The Portenta H7 Lite

This is one of the professional boards in the Arduino Portenta lineup. Designed for complex environments, it makes a good fit for the environments where radio communication is not always possible.

Here are some of the attributes:

  • Smart Project Support: the Arduino Portenta H7 Lite supports the development of smart projects, i.e., the Arduino IoT Cloud-compatible boards. This support allows for the visualization, sharing, control and connection of devices from one interface.
  • Developer-Friendly: irrespective of your expertise, you can leverage the board’s adaptation of the Portenta H7’s computational power, without sacrificing the need for advanced security features and video output.
  • It supports the simultaneous running of real-time tasks and high-level codes to the two processors.
  • Customization: the Arduino Portenta H7 Lite can be customized and in volumes.
  • Twofold Functionality: you can run the board either as the main processor of an embedded computer or like any other embedded microcontroller board.
  • Multiple Applications’ Support: the board is also useful in a wide range of applications, such as high-speeding booting computation, high-end industrial machinery, mission-critical devices, laboratory equipment, robotic controllers, and computer vision.
  • Multipurpose Connector: the Arduino Portenta H7 Lite also has a USB-C port that serves as a medium for making multiple connections. For example, this programming connector can either be used to deliver power to the OTG-connected devices and for powering the board. It can also be used as a Universal Serial Board (USB) hub.

Arduino Portenta H7 Connected

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This is another variant of the Arduino Portenta boards. It is designed to improve on the areas the Portenta H7 lags. For example, it provides the computational power required for both the low-latency control solutions and Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications.

Thanks to the dual-core, the Arduino Portenta H7 Connected board can facilitate the following:

  • The simultaneous running of the Machine Learning (ML) algorithms with the latency sensor and actuator interaction.
  • It also supports the execution of the MicroPython and Arduino-compiled codes at the same time.
  • In addition to supporting the above, the board also uses the Remote Procedure Call mechanism to enable the real-time communication of the two cores.

Some of the additional attributes are:

  • The use of the MicroPython high-level programming language.
  • It uses an onboard wireless module that supports the simultaneous management of the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • It is a cost-effective Arduino board, considering that it removes the high-resolution video interface feature.

Arduino Portenta Breakout

This is another variant of the Arduino Portenta family, but designed for a different purpose – prototyping. The Arduino Portenta Breakout supports the prototyping and testing of device connections and capacities.

Although the primary application is for making board prototypes, the board can also be used for the following purposes:

  • Technical Education: the Arduino Portenta Breakout board can be used as an entry-point for technician education for both the embedded systems and industrial-grade control systems.
  • Product Development: you can also use the board for reducing the lead (development) time for the industrial-grade solution automation, especially those based on the Portenta line or products/devices.

The following are some of the features:

  • Class A safety
  • Power Options: it uses the external power terminal block and the CR2032 RTC Lithium Battery backup.
  • Connectivity Options: a wide range of connection options are supported. Examples are MIPI 20T JTAG with trace capability, USBA, Micro SD Card and RJ45 up to 1 Gigabyte per second (Gbps).
  • Power ON Button and;
  • Boot mode DIP switch.

4. Arduino MKR Zero

This family of smallest Arduino compatible boards includes the Arduino MKR lineups, which offer a mix of speed and varieties of connectivity options.

The Arduino MKR Zero is one of the most popular boards in this family. Despite the original optimization for music-related projects, it has now been used for a wide range of applications.

Here is the most important information about the Arduino MKR Zero smallest development board:

On-Board SD Connector

It is about the only Arduino board with a Serial Device (SD) card slot. The on-board SD Connector combined with the dedicated SPI Interfaces to support music and audio file access without an external hardware.

Microcontroller Support

The SAMD21 Microcontroller (MCU) from Atmel powers the board. The microcontroller also has the necessary support, such as a 32-bit ARM Cortex M0+Core, and flexible power options. You can either power it via the dedicated LiPo battery or connect it to a computer via the micro-USB cable.

Dual Library

The Arduino MKR Zero board uses two distinct libraries – I2S and Arduino Sound Libraries. Based on the Inter-IC Sound, the 12S library supports the connection of digital audio devices via an electrical serial bus interface standard. On the other hand, the Arduino Sound Library supports the playing and analysis of audio data using Arduino on the SAM D21-based boards.

Battery Monitor

To ensure the battery is functionally optimally, the board supports a battery voltage monitor feature. The feature is enabled via the interconnection that exists between the board’s analog converter and the battery.

Smallest Arduino Board Selection Board

Arduino has a wide range of boards, including the Arduino UNO smallest board, Arduino Nano and Arduino Micro. As much as costs, the features and applications of these boards are critical factors; some other factors can be used to separate one from another.

Here are some of the things you want to look out for before deciding on the best mini-sized board to go for:

Check the Dimensions

The dimensions give you an idea of whether it is truly the smallest Arduino microcontroller or not. Worthy of mentioning is that the 45 x 18 mm is a better criterion, though you could go lower, depending on the application.

The Arduino Nano matches that requirement and is ideal for USB-programming. You could also settle less for the 33 by 18 mm dimension, an example being the Arduino Pro Mini.

Power Consumption

This has to do with the amount of power that the board needs to function optimally. As a rule of thumb, ensure that the operations are kept within the specific voltage, especially for the battery-powered Arduino boards. This prevents the battery from overheating, and subsequently, damage.

GPIO

This has to do with the numbers of pins used for connectivity purposes. The higher the number, the better.

Hardware Interfaces

These are the “pathways for connecting the smallest Arduino boards to the outside world.” The hardware interfaces also make the board’s connection to the external devices or sensors simpler.

Examples of the hardware interfaces are:

  • 12C
  • UART
  • Ethernet
  • SPI and;
  • CAN

The difference between the smaller and bigger Arduino boards is that the former has fewer hardware interfaces.

Voltage Level

3.3 volts is the ideal logic voltage level for the smallest Arduino chips. However, there is a possibility to increase it up to 12 volts.

The downside to overloading the board is that once it goes beyond the rated voltage level; it might overheat and the smaller cells will be prone to damages.

Types of Memory

Smaller Arduino boards use three (3) major memory types. These are EEPROM, Flash and SRAM.

Here is their summary:

  • EEPROM: this is a non-volatile memory used for storing the data you want to keep for a long time.
  • Flash: this is the “warehouse” for the board’s codes.
  • SRAM: this is the most popular type of Random-Access Memory (RAM) used in boards. It supports the storage and manipulation of variables.

Final Words

Arduino’s smaller boards are compatible, affordable, save a lot of time to modify the target applications and are versatile. There might never be a perfect board, but you can always choose the one with enough GPIO pins, excellent processing speed and versatility.

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