Development Boards for the Developing Engineer

Are you an Engineer, Maker, or Student? Regardless of where you fall on the electronic enthusiast spectrum, the great equalizer is cost. Everyone is looking to get the best “bang” for their buck. Digi-Key has you covered with three development boards that won’t break the bank.

Get them started early with the Micro:bit for $16

micro:bit MBIT0004

The micro:bit from Pimoroni is an incredibly user friendly development platform. Measuring 4 cm by 5 cm, this pocket-sized board contains motion detection features, a built-in compass, built-in Bluetooth, and an LED display. Entry-level makers and elementary school students will get a kick out of the drag-and-drop programming interface. On top of its intuitive interface, micro:bit has a full featured support website with projects, ideas, and lessons (Bonus: they’re free).

The micro:bit can connect to other devices, sensors, kits and objects. It is a companion to Arduino, Galileo, Kano, littleBits, and Raspberry Pi, providing a jump off point for future development with other more complex platforms.

Hone your skills with the Arduino Uno board for $24

Arduino Uno A000066

The best-selling Arduino board on our site, the Arduino Uno is a favorite in the maker community. Based on the ATmega328, the Arduino Uno has 14 digital I/O pins (with an option for six PWM outputs), six analog inputs, a 16 MHz crystal oscillator, USB connection and power jack in addition to other features. The Uno contains everything needed to support development with the ATmega328; just connect it to a computer, power it up, and you’re off.

The Uno uses the Arduino IDE (online or desktop versions available) and the Arduino programming language (based on Wiring). Since the Arduino Uno is widely supported online with open source projects and example code, getting started should be a breeze.

Maximize your design with the PocketBeagle for $25

Pocket Beagle POCKETBEAGLE-SC-569

The latest Beagle Board has been dubbed the PocketBeagle and for good reason. This ultra-tiny yet complete open-source USB-key-fob computer fits…well…in your pocket. Targeting professional engineers and beginning makers alike, the PocketBeagle is a low-cost and easy-to-use Linux computer with endless expansibility.

The brain of the PocketBeagle is the Octavo Systems OSD3358-SM system-in-package which includes 512MB of DDR3 RAM, 1 GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU, 2x 200 MHz PRUs, ARM Cortex-M3, 3D accelerator, power/battery management, and EEPROM. On top of that the board itself contains 72 expansion pin headers with power and battery I/Os, high-speed USB, eight analog inputs, 44 digital I/Os, and a plethora of digital interface peripherals. Standard connectors on the board include a microUSB (host/client) and microSD.

Similar to the Arduino support community, Beagleboard.org offers support in the form of open source projects and online programming education support.

Boards for Everyone

Introducing children to programming early gives them critical thinking skills that transfer to anything they do in life. With such a low initial investment, any of these three development platforms is a great place to start with electronics. Or perhaps you have ideas for projects, but your current boards are being used already—for the cost of a few cups of coffee you can add another one to your toolbox.

About the Author

Image of Jeff Zbacnik, Jr., Digi-Key Electronics

Jeff Zbacnik, Jr. is a seasoned electronics technician at Digi-Key Electronics. Having been with Digi-Key since 2003, he specializes in product reviews, critiques and mischievous tinkering (he makes LEDs blink). He earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in Electronics Technology from Northland Community & Technical College in the inaugural year of the Digi-Key Scholarship program. When not playing his Playstation, he is thinking about playing his Playstation.

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