Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thinking about buying an Arduino

I've been thinking about toying with an Arduino for a long time now. They're so damn cheap, I really can't resist. Although, I have no income currently so I'm 50/50 on whether I should be really spending the money on them.

Tonight I had a look on Little Bird Electronics (herein referred to as LBE - one of the few Australian suppliers for these boards), and was surprised to see that there's quite  a few of the offerings out there based on the Netduino, which rather than using gcc with an AVR library, uses Microsoft's C# .NET with a library that the Netduino people make available called the ".NET Micro Framework". Obviously, using one of these micros requires Visual Studio of some variety. Thus,  *nix and Mac support seems to be rather limited, but apparently you can issues commands to them over the command line. I'm not against proprietary software by any means, but I thought the idea was to keep Arduino and it's derivative as open as possible? Although, there are some advantages (like event-driven programming capability) that might be fun to mess with. I really like the look of the Netduino Plus (with ethernet and micro SD on board - $73 from LBE) but, as a person who's workstation runs solely Linux, they're instantly a no-go until there's some better support (apparently you can use these chips with Windows running in VirtualBox, which I have, but it seems like a pain - I haven't done much research on them surrounding the use of mono). Maybe some other time.

So, with that in mind, as tempting and featuresome as the Netduino's seem to be, I've decided that I'm probably best looking at an Arduino Uno or Arduino Duemilanove. The Duemilanove was the one that I'd been eying for a while, but I hadn't looked at the Uno. For what I'd want to be doing, I think the Uno might be the better option since it seems a little less newbish. I'm no newbie with electronics or microcontrollers, but I'd like to expand my knowledge by doing some crazy stuff with them. The Uno is $38.95 + P&H from LBE, might be able to get it cheaper elsewhere (*cough* eBay) but I haven't looked. There's also some cheap Chinese clones floating around, but the reviews are mixed. I'd probably build one of the suckers myself before I bought one of those. That might be an option worth pricing too.

Just for the fun of it I installed the arduino and arduino-core packages on my laptop. Debian (and I believe Ubuntu and some other distros) have both of these packages in their repositories, so if you search your package manager of choice you should find them. The IDE looks fairly plain, I like that. I haven't done much with it since I don't have a board to connect to, but compared to some of the IDEs that I've used with Motorola microcontrollers, it seems pleasant. We'll soon find out anyway. In the interim, have a screenshot:

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