The Ultimate IoT Hardware Comparison Guide
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IoT hardware is at the heart of every connected project. As the Internet of Things has developed, the technical capabilities of these boards have only become more powerful. However, choosing the right IoT hardware for your project can be overwhelming due to the sheer number of development boards and modules in the space.
This article provides a quick overview of the main providers and development boards on the market. This article also explains what differentiates each dev kit by examining the development environment that comes with each board.
Don’t have time to read the whole article? No problem — here is a quick overview:
Quick Overview — IoT Hardware Providers & Kits
- Particle —Particle offers a range of development kits that are designed to connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi, cellular, or mesh. Particle is the best platform to build a connected project from prototype to production.
- Adafruit —Adafruit offers one of the best online spaces to learn about DIY electronic hacking. Adafruit Feather is a line of development boards that are designed for prototyping on the fly. The Adafruit Feather line comes with a large suite of accessories that rapidly accelerate development.
- SparkFun is a large retail store that sells everything from development kits, breakout boards, to sensors. They offer more than 2,000+ open-source components and widgets and offer their own training and online tutorials that explain how to build embedded electronics.
- Espressif — Espressif develops Wi-Fi and Bluetooth low power IoT hardware solutions. Espressif is most well-known for its ESP8266 and ESP32 series of chips, modules, and development boards. In fact, many development boards across the industry run on Espressif chips.
- Arduino — Arduino is the ubiquitous name in the electronic development space. The company offers a range of open-source development kits, microcontrollers, and software tools for building connected products.
- Raspberry Pi — A Raspberry Pi is a single-board based computer that runs on Linux and is designed for prototyping small computing applications. Raspberry Pi products are perfect for people of all ages and are a good way to get into electronic development.
1. Particle IoT Hardware and Platform
Particle offers a variety of IoT hardware kits that are designed to connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi, cellular (2G/3G/LTE), or mesh. Particle is currently the only IoT platform on the market that offers mesh connectivity with their development kits. Particle also offers industrial connectivity modules that are designed for scaling enterprise-grade IoT projects.
Particle IoT hardware also comes with a suite of development tools that allow you to wirelessly manage the code on a remote device and quickly create cloud-side IoT applications. The true thing that differentiates Particle from other IoT hardware providers is that they offer everything you need to build an IoT product from prototype to production. Most IoT hardware is best used for prototyping, but Particle has designed a platform and IoT hardware suite that is meant for scaling a fleet of connected products.
Particle Mesh—Particle Mesh is a wireless mesh network designed to connect the spaces between existing Wi-Fi and cellular deployments with local networks that are low-cost, secure, and reliable. Particle Mesh uses the Adafruit Feather form factor (more on this below) and OpenThread, an open source implementation of Thread created by Nest for their connected products. Particle Mesh is composed of three different types of development boards: Argon , Boron , and Xenon .
- E Series Evaluation Kit 2G/3G or LTE — The E Series Evaluation Kit is designed for scaling your IoT project. The E-Series is built for long-term deployments out in the field, featuring an embedded SIM card that resists vibration, corrosion, and mechanical failure.
2. Adafruit IoT Hardware — Feather Specification
Adafruit is an open-source hardware company that offers one of the best online spaces to learn about DIY electronic hacking. If you’re new to electronic development and looking for a place to start, the Adafruit blog and forum is a great place to learn more about the space.
While Adafruit sells IoT hardware developed by other vendors, they also offer their own line of IoT hardware that conforms to their Feather specification. The Adafruit Feather is a line of development boards that are flexible, portable, and light. Unlike an Arduino, the Adafruit Feather is designed for prototyping on the fly and can be used for wearables or hand-held usage.
The Adafruit Feather is also designed to make it easier for developers to share hardware. With a common form factor, feather accessories — called feather wings — can work on different feathers.
It would be impossible (or, at least, incredibly time-consuming) to list out and explain all the different feather development boards that are available. The essential point: they all come with different MCUs and SoCs, but can all use the same accessories. Here is a short list that can help give you an idea of the different functions and benefits of these boards:
- Adafruit Feather Huzzah32 — This feather development board is packed with everything you need to rapidly prototype a connected project: USB-to-Serial converter, USB-to-Serial converter, automatic bootloader reset, Lithium Ion/Polymer charger, and a dual-core ESP32 chip, which means it has both WiFi and Bluetooth Classic/LE support.
- Adafruit Feather 32u4 Bluefruit LE — If you’re looking for a dev kit that is designed around BLE (Bluetooth low energy), this feather development board is designed for you.
- Adafruit Feather 32u4 Basic Proto — Do you care about battery? This Feather development board is designed around power.
3. SparkFun Electronics
SparkFun is a large retail store that sells everything from development kits, breakout boards, to sensors. Their motto is start something, and they mean it because they have thousands of electronic components available on their site.
In the early days, SparkFun (like Adafruit) differentiated themselves by producing a ton of breakouts and kits that were meant to be paired with an Arduino device. These breakouts dramatically accelerated the prototyping process and reduced a lot of design work that typically came with electronic development.
Nowadays, SparkFun, like Adafruit, makes their own IoT development boards. They offer more than 2,000+ open-source components and widgets and offer their own training and online tutorials that explain how to build embedded electronics.
- Qwicc Connect System — The Qwicc connect system is an ecosystem of components that are designed to make prototyping faster. The Qwicc connect system is like the Seed Grove system, in that it’s a system to keep wiring clutter low and speed up your prototyping. One feature of Qwicc that stands out is that it uses a smaller connector that Grove, making it great for those space constrained project enclosures boxes. With Qwiic, you get an ecosystem of sensors and other interesting ICs that can easily be snapped together. It’s rapid prototyping for those who want to make something quick.
- SparkFun ESP8266 Thing — Dev Board — This IoT development board comes with the ESP8266, a low-cost Wi-Fi enabled microcontroller that can be used to blink LEDs or automate any project you can imagine.
- SparkFun Inventor’s Kit — SparkFun’s inventor kits are well-regarded and are recommended for beginners who are looking for an Arduino starter kit.
4. Espressif IoT Hardware
Espressif systems is a fabless semiconductor company that develops Wi-Fi and Bluetooth low power IoT hardware solutions. They are most well-known for their ESP8266 and ESP32 series of chips, modules, and development boards. In fact, many development boards across the industry run on Espressif chips (like Sparkfun’s development kits).
Espressif development boards are designed for simple prototyping and interfacing but can be used as a simple proof of concept or enterprise solution. Espressif also offers a number of software solutions that are designed to help you manage devices around your home and integrate wireless connectivity into products. Some of the IoT development boards they offer are:
- 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi & BT/BLE Development Boards—These boards provide PC connectivity, 5V/GND header pins, or 3V3/GND header pins, and ESP-IDF source code and example applications. These boards support everything from image transmission, voice recognition, and come with a variety of possible features, such as onboard LCD, JTAG, camera header, RGB LEDs, etc.
- 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi Development Boards—Standard set of development boards that integrate the commonly-used peripherals.
5. Arduino IoT Hardware
Arduino is the ubiquitous name in the DIY prototyping space. The company offers a range of open-source development kits, microcontrollers, and software tools for building connected products.
The main advantage Arduino has over other providers is being a well-developed name in the electronic development space. They also have software tools, third-party library support, a wide array of sensors, and resources and community that can help answer questions.
Like other providers on this list, Arduino boards are designed for prototyping. However, Adafruit comes with more stackable shields that allow users to add many other features that the MKR boards don’t support yet. Some of the hardware boards and modules they offer are:
- Arduino MKR Family—The MKR boards are the latest and greatest from Arduino. These wireless connectivity boards are designed for the Internet of Things development due to their hardware size and low-power consumption. The MKR family’s form factor and integrated connectivity are what sets it apart from other Arduino boards. Some MKR boards offer Wi-FI and Bluetooth connectivity, while other boards support Narrowband IoT, Lo-Ra connectivity, and even SigFox networking.
- Arduino YÚN—While Arduino offers many different types of boards and modules, the Arduino YÚN is specifically designed for Internet of Things projects by providing Wi-Fi enabled connectivity. This board is also designed to communicate with Linux distribution, which can be an advantage or disadvantage based on your preferences.
- Arduino Ethernet — Like it’s namesake, this Arduino board can connect to the Internet via ethernet. “The Ethernet differs from other boards in that it does not have an onboard USB-to-serial driver chip, but has a Wiznet Ethernet interface. This is the same interface found on the Ethernet shield.”
6. Raspberry PI Products
Even if you’re not familiar with IoT hardware, you are probably familiar with Raspberry Pi. Like Arduino, Raspberry Pi is well-known outside of the electronic development space.
Raspberry Pi products are a bit different than your typical IoT hardware development kits and boards. A Raspberry Pi is a single-board based computer that runs on Linux and is designed for prototyping small computing applications.
Raspberry Pi products are perfect for people of all ages and are a good way to get into electronic development. Raspberry Pis can also be a good way to develop a proof-of-concept if you’re trying to develop a connected product, but not for scale:
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ — The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is the newest product in the 3 range that comes with 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core processor, dual-band wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.2/BLE, faster Ethernet, and Power-over-Ethernet support (with separate PoE HAT).
- Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ — The Model B+ is the final revision of the original Raspberry Pi that comes with more USB ports, more GPIO pins, Micro SD, better audio, and a neater form factor.
- Compute Model 3 — The Compute Model 3 is a Raspberry Pi designed for industrial applications. You should use these if you intend to make a serious enterprise application.
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