Arduino- which to get, generic, brand name, what else?


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So I think it would be a great thing to ask for this christmas, an arduino.

I've seen many versions, the chip sized ones, the full size, and even clones that supposedly wor in just the same way.

I've also seen tons of accessories, including shields, breadboard power supplies, and all that good stuff.

So, what should I ask for?

Just wanting to get started with something fun like this, general use, controlling servos and LEDs and maybe a few motors and who knows what else.

I saw the small arduinos that fit into a breadbord and that seemed like a good idea- but I was concerned that they didn't have as much power as the full size arduino while at the same price. I saw the arduino mini board which has an Atmega168 while the full size board has an Atmega328 while at roughly the same price.

Then there's the generic versions like the boarduino which are cheaper but I'm unsure if that's what I should get. Also, the clones might not like the arduino shields much. nor the mini versions.

Any thoughts?
Oookay, having just acquired an Arduino, I think I'm qualified to answer this one.

Mini and breadboard Arduinos are cool. However, if you are just getting started it's probably best to go with a standard Arduino. The shield system is really cool and useful, and you can get all sorts of shields. The chip shaped and breadboard Arduinos do not work with shields and may be missing features. Also, you CAN breadboard with a normal Arduino, it's just a bit awkward.

Ruling out mini Arduinos and Arduinos with special features you still have a few choices. There's the Arduino Pro, Arduino Duemilanove, and the Freeduino SB. Now a note here. The Freeduino SB is not official, but it's what I have. It's 100% compatible and works fine. It does require some assembly but it's actually really easy. The Arduino Pro doesn't include a USB interface so I don't recommend it. Direct USB programming is one of the best features. That leaves the Duemilanove and the Freeduino SB. The Duemilanove automatically switches power sources, is official, and pre-assembled. The Freeduino SB has a blue LED, a lower price tag, and a power switch. Both are not Chinese junk (the Duemilanove is built in Italy, the Freeduino in Canada) and have the 'upgraded' ATMega328. The Freeduino SB has a mini-USB jack, which is pretty much a moot point as you probably have both cables. Of course there are others but both of these have the standard feature set and are quite easy to get. It might be better to get the Duemilanove if you suck at soldering, but I have the Freeduino SB and have had no problems with it.

As for accessories, there are lots but try to keep things real. For sure you will want a protoboard and a mini-breadboard to go with it. SparkFun, Adafruit, and Solarbotics/HVWTech all make one. Make sure you get one that WILL TAKE A MINI-BREADBOARD! I have the SparkFun one. It works fine but has no instructions and requires assembly, like MOST others. You can get lots of different shields but I wouldn't bother, learn to make your own. The Arduino receives power through the power jack or shield headers. There is provision to input regulated and unregulated power. Usually, however, you will be powering it through USB.

For miscellaneous parts, get some headers (male and female), maybe some super-bright LEDs, and a breadboard wiring kit. A breadboard is good too if you don't have one. Also, if you don't have a collection of electronic parts like resistors and capacitors and things, now is the time to get one. If you plan on driving motors, at least get some transistors both PNP and NPN. A motor driver IC like the L293D is a better solution though. If you want to build robots, get some sensors, like photocells and IR photodiodes. It depends on what you want to do with it. If you want to try your hand at ghetto-rigging your own Arduino, get an extra microcontroller. If you plan on building a mini-robot with it get some gearmotors and some wheels.
Well. I read up, and what I chose seems to line up with XCVG fairly smoothly except the brand of the microcontroller board. I think I'll end up getting the Arduino branded board, a protoboard, a mini breadboard, a battery backpack, and the book from the MAKErshed. Maybe someday I'll get a motorshield, and an ethernet shield.

I'll probably ask for some servos as well and an eBay gift card so I can get some LEDs.