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I have been playing with Arduinos for a few months but I am far from being an expert. However, I thought it’d be interesting to provide a quick review and guide on the different boards out there and what they’re good for. If you don’t know what an Arduino is, make sure you read my introduction post.

I’ll cover a lot of different boards such as the Stickduino, BoardDuino (DC & USB) and the new Sanguino but for now let’s start with…

the Arduino Diecimila

The Diecimila was my first Arduino and the only one I have that’s made by the Arduino people. It comes fully assembled and is very clean and easy to use. Since I use a Mac for most of my projects, I mostly chose USB based Arduinos. The Diecimila can be powered by USB or through a standard barrel plug (from a 9V battery, a wall wart or really anything from 7V to 12V). The power source is selected by a jumper (similar to the old IDE drives jumpers).

A cool feature of the Diecimila is the availability of compatible shields. A shield is a daughterboard that stacks on top of the Arduino Diecimila or NG.

Theoretically you should be able to stack many such shields on top of each other but most shields I tried were not designed to stack all that well.

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Sometimes, even when they do stack up, they turn out to be incompatible as they use the same pin. Some, cleverly designed let you wire in whichever pins you’d like to use (the GPS Logger shield from Adafruit as well as of course the proto shield come to mind).

In practice I found most shields to be useful to learn and experiment with a particular subject but inadequate to build a project using several of them. While the Diecimila is not the only board in the Arduino family I found it to be the nicest one so far.

I have tried a few shields, assembled/soldered from a kit or bought already assembled, including:

  • Proto Shied
  • XBee Shield ??? Wireless (not Wi-fi)
  • Motor Shield
  • GPS Data Logger (SD Card) Shield
  • LCD Shield

Other shields I have seen but not used include:

  • Xport Shied ??? Ethernet
  • Wave Shield ??? Sound
  • Battery Shield

Adafruit Proto Shield (from Adafruit)

This was my first shield as it came with the Adafruit Arduino Starter Pack (which includes a Diecimila). The Protoshield is probably the most useful shield so far.

Beyond providing access to the Arduino pins (which the Diecimila already does), it includes a switch and 2 LEDs (and their resistors) connected to ground. You can use those for anything you want, most likely connected to one of the digital pins (or possibly analog pins for the LEDs). The Protoshield can be used with a mini-breadboard for solderless prototyping. Or you can use Proto Shields to build semi-permanent prototypes by soldering directly onto the perfboard which constitutes the core of the shield.

I have been using the Proto Shield with mini-breadboard quite a bit and have recently purchased a few of additional shields (sans breadboard) to build more permanent projects.

Of note are two products from LiquidWare which are essentially double-sized proto shields, the Double-wide and Double-tall ExtenderShields. I have not tried them but they look pretty interesting for one-off semi permanent projects which require the larger workspace (which most probably will do).

That’s all I say for now about the Diecimila and the Proto Shield. In later posts, we’ll look at some other shields and Arduino compatible boards. Until then…