Arduino vs. Netduino

Which microcontroller platform is best?

Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino is so popular that other projects take its open-source form factor and extend the functionality. One such project is Netduino. We looked at Arduino and Netduino to help you decide which is more suitable for beginners and which is better for hardware prototyping.

Arduino vs Netduino

Overall Findings

Arduino
  • Started a hardware renaissance.

  • Uses the Wiring language.

  • A high level of control and visibility.

  • Less computing power.

  • Less expensive.

  • A large community that supports newcomers.

  • Projects are more likely to turn into hardware products.

Netduino
  • A robust software framework.

  • Uses the familiar .NET framework.

  • Comfortable and familiar software development features.

  • Has more computing power.

  • More expensive.

  • The community is growing, but it's not as large as Arduino.

  • Hardware production is complicated.

Arduino technology is at the forefront of what many call a hardware renaissance, an era in which hardware experimentation is more accessible than before. Arduino exploded in popularity. It reached a mainstream audience that was unexpected, given its niche beginnings.

Arduino spawned other products, such as Netduino, which uses the .NET Micro Framework. Arduino and Netduino are excellent microcontroller platforms, and each has strengths and weaknesses. Arduino is less expensive, has a large community, and more scalable projects. Netduino has more computing power and familiar software development features.

Arduino and Netduino are incredible tools for innovation. Arduino projects include light controllers and home automation systems. Netduino projects include building a Simon game and monitoring a plant's moisture.

Coding: Accessible Microcontroller Development in Both

Arduino
  • Makes microcontroller development accessible.

  • Uses the Wiring language.

  • Software toolsets aren't as familiar to programmers.

Netduino
  • Makes microcontroller development accessible.

  • Uses the .NET framework.

  • Programmers work in C# using Microsoft Visual Studio.

One selling point of the Netduino platform is its robust software framework. Arduino uses the Wiring language. The Arduino IDE allows for a high level of control and visibility over the bare metal of the microcontroller. Netduino uses the familiar .NET framework, allowing programmers to work in C# using Microsoft Visual Studio.

Arduino and Netduino are designed to make microcontroller development accessible to a general audience of programmers. The use of software toolsets that are familiar to many programmers is a plus.

Netduino programming works at a higher level of abstraction than that of Arduino. This allows for more software development features that are familiar and comfortable for those transitioning from the world of software.

Power and Price: Netduino Is More Powerful, Pricier

Arduino
  • Computing power isn't as robust as Netduino.

  • Not as fast as Netduino.

  • Not as expensive as Netduino.

Netduino
  • Higher computing power.

  • Faster than Arduino.

  • More expensive than Arduino.

In general, the computing power of the Netduino range is higher than that of Arduino. With some Netduino models working with a 32-bit processor running up to 168 MHz and plenty of RAM and Flash memory, the Netduino is faster than many of its Arduino counterparts.

This additional power comes with a larger price tag. Still, the Netduino costs per unit are not prohibitively more expensive. These costs can add up, however, if more Netduino units are needed at scale.

Support Libraries: Arduino Edges Out Netduino

Arduino
  • A large and energized community.

  • Many code libraries to browse.

  • More code samples and tutorials.

Netduino
  • Community support is growing.

  • Custom libraries must be built.

  • Code samples and tutorials aren't as developed.

A major strength of Arduino is its large and energized community. This open-source project attracted many collaborators who add to the code libraries that allow Arduino to interface with hardware and software.

While the community around Netduino is growing, any requirement for support may need custom libraries to be built. Similarly, the code samples, tutorials, and expertise available for Arduino are more developed than Netduino. 

Suitability as a Prototyping Environment: Arduino Wins

Arduino
  • Projects are more likely to become hardware products.

  • Hardware costs aren't prohibitive.

Netduino
  • Harder for a project to become a hardware product.

  • Additional costs to create a hardware prototype.

One important consideration when deciding on a platform is whether the project will serve as a prototype for a future hardware product that will be scaled. Arduino is well-suited in this role. With a small amount of work, Arduino can be replaced with an AVR microcontroller from Atmel in a project that is used in production. The hardware costs are incremental and suitable for scaling a production run of hardware.

While similar steps can be taken with a Netduino, the process is less straightforward and could require the use of a new Netduino. This changes the cost structure of a product. The software footprint, hardware requirements, and software implementation details such as garbage collection complicate the Netduino platform when using it as a hardware product.

Make easy DIY projects with Arduino starter kits, which are a great introduction to the microcontroller platform.

Final Verdict

Netduino and Arduino provide great introductions to microcontroller development if you want to transition from software programming. At a high level, Netduino is an approachable platform for casual experimentation, particularly if you have a background with the software, C#, .NET, or Visual Studio. Arduino has a steeper learning curve with its IDE but has a large community for support and more flexibility when taking a prototype into production.