Arduino vs. Netduino

Which microcontroller platform is best?

Close up of male hands holding an Arduino microcontroller board
Ernesto r. Ageitos / Getty Images

Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino has become so popular that other projects have taken its open-source form factor and extended the functionality. One such project is Netduino. We took a look at Arduino and Netduino to help you decide which is more suitable for beginners and which is better for hardware prototyping.

Overall Findings

Arduino

  • Started a "hardware renaissance."

  • Uses the Wiring language.

  • High level of control and visibility.

  • Less computing power.

  • Less expensive.

  • Large community to support newcomers.

  • Projects more likely to turn into hardware products.

Netduino

  • Robust software framework.

  • Uses the familiar .NET framework.

  • More comfortable and familiar software development features.

  • Has more computing power.

  • More expensive.

  • Community growing, but not as big as Arduino.

  • Hardware production more complicated.

Arduino technology is at the forefront of what many are calling a “hardware renaissance,” an era in which hardware experimentation is more accessible than ever before. Arduino exploded in popularity, reaching a mainstream audience that was unexpected given its niche beginnings.

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

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

Coding: Accessible Microcontroller Development in Both

Arduino

  • Designed to make microcontroller development accessible.

  • Uses Wiring language.

  • Software toolsets not as familiar to programmers.

Netduino

  • Designed to make microcontroller development accessible.

  • Uses .NET framework.

  • Programmers can work in C# using Microsoft Visual Studio. 

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

Both Arduino and Netduino are designed to make the world of microcontroller development more accessible to a general audience of programmers, so the use of software toolsets that are already familiar to many programmers is a big plus.

Netduino programming works at a higher level of abstraction than that of Arduino, allowing 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 not 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 at up to 168 MHz and plenty of RAM and Flash memory to spare, the Netduino is appreciably faster than many of its Arduino counterparts.

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

Support Libraries: Arduino Edges Out Netduino

Arduino

  • Large and energized community.

  • Many code libraries to peruse.

  • More code samples and tutorials.

Netduino

  • Community support is still growing.

  • Custom libraries must be built.

  • Code samples and tutorials not as developed.

A major strength of Arduino lies in its large and energized community. This open-source project attracted a large collection of collaborators who have added to useful code libraries that allow Arduino to interface with a variety of hardware and software.

While the community around Netduino is growing, it is still early enough in its life that any requirement for support may need custom libraries to be built. Similarly, the code samples, tutorials, and expertise available for Arduino are far more developed than its counterpart. 

Suitability as a Prototyping Environment: Arduino Wins

Arduino

  • Projects more likely to become actual hardware products.

  • Hardware costs are not prohibitive.

Netduino

  • Harder for a project to become a hardware product.

  • Additional costs may be needed to create 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, and with a small amount of work, the Arduino can be replaced with an AVR microcontroller from Atmel in a project that can be 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, which changes the cost structure of a product significantly. The software footprint, hardware requirements, and software implementation details such as garbage collection all complicate the Netduino platform when you are thinking about 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 both provide great introductions to microcontroller development for those looking to transition from software programming. At a high level, Netduino can be a more approachable platform for casual experimentation, particularly if you have a background with the software, C#, .NET, or Visual Studio. Arduino provides a slightly steeper learning curve with its IDE but has a bigger community for support and more flexibility should you want to take a prototype into production.