Arduino development boards: The Nano

As touched on in my first post on the Arduino Uno, Arduino development boards have in many ways revolutionized hobby, and now electronics. No longer does one have to spend close to $100 for a tiny computer that will turn on a light bulb in response to a sensor, they can now be had for less than $10.

If this is true of the Uno (which I’ll be using as a basis for comparison), it’s even more true for its little brother, the Arduino Nano. This board can officially be had on Arduino.cc for $22, however knockoffs of it can be found for around three dollars if you search around. From my experience at least, the “unofficial” boards work as advertised, and since the design is open source, calling them “knockoffs” might be a little unfair unless they are claiming to come from Arduino directly.

According to Arduino’s official Nano tech specs, the board works off an ATmega328 chip, while the Uno uses a very similar ATmega328P microcontroller. Per this discussion, there’s not much difference, and if you read the specs on many of the unofficial boards for sale, they list a 328P as the microcontroller anyway. Either way, both boards boast a 16 MHz processor, 32 KB of flash memory, and a LED built in on pin 13, which can be extremely helpful in many situations.

[Arduino Nano (blue) on top of much larger Uno (red) (both are clones)]

I/O wise, the Uno and Nano are quite similar, and the Nano has a slight edge. The Nano has 14 digital-only pins, same as the Uno, but has 8 pins compared to the Uno’s 6. On the other hand, if you know you’re going to come close to your maximum IO, you might be better off going with a more capable option.

What is much different though is the size of the board. The Nano’s PCB measures a slim 18 mm x 45 mm, while the Uno’s dimensions come in at a comparably huge 68.6 mm x 53.4 mm. Additionally, the Uno comes with headers already soldered on. This is very convenient if you want to experiment, but makes it thicker and potentially less convenient to solder onto another board.

[A panning GoPro fixture controlled by an Arduino Nano]

As for what you can do with this board, my latest project, a GoPro voice control fixture, uses a Nano for control. I had never used the Nano before, but programming was virtually identical; I simply had to select the Nano as the type of board that was to receive the program rather than an Uno. Given the constraints of my small fixture, a larger Uno just wouldn’t have fit. Besides, since I am pretty happy with how this project turned out, I don’t necessarily want to cannibalize it for another project. Since it costs only a few dollars, the temptation won’t be as great as some other boards.

Another neat example I recently came across was this “Laptop Control Box” which uses an Uno to quickly launch applications. It’s a neat idea, and one that would be very difficult to do with a larger development board.

You can find more detailed information on the Arduino Nano and other Arduino development boards on the Development Kit Selector, sponsored by Digi-Key.

Jeremy S. Cook is a freelance tech journalist and engineering consultant with over 10 years of factory automation experience. An avid maker and experimenter, you can see some of his exploits on the Jeremy Cook’s Projects YouTube Channel.

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