The Arduino Mega is a great board. You can often get a project that typically requires multiplexing or shift registers running with a single Mega board because it contains so many GPIOs. The only problem I have with it is its massive size. Enters Robotdyn shrunk versions, and for about US$7!
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The Mega 2560 Pro “Embed”
The Mega 2560 Pro Embed is simply put a fully compatible board with the Arduino Mega 2560, with all the features, shrunk into a tiny 38x55mm footprint. And that, in itself, is trully amazing.
The USB controller is a CH340G, a proven chip; and the onboard voltage regulators are of the AMS1117 series (one for 5V, the other for 3.3V). Not the best components out there, but they are definitely adequate for the job.
Out of the box, the Arduino IDE programmed the chip without any issue. In my opinion, it is the Mega you should get if you need an Arduino with many pins. Easy to use, efficient, small sized. It’s a great board!
The Mega 2560 Pro Mini
Now the Pro Mini is where things get interesting.
This board uses the same design as the embed, except it doesn’t contain a USB controller. As a result, it doesn’t have a 3.3V regulator, and no USB connection. You program it using a Serial to USB adapter; just like the normal Arduino Pro Mini based on the ATMega328P. Those smalls differences makes the board 3mm slimmer, and the board as such is truly the king of Arduino board to create a permanent project. This board is so bare it is almost a breakout board for the ATMega 2560 chip.
Programming this Arduino, as a result, is slightly more complicated. During my initial test I used a FT232RL FTDI USB to TTL adapter (a very common serial to USB chip), but it failed to load a program. In fact, the Pro Mini does not recognize the CTS/DTR signals and requires a simple reset signal. This is NOT a very popular standard so be careful. Robotdyn’s USB to TTL UART CH340 board works well; and it costs less than a dollar.
The package: what do you get?
You can get the boards and nothing else, but I recommend spending a few cents more and getting the header pins with it. The Pro Mini comes with all the necessary pins, plus a 2×6 for ICSP and 5 straight pins for UART. The Embed is exactly the same, without the UART pins.
There is little left to say about these Arduino clones. But a picture is worth a thousand words right? Here’s a shot of these new Mega compared to the original Arduino Mega, together with an Arduino Uno for comparison:
That’s right: you can get all the pins of a Mega for a smaller footprint than an Uno!
If you are hesitating on the Mega because of its humongous size: think again! These 2 boards fill the gap in the Arduino offering, and became defacto one of the best 8 bit AVR based Arduinos money can buy.
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