Arduino vs ESP8266 vs ESP32 Microcontroller Comparison

Arduino vs ESP8266 vs ESP32 Comparison

In this microcontroller comparison I compare in total 8 different boards and I give you my suggestion, which board to use based on different use cases.

I will give you an overview of different Arduino boards which are the most popular boards on the market as well as ESP32 and ESP8266 boards which are also very often used.

Let’s start and dive deeper into the datasheets in this microcontroller comparison.

Microcontroller Comparison

Table of Contents

Operating voltage

The operating voltage of the ESP microprocessors is 3.3 V compared to the Arduino operating voltage of 5V. If the boards are used while connected to the socket, there will be no difference in the power consumption because the current will be reduced to gather the same amount of power. In case of a battery powered use case the difference will be much greater because if the battery discharging curve falls below the operating voltage, the microprocessor will shut down.

Therefore the boards based on the ESP will have a longer operation time because these boards could operate under 4 V, while at 4 V the Arduino boards have been shut down.

Discharging Curve

Power supply

The power supply from the ESP8266 boards are between 2.5 V to 12 V based on the different boards. Arduino boards have a higher power supply between 7 V and 12 V. In practice the difference will not have a big impact.

Current consumption

The current consumption is important for battery based projects to increase the lifetime of the project. In general the NodeMCUs based on the ESP8266 microprocessor have a very low current consumption between 15 µA and 400 mA which can be further reduced with the deep sleep mode activated to 0.5 µA. The current consumption is therefore a factor 70,000 higher in deep sleep mode for the Arduino Uno with 35 mA. In general I always prefer ESP based boards when a battery is the power supply.

If you want to learn how to reduce the power consumption of the boards, there are exclusive articles about this topic

Digital I/O, PWM and Analog Pins

  • Digital I/O Pins: The difference between all boards regarding the digital I/O pins is nearly zero. The only difference is, that the big boards, like the NodeMCU ESP32 (36) and of cause the biggest board, the Arduino MEGA R3 (54) has a lot of digital I/O pins.
  • PWM Pins: The ESP based boards have a better ratio between digital I/O pins and PWM pins, because the PWM is used by a digital pin. In my opinion, all boards have a sufficient amount of PWM pins.
  • Analog Pins: This is the main drawback in my opinion for the NodeMCUs. Because they have ether only 1 or 2 analog input pins. Of cause you can by an IC as multiplexer but I think it is easier to use of you have the right amount of analog pins directly on the board itself. The Arduino boards have a good amount of analog input pins between 5 and 15.

SPI/I2C/I2S/UART

  • SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) communication protocol to send data between microcontroller. It is a synchronous data bus, meaning it uses a clock to regulate the data transfer. If you want to know more about SPI, click here.
  • I2C communication protocol most used to send and receive data from other devices like OLED displays, barometric pressure sensors and so on. If you want to know more about I2C, click here.
  • I2S (Inter-IC Sound), is an electrical serial bus interface standard used for connecting digital audio devices together. If you want to know more about I2S, click here.
  • UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter) is not a communication protocol like SPI and I2C, but a physical circuit in a microcontroller. The main purpose is to transmit and receive serial data. If you want to know more about UART, click here.

How many of there pins you need is very strong depending from you use case. Generally does the ESP based boards and the Arduino boards at least one pin for these data transfer connections. But the ESP boards have mostly a second pin for the communication.

DC Current per Pin

The current the board provides does not matter. Arduino, ESP boards or Raspberry Pi or any other microcontroller comparison board are designed to control devices and not to provide these devices with power. There are a lot of devices like LEDs, displays and so on which can be powered by the board. But there are a lot of other devices like motors, which need much more power than a microcontroller can provide. Therefore you can always power the devices from an external power supply.

Flash Memory and SRAM

  • Flash memory (program space), is where the Arduino sketch is stored.
  • SRAM (static random access memory) is where the sketch creates and manipulates variables when it runs.
  • EEPROM is memory space that programmers can use to store long-term information.

Flash memory and EEPROM memory are non-volatile (the information persists after the power is turned off). SRAM is volatile and will be lost when the power is cycled.

Clock Speed

The Arduino boards are all running with 16 MHz which means that the microprocessor can execute up to 16 million instructions per second. This may sound like a lot but when you consider that a simple setting digital pin to high can take over 50 clock cycles. ESP based boards are much faster with a clock speed of 52 MHz up to 160 MHz for the ESP32. This is 10 times faster. So if you plan a big project with many operations you should go with the ESP based boards.

WIFI

Generally bad news for Arduino board user and good news for ESP boards. The Arduino Uno exists in two version. One without WiFi and one WiFi included on the board. But no worries, because there are plenty of possibilities to use WiFi despite there is no WiFi chip onboard. Either you can use a Arduino WiFi shield or you can connect the Arduino board with a ESP-01, with as WiFi included.

Size

In this microcontroller comparison we look at different sizes of boards with one big impact factor on the size: the total number of pins. The more pins the board has, the larger the board will be. Generally are the ESP based boards like the NodeMCU smaller than the Arduino boards and will fit onto a breadboard. Depending on you project the size will matter or not.

Price

The battle of price will will the ESP based boards because they are very cheap around $7. The original Arduino boards will start around $22 but you will find boards with the same configuration around $12. If you want to save some money, go with the NodeMCU boards or boards which are modeled after the original Arduino boards.

The following table gives you an overview of all components and parts that I used for this tutorial. If you want to support my work, you can buy something from the following links and I will earn a small commission. This does not affect the price you pay for the products.

If you are interested in components and parts that I used in other tutorials, visit the components and parts page.

Conclusion of the microcontroller comparison

 ESP8266 NodeMCU V2NodeMCU V3ESP32 NodeMCUESP8266 WeMos D1 MiniArduino NANO 3Arduino UNO R3Arduino UNO WIFI R2Arduino MEGA R3
MicrocontrollerESP8266ESP8266ESP32ESP8266ATmega328pATmega328pATmega4809ATmega2560
Operating Voltage3.3V3.3V3.3V3.3V5V5V5V5V
Power supply7V – 12V7V – 12V7V – 12V4V – 6V7V – 12V7V – 12V7V – 12V7V – 12V
Current consumption15 µA – 400 mA15 µA – 400 mA20 mA – 240 mA 19 mA – 180 mA45 mA – 80 mA50 mA – 150 mA50 mA – 200 mA
Current consumption Deep Sleep0.5 µA0.5 µA5 µA 23 µA (with special settings)35 mA35 mA500 µA
Digital I/O Pins11 or 1316361114141454
Digital I/O Pins with PWM11 or 1316361166515
Analog Input Pins1115186616
SPI/I2C/I2S/UART2/1/2/22/1/2/24/2/2/21/1/1/11/1/1/11/1/1/11/1/1/11/1/1/4
DC Current per I/O Pin12 mA12 mA20 mA 40 mA40 mA40 mA20 mA
DC Current for 3.3V Pin  40 mA 50 mA150 mA150 mA150 mA
Flash Memory4 MB4 MB4 MB4 MB32 KB32 KB48 KB256 KB
SRAMn.A64 KB520 KB 2 KB2 KB6 KB8 KB
EEPROM512 bytes512 bytes 1024 bytes1024 bytes256 bytes4096 bytes
Clock Speed52 MHz80 MHz80 MHz / 160 MHz80 MHz / 160 MHz16 MHz16 MHz16 MHz16 MHz
Length48 mm58 mm52 mm3445 mm69 mm69 mm102 mm
Width26 mm31 mm31 mm2618 mm53 mm53 mm53 mm
WIFIyesyesyesyesnonoyesno
Bluetoothnonoyesnonononono
Touch sensornono10nonononono
CANnonoyesnonononono
Ethernet MAC Interfacenonoyesnonononono
Temperature Sensornonoyesnonononono
Hall effect sensornonoyesnonononono
Power jacknononononoyesyesyes
USB connectionyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes
Price$6$6.50$11$6$22$22$44.90$38.50

What is the best microcontroller in this microcontroller comparison? In my opinion there are only few use cases where you should not go with an ESP based board. The ESP based boards are fast, have a low power consumption, a high memory and WiFi build in. Also the price is very low. The only use case I can think the Arduino boards are better is when it come to analog inputs. If you want to read a lot of analog input values and you do not want to use a multiplexer, than you should go with an Arduino board.

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