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ESP32 Alternatives - Finding the Best Microcontroller for Your Project Needs | A Comprehensive Guide

Discover best alternatives to the ESP32 microcontroller. Our guide covers popular options like ESP8266, Raspberry Pi Pico, Arduino Nano, Teensy nRF5x...

ESP32 microcontrollers and development boards have gained a lot of popularity among hobbyists and even manufacturing community because of their flexible power supply, where you can connect it directly to USB (Type A, Type C, etc. depending on the controller and board) and wide connectivity options. With integrated Wi-Fi and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) capabilities, a dual-core processor and a rich set of peripherals the ESP32 is a great candidate for many embedded system designs or hobbyist projects.

However, in some cases, ESP32 may not be the best choice for several reasons such as cost, power consumption, architecture or compatibility with already owned hardware or software.

Today we will take a look at some of the main ESP32 alternative options, and discuss their use cases and pros and cons.

Key Criteria to Consider When Choosing an ESP32 Microcontroller Replacement #

There are a few things to consider when replacing an ESP32 microcontroller. Here are some of the main points to consider:

  • Price - One of the main reasons for looking for an ESP32 replacement is price. Even though the ESP32 controllers are already cheap, depending on your project budget you should find a microcontroller that is more affordable and still provides the functionality you need.
  • Power consumption - If your project is battery-powered or needs to save power you may want to find a microcontroller that uses less power than the ESP32.
  • Processing Power - Depending on the complexity of your project you may need a microcontroller with more processing power than the ESP32.
  • Connectivity - If your project requires specific connectivity options such as LoRa Zigbee or Cellular look for a microcontroller with these options.
  • Architecture - Based on your previous experience you can choose a microcontroller ecosystem that you already know how to use, which has a large developer community, community support and resources.
  • Compatibility - If you want to use existing hardware or software with a microcontroller look for alternatives that are compatible with those components.

By considering these criteria you can narrow down your ESP32 replacement search to find the microcontroller that best fits your project needs.

5 Best ESP32 Alternatives in 2023 #

Even though there might be other options with better specifications or connectivity options, we have searched for similar form-factor and size microcontrollers.

Also, there are many different microcontroller options released today, but some of them are not easy to find available to buy anymore or are sold only in bulk, or in a Business-to-Business context. We have picked the ones that are widely available on the market and can be easily found to buy from various brands on Aliexpress or Amazon.

Our Top 5 Picks for ESP32 Alternatives are:

Let's take a closer look into them, or you can jump straight to Comparison Table.

Raspberry Pi Pico #

Raspberry Pi Pico Board

The Raspberry Pi Pico is a low-cost microcontroller. You can imagine it as a smaller version of Raspberry Pi, even though it is more similar to ESP32 and implements the same features as the ESP32 including WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, but with a different architecture and development ecosystem. It has a variety of I/O options and support for popular programming languages ​​such as MicroPython and C.

The Raspberry Pi Pico is a microcontroller board based on the RP2040 chip. It is developed in-house by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The RP2040 chip contains a dual-core ARM Cortex-M0 processor with up to 264KB RAM and various peripherals such as I2C, SPI, UART and PWM.

The Raspberry Pi Pico offers the same features as the ESP32 including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but a different architecture and development ecosystem.

Raspberry Pi Pico is compatible with many software libraries including popular programming languages ​​such as MicroPython and C making it easy to get started. Raspberry Pi Pico boards’ small size and low power consumption make them perfect for battery-powered devices and space-constrained projects.

One of the main advantages of the Raspberry Pi Pico is its capabilities to price ratio. While it provides an ARM architecture, it comes at a fairly cheap price.

Seeed Studio XIAO RP2040 Board

There are also other development boards, based on RP2040 microcontroller. One worth noting is Seeed Studio XIAO RP2040, which comes in a standard Seeed Studio form-factor at sells at around 10 USD.

STM32 Series #

STM32 Series Board

The STM32 microcontrollers have been the go-to choice for electronics-related projects for a while. STMicroelectronics has developed a family of STM32 microcontrollers based on Arm Cortex-M processors and includes a wide range of peripherals including ADC SPI I2C UART and CAN.

STM32 microcontrollers are known for using the ARM Cortex-M series microprocessors with high processing power, low power consumption and rich peripherals.

Many models offer advanced power-saving modes that help reduce battery life and power consumption making them ideal for battery-powered devices and IoT systems.

A large community of developers makes it easy to find support and resources. They are compatible with popular programming languages ​​such as C, and Python as well as various development tools and IDEs.

The STM32 microcontrollers series nowadays offer plenty of models with different performance levels and form factors.

Arduino Nano #

Arduino Nano Board

The Arduino Nano is the cheapest and smallest microcontroller of Arduino family. While the Arduino Nano doesn't have WiFi or Bluetooth integrated, it still has built-in USB connectivity. This microcontroller comes with an ATMega328P chip and has a simpler architecture and less processing power than ESP32, but still is a good choice for simple projects that do not require much processing, power or advanced connection options.

You could think about the Arduino Nano as a smaller, cheaper version of the popular Arduino Uno board and that makes it a great choice for projects that require a tight budget or a smaller form factor, especially if you want to stick with the Arduino family.

Arduino Nano microcontroller board is based on the ATmega328p microcontroller and provides many functions and devices I2C, SPI, UART, PWM and more.

One advantage of the Arduino Nano board is its compatibility with Arduino software and libraries. This means it can be programmed using the same software tools as any Arduino board making it easy to get started.

Arduino Nano Clone Board

The board is widely available, not only from the Arduino itself but also there are many clones from different manufacturers. A few worth mentioning are HiLetgo in USA and AZDelivery in Europe.

Teensy #

Teensy Microcontroller Board

The Teensy family of microcontrollers is another popular choice for embedded systems and audio applications. They offer massive processing power, extensive I/O options and support for popular programming languages ​​such as Arduino and C. They can be more expensive than the ESP32 but offer a lot of performance for the price.

Teensy is a family of small and powerful microcontroller boards based on ARM Cortex-M7 processors. They are known for their high processing power, low power consumption and great features and peripherals. Teensy boards come in plenty of different sizes and configurations to meet the needs of your next projects. The Teensy board offers a variety of advanced features that make it an excellent replacement for the ESP32 in many designs.

One of the main advantages of Teensy boards is their high processing power with some models offering clock speeds up to 600MHz making them suitable for projects that require fast and complex calculations.

Another advantage of Teensy boards is the range of advanced communication interfaces such as I2C, SPI and UART.

While the Teensy board is compatible with the Arduino software and libraries, making it easy to use and program for those familiar with Arduino ecosystem, you can also choose to program it using other programming languages ​​such as Python.

nRF52840 #

nRF52840 Microcontroller Board

The nRF52840 is a microcontroller developed by Nordic Semiconductor. It belongs to the nRF52 series, which is designed for wireless communication and IoT applications. The nRF52840 is widely used in applications such as wearables, smart home devices, industrial IoT, and other scenarios where wireless communication and low-power operation are essential.

The nRF52840 is based on the ARM Cortex-M4 processor architecture, providing a 32-bit processor with a floating-point unit (FPU). It supports a range of wireless protocols, including Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Bluetooth 5, Thread, Zigbee, and ANT.

Nordic Semiconductor provides a comprehensive development ecosystem for the nRF52840, including the Nordic SDK (Software Development Kit) and various development tools. This makes it easier for developers to create applications for the microcontroller.

GreekPi Development Board

An interesting development board, based on nRF52840 worth noting is GreekPi, which comes in a form-factor as USB-A Dongle and sells at around 20 USD.

Other ESP Versions #

When exploring alternatives to the popular ESP32 microcontroller, it's essential to broaden your perspective beyond the flagship model. There are multiple versions of the ESP32 itself, therefore if the original ESP32 does not meet your requirements, check other ESP32 SoC versions, before looking into other options.

ESP8266 Development Board

ESP8266 is a predecessor of ESP32 chip. Even though it might seem outdated, it is worth considering for the projects that don't need that much processing power but still would make use of Bluetooth or WiFi connection, because of its price. It is usually priced quite a lot lower than ESP32, and sometimes even comes at half the price or less.

ESP32-C3 Development Board

If you are leaning away from ESP32, because of the Chinese Tensilica Xtensa architecture, you don't have to drop the ESP32 from the list. The ESP32-C3 version takes a different approach and comes with an open standard instruction set architecture RISC-V.

Please bear in mind that these are just a few alternatives out of the whole wide market. To choose an alternative for ESP32 you have to consider the requirements and constraints of your project and weigh them against the available options.

Comparing ESP32 with its alternatives #

To get a better view of the differences and similarities between the boards that we already discussed, let’s take a look at the comparison table:

BoardProcessorClock Speed (Max)Flash MemoryRAMCommunication InterfacesOperating VoltagePrice
ESP32Tensilica LX6240 MHz4 MB520 KBI2C, SPI, UART, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth2.2 - 3.6 V$3 - $10
Raspbery Pi PicoRP2040 (ARM Cortex-M0)133 MHz2 MB264 KBI2C, SPI, UART, WiFi, Bluetooth1.8 - 5.5 V$4 - $10
STM32ARM Cortex-M480 MHz2MB512 KBSPI, I2C, UART, USB, Ethernet, CAN1.7 - 3.6 V$5 - $30
Arduino NanoATmega328P16 MHz32 KB2 KBI2C, SPI, UART5 V$5 - $20
TeensyARM Cortex-M7600 MHz8 MB1 MBI2C, SPI, UART3.3 - 5 V$20 - $35
nRF52840ARM Cortex-M464Mhz2 MB256 KBI2C, SPI, UART, Bluetooth, NFC1.7 - 3.6V$7 - $20
ESP8266Tensilica L106160 MHz4 MB80 KBI2C, SPI, UART, Wi-Fi2.5 - 3.6 V$2 - $7
ESP32-C3RISC-V160 MHz4 MB400 KBI2C, SPI, UART, WiFi, Bluetooth3 - 3.6V$3 - $10

Looking at the table, let's see how the ESP32 stands in comparison to other similar microcontroller alternatives, in more detail.

  • ESP32 vs Raspberry Pi Pico - While both microcontrollers provide similar connectivity options, the Raspberry Pi Pico comes with a little bit less processing power, while being slightly more expensive, but provides an ARM architecture.

  • ESP32 vs STM32 - A good alternative to ESP32, if you want to use the ARM Cortex microprocessors since it comes with a lot of power.

  • ESP32 vs Arduino Nano - Arduino Nano comes with a lot less processing power and no advanced connectivity options, as compared to ESP32. Also comes at a higher price range, but it might still be a good option if you want to stick with the European-manufactured microcontroller from Arduino.

  • ESP32 vs Teensy - Comes with an ARM Cortex-M7 processor, which provides almost triple the processing power, as compared to ESP32. However, it has a smaller community and comes at a higher price range.

  • ESP32 vs nRF52840 - Less processing power, compared to ESP32, doesn't have WiFi but has a Bluetooth connection. Comes at a relatively cheap price and might be a good option as an entry to ARM architecture.

Choosing the Right Microcontroller Board #

Overall, in this article, we have discussed various alternatives to ESP32 microcontroller boards, including Raspberry Pi Pico, STM32 Series, Arduino Nano, Teensy, nRF52840 and other ESP family microcontrollers. We have seen that each of these boards has its strengths and weaknesses such as cost, processing power, connectivity options and programming language compatibility.

When choosing an ESP board, it is important to remember, that it includes several versions, most considerable being ESP8266 or ESP32-C3, which comes with a RISC-V architecture, before looking for the alternatives.

If the ESP board does not suit your project requirements, the Raspberry Pi Pico is a good alternative for projects requiring a balance of processing power connectivity and capacity, while the Teensy family microcontrollers are suitable for projects requiring advanced communication interfaces and high-speed computing.

It's important to remember that this article covers only a small portion of the many ESP32 alternatives on the market. If you did not find a suitable alternative in this article, there are plenty of less popular options that might suit you the best, taking into consideration the requirements and constraints of the project.