Arduino vs. ESP32: Which Is the Better Microcontroller?

Comparing Arduino vs. ESP32 is necessary when considering microcontroller boards for projects like IoT. The two brands stand out as being easy to use and superb for embedded systems, but they have some differences that …

Different Arduino boards

Comparing Arduino vs. ESP32 is necessary when considering microcontroller boards for projects like IoT.

The two brands stand out as being easy to use and superb for embedded systems, but they have some differences that make them suitable for different applications.

Let’s look at these differences and how they affect the board’s performance.

Table of Contents

What Is Arduino?

Arduino is an open-source software and hardware project, company, and user community that designs and builds microcontrollers and their kits for prototyping and developing digital devices.

The platform consists of several microcontroller boards, each with different features suitable for varying users/projects.

But generally, Arduino is known for having easy-to-use microcontrollers for learning/educational purposes.

What Is ESP32?

ESP32 is a collection of affordable, low-power, system-on-chip microcontrollers with dual-mode Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built-in.

The successors of the ESP8266 are products of Espressif Systems but get manufactured using TSMC using a 40nm process.

A vector image of the ESP32

Generally, ESP32 boards are ideal for intermediate and advanced users who want to build embedded systems because they have multiple I/O pins and a small form factor.

Arduino vs. ESP32: Boards

Arduino has more official boards (made by Smart Projects), and the number is higher when you consider the Arduino-branded microcontrollers built by Adafruit Industries and SparkFun Electronics.

The popular boards include Arduino UNO R2, Arduino Mega, Arduino Leonardo, and Arduino Nano.

Other official versions include the following.

(1) Arduino UNO SMD R3

(2) Arduino Pro

(3) Arduino Micro

(4) Arduino Pro Micro

(5) Arduino Diecimila

(6) Arduino Duemilanove

(7) Arduino RS232

(8) Arduino LilyPad 00

(9) Arduino Esplora

(10) Arduino Robot

(11) Arduino Ethernet

(12) Arduino Due

(13) Arduino Yun

An Arduino Yun board

An Arduino Yun board

On the other hand, the ESP32 family is not as expansive because it only includes the following boards.

(1) ESP32

(2) ESP32-S2

(3) ESP32-C3

(4) ESP32-S3

(5) ESP32-C6

The company has announced three upcoming boards, which are the ESP32-C5, ESP32-H2, and ESP32-P4. So Arduino wins in terms of variety.

Arduino vs. ESP32: General Features

Most Arduino boards feature Atmel 8-bit AVR microcontrollers with varying memory (flash & RAM), pins, connectivity, and other features.

But advanced Arduino boards feature the more powerful 32-bit microcontrollers.

A vector image of the ATmega328P, an 8-bit AVR microcontroller

Arduino UNO vs. Mega

However, ESP32 boards use Tensilica Xtensa LX6 microprocessors in single or dual-core variations, single-core RISC-V, or Xtensa LX7 dual-core microprocessors.

Although each ESP32 board has slightly different features, all have built-in antenna switches, power amplifiers, low-noise receive amplifiers, power management modules, filters, and RF baluns.

So ESP32 wins because the boards have more primary features.

Arduino vs. ESP32: GPIO Pins

ESP32 boards have more GPIO pins than the basic Arduino microcontrollers, such as the Arduino UNO board.

The former has 36 digital I/O pins, while the latter only has 14. But advanced Arduino boards have more pins.

Arduino UNO vs. Mega

Arduino UNO vs. Mega

For instance, the Arduino Mega has 54 digital I/O pins, with 15 providing PWM output. But this board is more advanced and costs way more than the ESP32.

So ESP32 boards win in this category, making them ideal for controlling more modules and sensors.

Arduino Mega pins

Arduino Mega pins

Arduino vs. ESP32: Community

Since Smart Projects was the first company to make affordable, open-source educational development boards, it created a massive community around its products.

And it’s not just individuals.

Companies and industries (like Adafruit & SparkFun) center their projects around various Arduino boards, creating sufficient support around the products.

ESP32 does not have such a developer community, so you should use the boards if you know what you are doing.

But the devices are beasts among hobbyists and have become the basis for developing several robotics projects globally.

Arduino vs. ESP32: Shields

Another area where Arduino shines over the ESP32 is the availability of multiple shields to expand the capabilities of a single board.

Some include prototyping, data logging, motor, USB-host, Wi-Fi, and screw terminal Arduino shields.

But the ESP32 has limited compatible shields.

However, it has more built-in features and might not need as many.

An Arduino CNC shield for controlling stepper motors

An Arduino CNC shield for controlling stepper motors

Arduino vs. ESP32: Wireless Connectivity (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi)

The primary advantage of the ESP32 board is that it features onboard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. So it is ideal for IoT projects.

But with Arduino, you must either buy Bluetooth and Wi-Fi shields to introduce these features or get an advanced Arduino board with integrated Wi-Fi, such as the Arduino UNO Wi-Fi.

Microcontroller boards for IoT projects

Microcontroller boards for IoT projects

Arduino vs. ESP32: Sensors

ESP32 boards come with ten internal capacitive touch sensors plus a hall-effect and temperature sensor.

But most Arduino boards lack these features.

You can only get sensors in a few models, such as the Arduino Nano 33 BLE, which has a 9-axis inertial sensor.

Arduino vs. ESP32: Programming

The official software to use for coding the ESP32 is ESP-IDF, and an installer is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs.

But you can also use Eclipse with an ESP-IDF plugin.

This C programming language coding is standard for most electronics but is not easy for most users, especially beginners.

An Arduino board connected to a computer for programming

An Arduino board connected to a computer for programming

Using the Arduino IDE is less complicated, and the ESP32 luckily has official support from Arduino IDE to program it as a compatible board.

After integrating the ESP32-Arduino Core, the two platforms work remarkably well together, giving you multiple sketches and dev kits.

Arduino vs. ESP32: Power Consumption

Comparing UNO and ESP32, both have USB ports that can handle 500mA at 5V and more because their USB B and micro-USB ports have regulators.

But they can also run on unregulated power via their Vin pins, provided you regulate the voltage externally.

But once the power goes in, the ESP32 is more energy efficient because its current consumption lies between 15µA and 400mA.

And you can make it more efficient by activating its deep sleep mode, which consumes only 0.5µA.

On the other hand, the Arduino UNO consumes 35mA in deep sleep mode, which is 70,000 times more.

So ESP32 boards are ideal for IoT projects running on battery power.

Arduino vs. ESP32: Size

Although there are compact Arduino boards, most are large.

But ESP32 boards are compact and fit on breadboards easily to connect to other project components without soldering.

Arduino vs. ESP32: Price

Price is critical for prototyping and development because it affects the overall project cost.

While Arduino boards are easier to use, they cost more.

For instance, the entry-level Arduino UNO will set you back over $20, although you can get cheaper deals if you buy boards modeled after the original Arduino boards.

With ESP32, you get a more powerful board at a lower price because the units go for as low as $7.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, the primary difference between the two is that Arduino boards are usually ideal for beginners, while ESP32 boards are better for microcontroller experts.

Although Arduino has advanced microcontrollers that surpass the performance of any ESP32 board, these units are costly, making ESP32 microcontrollers the better option.

But it is worth noting that Arduino has more application-specific boards, such as the MKR Zero (for audio projects).

So consider your requirements first, then pick the most suitable microcontroller. But if you’re developing a wearable or IoT project, an ESP32 board is better.