Recently, I’ve had a lot of questions regarding the best microcontroller kit to purchase for a gift. The answer depends entirely on the recipient. If the person is curious about electronics and microcontrollers but doesn’t know where to start or how things work, I highly recommend the Getting Started with Arduino Kit and the Getting Started with Arduino Book to accompany it. The kit contains all the materials necessary to complete the tutorials in the book (by Massimo Banzi, co-founder of the Arduino Project) and will give the recipient a firm grasp on how to program and use the Arduino microcontroller.
If the recipient is tech / electronics savvy, likes to experiment, and wants lots of parts to keep them busy, I recommend the Ultimate Microcontroller Pack. It contains over 100 components and will keep the person who receives it busy for quite some time. They might have to do a little browsing to find out how to use all the parts but that’s half the fun! I typically recommend the Arduino based version due to the outstanding community and wealth of information on the web but it is also available with the Netduino and Netduino Plus which are perfect for .NET programmers. For the person that already has a microcontroller and just wants the parts, we offer a components only version. Whichever flavor you choose, you can rest assured that the person who receives an Ultimate Microcontroller Pack will not complain of boredom this winter!
Note: Starting 12/1/11 all Arduino kits from the Maker Shed are shipping with the new Arduino Uno Revision 3.