A Chip Is Born: RP2040-Based Boards Go From 0 to 60+ With Impressive Speed

Electronics Raspberry Pi
A Chip Is Born: RP2040-Based Boards Go From 0 to 60+ With Impressive Speed
This article is from Make: Vol. 79, featuring our 2021 Guide to Boards. Subscribe now to be sure to get a copy in your mailbox.

The microcontroller market — where chips designed for real-time embedded use are placed into development boards typically referred to as “microcontrollers” themselves — is rarely shaken up. If you want something friendly to beginners, you pick an Arduino with a Microchip ATmega328; if you want connectivity, an Espressif ESP32-based board; for performance, STMicro’s STM32 series.

The Raspberry Pi Pico, a $4 development board with a powerful, custom dual-core Arm Cortex-M0+ microcontroller and flexible programmable input/ output (PIO) blocks, shook things up with its launch this year — but it was the news that these new RP2040 chips would be sold individually at just $1 each that caused the biggest aftershocks.

Accompanying the Pico’s launch, a number of manufacturers released boards based on the RP2040: Adafruit, Arduino, Pimoroni, and SparkFun to start. In the months since, nearly 70 announcements have followed with designs spanning the gamut from domain-specific gadgets like the Raspberry Fish synth from TINRS to general-purpose tinkering boards like Invector Labs’ Challenger RP2040.

“We’re pretty happy with how things are going,” Raspberry Pi co-founder Eben Upton told us. “Lots of enthusiasm for the community as people really start to understand what the chip can do. We’re still on track to clear our Pico backlog, and get RP2040 into high-volume, over 1 million unit availability before the end of the year.”

Adafruit’s Limor Fried amplifies the excitement, saying “It’s one of the best things to ever happen for electronics.”

At time of writing, we’ve identified over 60 distinct boards that utilize this new chip, with more coming continuously.

We found more RP2040 boards on Twitter:

Oak Development Technologies PixelLeaf RP2040 — 10×5 LED matrix with RP2040
(This one is listed above as well, but we’re adding the tweet for more info)
Bitluni RPoE — RP2040 board with Ethernet and Power-over-Ethernet.
David Slik AARPP — Tile-based RP2040 “supercomputer”
Phillip Merrick USB-RC Receiver Adapter — Dedicated board for decoding, visualizing radio controller signals.
Suna RP2040 PicoNANO —  Built-in piezoelectric buzzer.

There are even more RP2040 boards on GitHub as well:

blackjetrock Pak-Gadget — Psion Datapak compatible board plus breakout. github.com/blackjetrock/pak-gadget

Darko Pancev Microbyte-RP2040 — Pi Zero form factor. github.com/darkopancev517/microbyte-rp2040

Envious Data Dip40-RP2040 — DIP40-footprint Pico clone. github.com/Envious-Data/EnvOpenPico

Envious Data Dip40-RP2040-32A — Atmel ATmega32A footprint and pinout Pico clone. github.com/Envious-Data/EnvOpenPico

Envious Data EnvOpenPico-LiPo — EnvOpenPico variant with back/boost for battery support. github.com/Envious-Data/EnvOpenPico

Hugo Hu RP2040 Module — SMT module for hand soldering. github.com/Hugoyhu/rp2040module

Tyler Stowell RP2040 SMD Board — SMD-based board with industrial focus. github.com/tyler-stowell/RP2040_SMD_Board

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Gareth Halfacree

Gareth Halfacree is the author of the Raspberry Pi User Guide and an expert in educational and embedded computing. A noted technology journalist and long-time tech author, Gareth also has an extensive background in computing education.

View more articles by Gareth Halfacree


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