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Arduino Pro Portenta H7

By Mel Ho / Oct 13, 2020

Arduino Pro Portenta H7

When I first heard about the Arduino Pro Portenta H7, it seemed like a unicorn compared to Arduino’s previous boards. As you — the reader — are probably aware of, Arduino boards are cost-efficient, accessible, and a workhorse in the maker world. The Portenta H7 has a lot of the same charm as a standard Arduino board but with parts that cater more to professionals than the average electronics hobbyist. Geared for industrial use, the Portenta H7 board can be highly customized to fit the needs of a business. This doesn’t stop us makers from being intrigued by the versatility of the Portenta H7 though! With its powerful components and ease of use, DIY makers can definitely tap into this board to supercharge their projects.

Instead of an 8-bit ATmega328P for a brain, the Portenta H7 runs on a 32-bit dual-core STMicro STM32H7 ARM Cortex-M7+M4 MCU; it also has an on-board GPU, WiFi, Bluetooth, and can run Arduino sketches, Micropython, Javascript, native Mbed applications, and Tensorflow Lite. These upgrades position the Portenta for handling professional applications rather than just the standard DIY projects we’ve come to expect from Arduino.

With the new Arduino Pro IDE, there are a lot of overdue upgrades to the classic Arduino IDE’s antiquated interface. Early on, I ditched the Arduino IDE because of its limitations. It just couldn’t compete with IntelliSense, linting, integrated debugging, and TabNine’s code completion that you can get from a more advanced text editor or IDE. Despite being still in its alpha phase, the Arduino Pro IDE provides some of these perks that will be a godsend for new and experienced users alike.

Arduino is promising some accessories for the Portenta H7 as well. The first release is the Arduino Portenta Vision Shield ($45). This shield fits snuggly onto the mainboard and consists of a 324×324-pixel camera sensor, a 100Mbps ethernet connector, two on-board directional microphones, a JTAB connector for debugging, and an SD card connector for storage. With the Portenta Vision Shield, you can perform computer vision tasks, connect to the Arduino Cloud or your own IoT infrastructure, and use the onboard microphone for sound triggered events. On top of that, Arduino has collaborated with OpenMV to offer you a free license to the OpenMV IDE, making programming on the board with MicroPython easy and straightforward.

Portenta Vision Shield

An upcoming Portenta H7 accessory is the Portenta Carrier Board, which will turn the Portenta H7 into an eNUC computer. Yeah, you heard me right, the Portenta H7 is capable of becoming a low-power desktop computer. It’s no contender to a full-fledged SBC, but the Portenta H7 does have the capabilities to connect external modules via miniPCIe which can be used to upgrade its computing power.

I tested both the Arduino Pro IDE and OpenMV IDE on the Portenta H7 and the Portenta Vision Shield to see how easy it is to jump right in. For the most part, I was able to run code and flash from both IDEs with minor clunkiness. Uploading code onto the Portenta H7 in Linux required some massaging of my system settings and drivers that the getting started tutorial helps troubleshoot. I also had to update the bootloader to get OpenMV to work with the board; a task that became more challenging after finding out the bootloader update file referenced was missing from my examples. While these tutorials cover the basics of how to set up and utilize the hardware on the Portenta H7, I wish there was code documentation for Javascript and Micropython. For users who may not be familiar with how to use interpreters with Arduino, I see this as important information lost.

The Portenta has two 80-pin high-density connectors at the bottom of the board.

Despite the Arduino Pro Portenta H7 being feature-rich, readers may find the $103 price tag off-putting compared to significantly cheaper microcontrollers with similar specs. The Portenta H7 feels like a mid-tier board in the sense that it’s more capable than your standard Arduino microcontroller, but not as powerful as an SBC to justify its cost. However, when buying into the Arduino ecosystem, I believe the most valuable asset beyond the hardware is the large community and technical support. Compared to other microcontrollers, the popularity of Arduino makes it easier to ask for help on weird quirks or find tutorials for specific projects you want to build. However, I would consider your project’s needs first before compulsively buying the shiniest new Arduino toy. After all, you don’t need all of these fancy specs to make the next killer smart toaster.

MAIN PROCESSOR
STM32H747XI dual Cortex®-M7+M4 32bit low power Arm® MCU
SDRAM
8-64 MByte option
QSPI FLASH
2-128 MByte option
ETHERNET
10/100 Phy option
WIRELESS
BT5.0 + WiFi 802.11 b/g/n 65Mbps option
CRYPTO CHIP
ECC608 or SE050C2 (Common Criteria EAL 6+) option
DISPLAY CONNECTOR
MIPI DSI host & MIPI D-PHY to interface with low-pin count large displays
GPU
Chrom-ART graphical hardware Accelerator™
TIMERS
22x timers and watchdogs
UART
4x ports (2 with flow control)
SD CARD
Interface for SD Card connector (through expansion port only)
OPERATIONAL TEMPERATURE
-40 °C to +85 °C
POWER
Through USB-C connector or LiPo battery (integrated charger)
CURRENT CONSUMPTION
2.95 μA in Standby mode (Backup SRAM OFF, RTC/LSE ON)
USB-C
Host / Device, DisplayPort out, High / Full Speed, Power delivery
MKR HEADERS
Use any of the existing industrial MKR shields on it
HIGH DENSITY CONNECTORS
Two 80 pin connectors will expose all of the board’s peripherals to other devices
ESLOV CONNECTOR
Arduino’s open connector standard for self-identifiable hardware
CAMERA INTERFACE
8-bit, up to 80 MHz
ADC
3× ADCs with 16-bit max. resolution (up to 36 channels, up to 3.6 MSPS)
DAC
2× 12-bit DAC (1 MHz)
Specs
Portenta H7 Arduino
TYPE:Microcontroller
PRICE:$103
DIMENSIONS:2.6''×1'.0'
SOFTWARE:Arduino IDE, MicroPython
CLOCK SPEED:480MHz (M7) 240Mhz (M4)
MAIN PROCESSOR:32-bit STM32H747XI dual-core Cortex-M7+M4
MEMORY:2MB/16MB Int/Ext Flash, 1MB/8MB Int/Ext RAM
I/O PINS (DIGITAL):15–22
I/O PINS (ANALOG):1–6
WI-FI:Yes
BLUETOOTH:Yes
VIDEO:MIPI DSI host & MIPI D-PHY
ETHERNET:10/100 Mbps (expansion port)
INPUT VOLTAG:5V
BATTERY CHARGING:Yes
OPERATING VOLTAGE :3.3V

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Geared for industrial use, the Portenta H7 board can be highly customized to fit the needs of a business.

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