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.
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.
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.
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.