One big advantage of the ever-expanding selection of microcontroller development boards is that if you are familiar with a programming language, there is likely to be a board out there for you. No longer are you relegated to assembly or just a C compiler, dev boards now support Python, Java Script, Basic, and more. If you are a developer who works in Microsoft’s popular Visual Studio C# environment, the Wilderness Labs Netduino line has you covered.
I know, I know, “Visual Studio is a close source proprietary blah blah blah…” but things are changing, The open-source Mono Project and Xamarin, are working to make an open version of .Net that is cross platform compatible and even Visual Studio will compile apps now for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. The complaints against .Net are starting to become irrelevant.
Wilderness Labs acquired the Netduino brand in late 2016 and relaunched these devices in mid-2017. They now offer multiple boards from the basic N2 to our subject of this review the N3 WiFi. The heart of all of the Netduino 3 boards is a 168MHz Cortex-M4 chip with 1,408 KB of storage for your code and 164 KB of RAM. The board is pin compatible with standard Arduino shields but also offers three GoPorts for easily adding on additional circuits. The N3 WiFi unsurprisingly comes with a B/G/N WiFi module for connecting it to your network. Storing data is easy on the N3 boards thanks to the inclusion of a Micro-SD card slot, something I wish was a more common feature in dev boards and not just an add on.
Getting the development environment setup for the N3 boards was a little more of a hassle than I would have liked it to have been. There are multiple downloads that are needed from Wilderness labs themselves and they currently only support Visual Studio 2015. Since Microsoft is on to VS 2017, finding the right download for the free VS 2015 Community Edition takes some patients. To make things a little more annoying, both Microsoft and Wilderness labs require you to have and sign into an account to access the downloads.
Once everything is setup, using the device is easy and for those familiar and comfortable in the Visual Studio IDE (of which I am), the experience feels richer and more full featured than working with other IDEs that are popular in the maker world. The board itself performed as expected when running basic programs (it’s hard to avoid the term sketches when this feels so similar to Arduino). While Wilderness Labs has lots of guides and sample applications, one big drawback many users will find is the lack of community support for these devices that will require users to write more code themselves to support their projects rather than finding existing projects they can expand on.
I don’t see Netduino unseating its namesake, Arduino, as the king of dev boards anytime soon but there is a large .Net development community out there and for those who are looking to get started in IoT or basic micro-controller development, the Netduino N3 WiFi is an easy way to jump in.