The RedBoard from SparkFun isn’t anything special; it doesn’t have a lot of fancy bells and whistles or features no other Arduino has. It is, however, a simple, reliable Arduino clone — and very often THAT is exactly what you need.
When programing the RedBoard in the Arduino IDE you use the Arduino Uno settings; it is totally pin compatible with an Uno and your sketch won’t know the difference. SparkFun did decide to make some hardware changes over the standard Uno though. First, this is an entirely SMD board with no through hole parts. This means if you want to change the onboard chip, well, good luck with your rework station. You do have better clearance though under your shields without the big socketed chip sticking up. Also keeping the clearance down is the USB connection. The RedBoard opts to use a Mini-B connector instead of the traditional full size B connector. I think this is a really great decision as I’ve had shields that have shorted when the bottom connections hit the big metal can around the standard USB port on a name brand Arduino.
With the RedBoard, SparkFun also decided to forego the Uno’s ATmega16U2 chip and instead return to the classic FTDI chip for its serial communication. This means the RedBoard will lose some functionality that the ATmega16U2 provided, namely the ability to show up as another type of USB gadget like a HID or MIDI device. The FTDI chip has proven itself to be more reliable and a real workhorse, which I believe is also SparkFun’s goal for the RedBoard.
Setting up and using the RedBoard is just like using any standard Arduino. Already having FTDI drivers installed from other boards, I was up and running right away. Everything worked just the way I would expect, again nothing fancy here, it just works.
At about $20, the RedBoard is competitively priced against an Uno and if you were buying a bunch, say for a class, this savings would add up. If you need just a normal barebones Arduino, the RedBoard makes a great choice.