As Arduino has become an open source platform any individual can create Arduino compatible boards. You can find many Arduino starter kits available in the market today like the NetDuino and FreeDuino.One method to differentiate between the compatible models and original boards is to find out the trade name on the Arduino board. The brand Arduino is trademarked for original boards made from the authentic patent company in Italy. Almost all compatible boards use a different name like Netduino, Freeduino, etc. If you are looking for a cheaper board of the Arduino, clone boards can be the affordable option.
The most convenient way to find cheap Arduino clone boards is to buy them online. You can also find them in your local electronics stores. If you are in Ireland you can buy it at makershop.
If you are a new learner striving to get into the Arduino world, the most effective option for you is the Arduino Uno R3. Clone boards like Freeduino can also be the right alternative and they are also available online. Arduino comes with 6 Analog pins and 14 Digital pins. So you will find a total of 20 GPIO pins (General Purpose Input Output pins), I think that is is good enough for the beginner or intermediate level of arduino projects. It also comes with a pair of Tx and Rx pins to connect Communication Devices. Other than that, a standalone pair of Tx and Rx pins can be identified by integrating the header file Software Serial.
The Arduino Uno R3 is available in 2 models; the standard version and SMD version. In SMD version you will find Atmega328 controller IC as an SMD chip integrated into the board, while in the standard version the controller IC is held on, the Arduino by an IC Holder. For beginners, the standard version can be the better option. Even though you heat up your controller IC accidently when doing your arduino project, you can restore standard working by just changing the IC. If you use SMD Arduino, then you need to replace the Arduino board if the IC fried up.
Apart from the Arduino Uno that is considered to be the best starter kit for Arduino project, you can also find other versions available on the market. As technical specifications vary, you must pick the board wisely for your Arduino projects.
If you are trying to find a more affordable starter kit, or if you prefer the product in a more compact size, then you can choose the Arduino mini. It comes with all the features of the Arduino Uno in a more compact size and is less expensive than the UNO. The Arduino mini has a length of about 3 cm and is ideal for lightweight projects like mini robots. However in the mini model, you still get the issue of the IC being surface attached on the board.
Which Arduino board should you buy for your Arduino projects?
A Mini or an Uno can be used for simple and small projects based upon your budget. Or if you want greater number of pins to be processed in the same controller, Arduino Mega can be the best alternative. And for a beginner, the most recommended one is Arduino Uno.