New & Reviewed

Spotlight on: pcDuino3

A Microcomputer with Potential

DIYODE Magazine

Issue 1, July 2017

We have known about the pcDuino3 since 2015, when Jaycar first started carrying them. Back then, they were full-featured but a little on the expensive side. However, they’ve just had a massive price drop, which makes them far more accessible, so we wanted to take a closer look at this comprehensive piece of hardware.

A few things stand out about this board, which gets us excited. Firstly, even though it uses the “duino” namesake, it’s far from a standard Arduino. Using a 1GHz ARM dual core processor and onboard video processor, it’s a lightweight computer with GPIO hardware. It features onboard WiFi and gigabit ethernet to get connected, onboard digital audio, and loads more.

You can run the Arduino IDE directly on the pcDuino to develop, compile, and run sketches all on the one machine. Although it’s probably important to mention – you can’t load sketches onto a pcDuino the same way you would on something like an UNO (although it is possible to configure a sketch so it runs automatically after booting, in a more traditional Arduino way). It’s better to consider pcDuino as a small computer with the ability to code and deploy sketches right there on the hardware. It’s fully compatible with C and Python, so if you’re used to Raspberry Pi or Arduino development, you’ll most likely feel equally as comfortable.

It certainly does share its GPIO pinout with an Arduino UNO, making it great for using existing Arduino compatible shields; however, due to pcDuino’s 3.3V logic level, you may require the voltage converter module to translate the entire GPIO to 5V logic (more on this later).

Looking over the board, there’s all sorts of unexpected surprises. An infrared receiver, a USB On The Go connector, 3.5mm audio, even a battery backup connector. The 4GB onboard flash can be expanded using MicroSD or SATA storage too. Even using just a few of these features will quickly knock out the price difference between a standard Arduino and a few modules. It comes preloaded with Ubuntu (Linux), which provides a reliable and stable platform and is trusted to run enterprise servers worldwide. It also then provides access to almost endless Linux packages. In addition to Ubuntu, you can load a different operating system such as Android, or even XBMC, to make an ultra lightweight (yet high definition / digital audio delivering) media centre. The onboard SATA controller definitely provides useful access to larger storage options, which is good considering that even the largest MicroSD fills up rather quickly when trying to watch movies!

One thing we found with the pcDuino was part of the voltage converter module covers the SATA port. If you’re using the pcDuino mostly for software, you’ll probably never encounter this issue. Stackable headers may help, but increase the overall size required for everything. Many modules are compatible with 3.3V or 5V, so you may not need the voltage translator and can ignore this point entirely.

All in all, the pcDuino3 is a powerful unit and provides a solid platform to work from. Here at DIYODE HQ, we’ll soon retire an old machine that basically just runs Spotify in our office, so perhaps we’ll initiate a pcDuino with XBMC in its place. We’ll be sure to share our results.

Grab it online from Jaycar Electronics