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How to pick ESP32 boards?

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Joined: 2 years ago
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I'm looking to purchase a few ESP32 boards and I'm getting a bit lost in all the options. There are the standard Espressif boards (in several flavors like C2 & C3 and the CAM boards) and a host of other integrators selling all types of other ESP32 boards (like Lilygo, HiLetgo. KeeYees, Adafruit, Sparkfun and so many more). I'm fairly partial to Adafruit and their Feather series but I'm open to trying other options. Can anyone provide some guidance. Which boards are others using and why? If you made a purchase, would you stay with your original selection or get some different for your next board? I certainly understand there are some specs that may restrict your options (like ram size, flash size, external antenna options, camera support, # of cores, integrated peripherals, etc) but can anyone provide some guidance? Appreciate any help. Thanks. 

Tigs62 reacted
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Joined: 4 years ago
Posts: 7283

@sealyons62 If you need a camera then you have to get an ESP32-CAM board. If you can get the daughter board ESP32-MB then it is MUCH easier to work with. I just ordered 10 on Aliexpress. I only get the AI-THINKER version of those.

Based on the Randon Nerds I also buy ESP-32 DOIT but have also got ESP32-WROOM.

TBH, I never noticed some had more pins than others (other than the obvious versions) and have not been bothered by that fact. I also have never shopped based on most of your qualifiers.

The 3 series boards are the latest and greatest. Probably ion short supply and more expensive.

# of cores is always 2 AFAIK.

Not very familiar with Adafruit and feather, I was under the assumption feather boards were for attaching to some other device so I had no need.

Do you have a project in mind with some specific needs.

TBH, I didn't even know there were different flash and ram sizes, it's never been an issue for me.

AFAIK ALL ESP32 have the same integrated peripherals although maybe some have 2 of one and others only one, IDK and again has not been a problem for me.

First computer 1959. Retired from my own computer company 2004.
Hardware - Expert in 1401, and 360, fairly knowledge in PC plus numerous MPU's and MCU's
Major Languages - Machine language, 360 Macro Assembler, Intel Assembler, PL/I and PL1, Pascal, Basic, C plus numerous job control and scripting languages.
My personal scorecard is now 1 PC hardware fix (circa 1982), 1 open source fix (at age 82), and 2 zero day bugs in a major OS.

Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 20

I would imagine that by now you have probably made your choice, but as other people may read this in the future, I thought I would add the benefit of my experience.

1.  Price:
If you buy a Sparkfun or an Adafruit, you are going to get a good quality board, with lots of support and it is highly likely to work first time without any problems (this is very useful for beginners).  However, they are not cheap.
If you buy from AliExpress, eBay or Banggood, you are taking a bigger risk because not everything from China works first time, but they are considerably cheaper.

2.  Hardware issues:
If you buy the ESP32 Devkit DoIt v1, (in either the 30 pin or 36 Pin format), then you may encounter the issue with uploading the program.  Bill mentions about pressing the IO button, but on some boards it is called a BOOT button and on other boards you have to press the EN button first.
This is because of a design flaw with the Devkit boards, which can be overcome by adding a 10uF Electrolytic Capacitor between the EN pin and GND.  Some people just put it in there breadboards and others solder it on permanently.  This can be a real pain for beginners.

3.  Add-ons:
Some version, as you mention, have cameras, special sensors and extra chips for things like battery charging.  Personally, if this is your first board, I would recommend just the plain vanilla version.

In hindsight, I wish that I had bought and Adafruit or a Sparkfun board for my first board to learn on.
That said, a lot of the online tutorials like using the cheaper versions.

Good luck

You are never too old to learn.
You are never too old to teach.

frogandtoad reacted
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 1742

Hi @sealyons62,

   To slightly amplify some good advice above from @zander and @tigs62....


Please note, I am still sorting through the different part numbers, and may be muddled myself, but with that warning, I'll make a couple of suggestions in the hope it gives you some clues as what to look for. Others with more direct experience may like to correct my mistakes!


Until 'fairly recently' the 'basic' ESP32 was the only main chip in town ... although it comes with a number of options, the most common options being a 'dev board', with most of the GPIO pins available along the two long edges, or the ESP32 CAM, which includes connection for the simple video module, but only a few GPIO pins, as most are already routed to the camera. I haven't got any hard statistics, but I would imagine these boards are the ones most existing projects, software etc will refer to, so if you are looking for a common starting point, I think these may be the way to go. Theoretically ,the options affected the amount of PSRAM, Flash and whether it had 1 or 2 core processors ... most of the adverts for dev boards I have noticed have the same (max?), but as always check before you buy.

However, electronics doesn't stand still, and there are now newer variations with like ESP32-Cx and ESP-Sx, (plus Wikipedia suggesting -C6 and -H2 announced) where x is typically 1,2 or 3. Wikipedia has a useful page, but I suspect it is incomplete.

You may note there are at least three different processor cores .. and these affect performance etc. If you are looking for a longer term project, the later versions may be more appropriate. However, I think the aim is to minimise the 'pain' in transferring to the later versions, so most of your experience with the 'basic' devices is likely to be transferable.

If you like to 'live on the edge' , then I note the -S3 devices are now available from a few suppliers on AliExpress .. and probably elsewhere. The prices seem to be 'all over the place', but the 'keenest' prices are not hugely different ... what you actually get, may be another story ... Note the S3 and others do come with an array of different memory options, so you will need to do some careful reading before ordering. The situation is complicated because the ESP32 chip itself is only about 5mm square, but is usually sold as part of a small module with a metal lid. Many options arise from different combinations of other parts under the lid!

I would not advise 'bulk buying' until you have bought and tried at the one-at-a-time level.

Good luck in your search. Dave

Tigs62 reacted