Tiny Cheap ARM Boards Get WiFi

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the value of putting tiny WIFi-enabled microcontrollers on a module that costs a dollar or two. Those smart light bulbs in your house probably have an ESP8266 in them, and you can build a WiFi-enabled anything with one of these chips for next to no money. Now there’s a new module that takes the design philosophy of, ‘a reasonably powerful microcontroller, on a module, that does WiFi’ to its logical conclusion. It’s the W600 module from Seeed Studios. It’s got an ARM Cortex-M3, it’s FCC and CE certified, it’s got WiFi, and it’s cheap. This is what the people want, so somebody’s got to give it to them.

This product seems to be the followup and/or refinement of the Air602 WiFi Development board released by Seeed late last year. While the module itself grew a few more castellated pins and an RF can, the other specs look to be the same. Compared to the ESP-8266, which this module is obviously competing against, the Air600 is more than capable of pulling its own weight with five GPIO pins that do PWM, a decent amount of Flash, and all the WiFi support you could want.

The W600 is part of an entire family of boards, with the module itself readily available, but there’s also a few breakout boards that add connections for power and serial, a bigger breakout board that’s trying really hard to forget the pin misalignment of the Arduino Uno, and since this is Seeed, a board that connects to everything via Grove connectors. What’s a Grove connector? It’s power, ground, and either I2C or serial over a connector I couldn’t buy the last time I checked.

The W600 and its family of boards will be shipping shortly — China is shutting down for two weeks soon, after all — and there are plans for support for the Arduino IDE, Micropython, and an SDK for the tool chain of your choice.

Is the ESP8266 still the go-to for putting WiFi? Probably. But here’s some more competition.

35 thoughts on “Tiny Cheap ARM Boards Get WiFi

  1. I love to see some competition for the ESP32/8266 – Right now, the alternativs does not look good – either too expensive or too few functions – The W600 module is quiet cheap and have OK amount of features – looks good to me.

  2. > It’s power, ground, and either I2C or serial over a connector I couldn’t buy the last time I checked.
    A Grove connector is just a 4-pin JST with 2mm centers (instead of the slightly more common 2.54mm). You can buy pigtails and even crimp setups all day long on Amazon. The grove standard isn’t a bad idea, and it’s an easy way to clean up your wiring and get it off the breadboard. The pre-made grove stuff can get a bit expensive unless you Alibaba it, but you can build your own quite easily.

    1. I would agree, but a huge part of me wants there to be an ARM “clone” of the ESP just so we can use all the wonderful ARM development and debugging tools, like the black magic probe!

      1. Given ARM’s long, long record of designing low-power cores, I have the feeling that this W600 chip will use less power than the ESP8266 (or ESP32). On the other hand, it’s the WiFi transmitter that is the big power drain, so the difference might be negligible.

    2. Because it is currently a fifth of the price of a ESP32, which is severely overspec’d for most applications, but too weak to replace a full-fledged Linux board in most places. Microcontroller projects rarely if ever need 240MHz clock and 16MB flash, and for complex stuff that’s just not enough at all.

      And “cheap” $5 modules quickly add up if you need more than just one every once in a while.

  3. Cannot find FCC registrations for all of this stuff. Anyone have a number for the stuff with radios?

    And please stop using the term “CE certification”. No such thing exists. Application of the ‘CE’ mark can be capricious and does not necessarily indicate any type of formal ‘certification’.

  4. Whyyyyy must Grove use that proprietary plug that’s almost JST-PH but isn’t? I love the modular concept, but Adafruit’s STEMMA using real jst is cooler. Sparkfun’s Qwiic seems cool but the connectors are tiny and hard to solder, and harder to find. JST-PH is everywhere.

    And why don’t they specifiy some input protection for non-i2c stuff, so it doesn’t break if you plug it in wrong? I’m sure adding a resistor or two to a sensor isn’t going to wreck the profit margin.

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