While we certainly do love the Arduino Nano for its low-cost and versatility in projects, it’s unarguable that every tools has its gripes. For one maker in particular, there were enough complaints to merit a redesign of the entire board. While Arduino may or may not be interested in incorporating these changes into a redesign of the development board, there is certainly room for a new manufacturer to step in and improve some features.
[Kevin Timmerman] takes a look at lower-cost clones of the Nano made in China to highlight a few interesting key differences that make the clones – cheaper but still compatible with legacy systems – more attractive.
The PCB manufacturing for the Arduino Nano currently places components on both sides of the board, requiring two operations for solder paste, pick-and-place, and reflow. Naturally this increases costs, simply designing a two-layer PCB with components on top lowers the price of manufacturing.
Since the ATmega328PB was released, it has proven to be a better and cheaper MCU for manufacturing than the ATmega328P, the current MCU used by the Arduino Nano and clones. While the newer MCU is not backwards compatible like its predecessor, it has additional UART, GPIO, counters, and other features that allow users to take advantage of new libraries and peripherals.
Rather than featuring the typical voltage regulator used by Arduino boards (used to allow the board to be powered by a voltage source greater than 5V), a switching regulator allows for less energy loss but a higher component cost. A better solution than both of these would be to simply not have a voltage regulator. While this may be controversial, there are sufficient battery power sources for this design to work (4 cells of AA or AAA NiMh batteries or a mobile phone charger).
The Arduino Nano uses a bootloader for handling programming the MCU, which requires the USB to serial bridge to be disconnected from anything that could interfere with the programming. Thus, programs using the COM port on the computer must release the port, including the serial monitor. Rather than using the bootloader, ICSP (in-circuit serial programming) and DebugWire are possible alternatives that connect the ICSP pins to the CH551 development board or programming via the reset pin.
There are a number of other spec and firmware improvements suggested in the writeup, as well as comparison between the Arduino Nano, Arduino Every, and Chinese clones. It’s definitely worth a look!