5 Interesting 3D Printer Controller Boards to Check Out!

5 Interesting 3D Printer Controller Boards to Check Out!

In this post, Community Member Brett Turnage (creator of many popular OpenRC designs) and Pinshape team member Zachary Frew, share their experiences with many of the most popular controller boards on the market today. Follow along to learn which is best for you!


Controller boards are the brains of your 3D printer, powering everything from your motors to your hotend. The processing power of your controller board can play a large role in how detailed your prints come out, especially for non-cartesian machines like delta printers.

The board market is quickly expanding to accommodate things like more motors, faster processors, and wifi capabilities. In this post, we’ll be going through some of the most popular and powerful boards on the market today.

Arduino Mega 2560 and RAMPS

The Arduino Mega 2560 and RAMPS have retained their position as one of the top solutions for 3D printing controller boards several years after their creation. The Arduino Mega 2560 handles all of the computation and interfaces with a RAMPS board that does power handling and IO for each of the components like stepper motors and hotends.

ArdGen_Mega 3d printer controller

Arduino Mega 2560

The Mega 2560 and RAMPS combination is a barebone solution that requires you to purchase additional stepper drivers that attach to the board. The Mega 2560 uses an 8 bit Atmega processor that can be insufficient for machines requiring additional power like those using dual extrusion or a delta configuration.

The Mega 2560 and RAMPS combination have continued to lead the market because of their low-cost and highly developed software. Clones of the Mega 2560 and RAMPS can cost as little as $10 each, and authentic boards are unlikely to set you back more than $30. Marlin is the software of choice for integrating with the Mega 2560 and has matured through several years of active development.

Rambo

The consumer and hobbyist 3D printer market expanded rapidly with the introduction of two electronics boards; the Arduino Mega 2560 and RAMPS. Rambo, consolidates the two boards into one and integrates all of the necessary components for printing.

Mini Rambo Board Image Source: Prusa Research

A4988 stepper drivers are included onboard whereas they were required add-ons for RAMPS setups. Rambo boards come at a higher price point compared to the Mega 2560 and RAMPS combination but come with a number of advantages including improved power handling and expanded IO. Today, they’re used in some of the most popular printers on the market including the Prusa i3 MK II.

Smoothieboard from Uberclock

The smoothieboard was among the first 32 bit controller boards to hit the market. This is especially important as 8 bit boards can run into trouble keeping up with the complex computations required for delta geometries or dual extrusion.

Smoothieboard X3 Image Source: Uberclock

Like the Rambo, Smoothieboard has all of the necessary components onboard including A4982 stepper drivers that support 1/16 microstepping. Smoothieboard comes in a number of different configurations, 3x, 4x, and 5x, that delegate how many stepper motors the board can support. Uberclock is the primary North American supplier for Smoothieboards and they can run between $100 and $170 depending on the configuration.

One of the most notable features of the smoothieboard is the use of Smoothieware Firmware as compared to the Marlin or Repetier firmware that’s standard for many of the other boards on the market. Many find Smoothieware to be easier to configure, though it’s a younger firmware that lacks much of the development time and many of the safety features compared to Marlin or Repetier. 

Azteeg x3 and X5

Pancuatt devices manufactures two Azteeg boards, the x3 which uses an 8 bit Atmega processor, and x5 which uses a 32 bit ARM processor. We’ll focus on the Azteeg x3 which includes 4 SureStepr SD8825 onboard capable of up to 1/128 microstepping, and a beefy heatsink to ensure that the components remain cool.

Azteeg x5 Mini Image Source: Pancuatt Devices

The x3 has 4 slots to accommodate additional stepper drivers and can support up to 8 motors in total. The x3 is sure to impress with fully anodized parts and a well thought out board layout and runs $110 from Pancuatt Devices making it competitive with other popular options.

Duet

The Duet is quickly becoming one of the most popular boards on the market with a 32 bit processor and the capacity for an impressive 1/256 microstepping. It evolved from an earlier popular combination of a RADDS board atop an Arduino Due. The Duet consolidates the two separate boards into a single cohesive component.

Duet Wifi Image Source: Filastruder.com

The duet supports up to 5 extruders and works seamlessly with delta and dual extrusion setups. It runs RepRap firmware and allows for all of the printer configuration process to be done through a web interface which contrasts with other firmwares that require compilation and direct flashing of the board.

The combination of a 32 bit processor and up to 1/256 microstepping makes this board a top choice for those looking to maximize their print quality. This makes the Duet one of the pricier options at $160 for the wifi version from Filastruder.

Conclusion

Which board you should go with comes down to the specific needs of your machine. Single extruder cartesian machines often run perfectly well with an 8 bit board and a RAMPS + Arduino Mega 2560 is perfectly suitable on a budget.

For more processor intensive machines like those using multi-extrusion or delta geometries, a 32 bit board can be necessary to produce optimal results. Now that you’re familiar with some of the most popular boards on the market, get a high-level overview of the most popular 3D printing technologies.

Pinshape

Pinshape is a 3D printing community and marketplace where makers from all over the world can find and share their next great 3D print and help each other get the best results from their 3D printers.

  • John Small Berries

    Would you consider adding photos of the prints you got with these boards (as well as the same objects printed with “older” boards), so we can actually see the improvements in print quality that you mention?

    I mean, certainly the boards themselves are nice to look at, but that’s not really as important as the end results they produce, is it?

  • Hi John,

    We reached out to our guest author, and we got his response! In short, he didn’t first test out the boards with a guide in mind, and didn’t document which part was printed with which board, and he doesn’t want to mislabel any of the prints!

    We would be open to doing another article where we show picture comparisons in the future and thanks for feedback!

    Brett’s response:
    “The problem that I have with the pictures, which maybe needs to be said is that I did not buy the boards with a comparison test in mind. The comparison happened simply because I kept going through boards, so it was an expensive month, but because of that I don’t know which prints are which, and it would not be fair to the manufactures to attribute particular prints to a particular board if I have any doubts which boards or firmware was used to create “x” part. I think the best thing is to use my article as a buyers guide. I would refer them to look up user groups and check the prints that people are posting. I really wish I could show pictures, but it would not be fair.”

  • Wow, this is some serious learning for me! A bit out of my league right now but it is definitely interesting. The BBP board will be one to keep an eye on.

  • Steve

    I was wondering what level of testing was completed for delta configurations. I have a Rostock MAX V2, upgraded to a smoothie board for being one of the few 32-bit boards on the market with comparability at the time but now am seeing if anything else out there may be better. I’m very interested in a 32 bit board with a higher micro stepping. Thanks!

  • Richard Hercher

    No love for the PrintrBoard Rev F?

  • Hi Richard, these were the 4 controller boards that Brett has used and tested. Do you have experience with PrintrBoard Rev F? If you wanted to add a part about PrintrBoard, I’d be happy to include it. Please email [email protected] if you’re interested

  • Tony L

    The Radds Board is no longer available to buy as per Makerfarm.com. Too bad. I wanted to upgrade to this

  • brett turnage

    Well all I have is Delta Machines, so pretty extensive testing. The only area that I might deviate from masses, is that I still calibrate my machines manually. I run literally from morning to night for my business, I was able to test the particular boards which the firmware was working with deltas very throughly. What more information would you like to know?

  • brett turnage

    Yah unfortunately they are out of stock. A substitute would be the Duet board which should be back in stock with Filastruder. Hopefully the Radds 1.5v board will come back in stock. I love the setup.

  • brett turnage

    Yes, I did only tested boards that I was buying for myself. I did not have the article in mind when I purchased and it was an expensive month buying multiple computer boards.

  • brett turnage

    It definitely will be, it still needs more development in the firmware department, but I’m confident that they will get there, but I’d wait because it’s not there yet.

  • Tony L

    I wanted to stay with Repetier firmware. Does anyone know of any other “newer” boards that uses Repetier?

  • Arthur Wolf

    I have a huge problem with what you are saying about Smoothieware. The “burn your house down” stuff, the “developpers don’t care” stuff, the “micro-movements” stuff.
    You are either not understanding, or misrepresenting these subjects *very severely*
    Would you mind contacting me via email at [email protected] so that I can at the very least provide you with the info you are missing ?

  • huygir

    The Due is already retired.

  • Kevin Hutch

    I’m new to the 3D printing scene and would like to ask a question. Is the Due/RADDS combination suitable for a delta configuration printer? And what display(s) can you hook up to it?

  • BLVCK ESCAPE

    Hey Brett, Your Article was super Problem Solving.. I have a Question Regarding the Arduino Due Can I Use it In My Next Pen Plotter Machine for High precision prints and Resolution…

  • jdm8

    Duet platform is a more or less a successor to RADDS and it’s much improved in my opinion.

  • John-Paul Hopman

    How old is this article? Some of the comments are listed as 2 years old.

    Overall everything seems fine, though I thought that the SmoothieBoard could be updated the same way as the Duet boards, with only 8-bit boards requiring the software to be pre-compiled and uploaded to the controller.

  • bolts25

    What a nuff-nuff article. Waste of good pixels.

    Didn’t either of the 32 bit board manufacturers pay enough to get a recommendation?

  • PP

    Great work..!