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There's a plethora of cheap Arduino copies on eBay and similar sites, usually originating from the far east, that can be had for a significant chunk less than the official boards, especially if you're buying more than one.

Aside from the moral reasons of supporting the Arduino guys (not that I'm ignoring that, just not considering it for the purposes of this question) is there any technical difference between them, or are they pretty much the same (Arduino are open source hardware after all) will they be, as far as functionally, pretty identical?

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You should rather make make a cheap Arduino by yourself. By doing this, you can have it customized and use high quality parts. You can (and should) buy the original Atmega chip so you will have 100% compatibility with the software.

You will maybe [accidentally] burn the first chip to ashes (like me), but you'll get a lot of experience doing this.

Most cheap electronics have failed me. So would cheap Arduino clone, I believe. Electronic components are kind of delicate things, capacitors and transistors especially.

I know my answer is not real answer to the question, but you know, cheap hardware is random thing: you'll get a guys, that had luck (over 50% much likely) and those who didn't. My friend is of the second group and I'm pretty sure, he would sign under my answer.

Here, you can see a cheap way to make your own Arduino (cheaper than a pizza with Coca-Cola :)): http://arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardSerialSingleSided3

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You could be buying counterfeit products, with counterfeit chips or components. It sounds unbelievable, but check out Sparkfun's research on counterfeit ATMega328 (the same chip in many Arduino boards, clones, and variants!)

This article starts here (why aren't these ATmegas acting correctly?):

https://www.sparkfun.com/news/350

Second page: (they're not ATmegas at all):

https://www.sparkfun.com/news/395


There are so many known good variants out there. Pick one that people have actually heard of instead of something sketchy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting resources! \$\endgroup\$ – powtac Apr 10 '13 at 7:07
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Even though I prefer that you make your Arduino rather buying it, if you're interested in buying cheap copies it's not an issue. I bought a Mega for as low as 16$ and a Nano for like 10$ since I started with electronics, they are working completely fine and a good acceptable quality.

Just beware of 1 thing, some of them come with Prolific drivers for USB to serial, you'll have problem finding working drivers for your OS. Make sure it is FTDI and not Prolific, the drivers will be included with the Arduino IDE.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If by "prolific" you mean a brand name then it should be capitalised to "Prolific" for clarity. Same with FTDI. Capitals matter. \$\endgroup\$ – Transistor Oct 10 '16 at 3:41
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You can't generalize the entire buying experience from sources like eBay as good or bad. There are a couple of sellers on eBay selling clone boards that are of good build quality. Many of them are not. As with any electronic components from eBay, it is going to be very hit or miss in terms of quality.

Regarding your "technical differences" question, there will be small differences. The Arduino team does not use the published reference designs as their final board files that go to production. In fact, some of the reference designs have mistakes in them, which haven shown up in the clones.

Also, you have a wildcard as to what bootloader is programmed on the main chip and what code is used on the usb-to-serial chip (if its a microcontroller instead of dedicated function.)

In some cases, the maker doesn't even bother to program the chips.

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It's open source hardware so everyone has the same plans to start out with, but some components are switched out which can make Clones either perform better or worse.

First, beware of counterfeit arduinos that claim to be genuine. Never buy what you think may be a genuine arduino from ebay. Just not worth it.

Some of the super cheap ones use components that will break quickly if you have an accidental wiring mishap. Some other cheap ones will use cheaper components that will require you to take an extra step of installing a very specific driver and it won't work with the arduino software out the box. Many cheaper arduinos won't include a component that ensures the 5Volts is constant but you rarely need that. Another way that money is saved is that they don't include the cable.

Decent, cheap ones can be found for $5 plus from China. Probably the best ways to ensure you'll get something that works will be to look at reviews and to use money back guarantees.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you recommend specific Chinese brands? \$\endgroup\$ – JinSnow Dec 24 '18 at 18:58

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