The ESP32 is an extremely popular WiFi-enabled microcontroller produced by Espressif Systems. With its integrated WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, abundant memory and peripherals, and active development community, the ESP32 is used in a wide range of Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
However, the ESP32 is not necessarily the best choice for every project. There are several other microcontroller options that may be better suited than the ESP32 depending on the application requirements. Here are some top contenders that could potentially beat the ESP32:
The STM32F4 series of microcontrollers from STMicroelectronics is a very capable ARM Cortex-M4 based 32-bit MCU. Compared to the ESP32, some key advantages of STM32F4 include:
- Higher performance Cortex-M4 core versus Cortex-M3 in ESP32
- More abundant peripheral options including USB OTG, SDIO, Ethernet, LCD controllers, advanced motor control, etc.
- More RAM and storage memory options up to 2MB RAM and 2MB flash
- Support for DSP instructions and floating point unit (FPU)
- Lower power consumption especially in sleep modes
- Industrial temperature range support
- Typically better real-time performance with deterministic execution latency
The STM32F4 is an excellent choice for more performance-demanding or complex applications including motor control, digital signal processing (DSP), industrial automation, and medical devices. The availability of many high-quality development boards and software tools also makes STM32F4 an attractive option.
NXP i.MX RT Series
The i.MX RT series from NXP Semiconductors is another popular ARM Cortex M-based MCU family that can potentially outperform the ESP32 in certain applications. Some major advantages of i.MX RT include:
- Advanced Cortex M7 and M4 cores capable of high speed and precision processing
- Large memory options up to 1MB RAM and 2MB flash
- Rich peripheral mix including Ethernet, USB, LCD, advanced audio, and motor control
- Aimed for industrial IoT applications with features like functional safety support and reliability
- Low power consumption in active and sleep modes
- Free and paid development tools and software support available
With its combination of high-performance ARM cores, ample memory and peripherals, the i.MX RT can be a better choice than ESP32 for demanding IoT endpoint applications like robotic systems, industrial networking, and Industry 4.0 implementations.
Microchip SAM D and SAM E Series
Microchip’s SAM D and E series 32-bit microcontrollers also offer high performance and extensive connectivity options to rival the ESP32. Some of the key advantages of SAM D/E MCUs include:
- 32-bit Cortex M0+, M3 and M4 cores with clock speeds up to 120 MHz
- Large memory configurations up to 2 MB flash and 512KB RAM
- Robust peripheral sets including USB, Ethernet, can bus, analog, PWM, timers, etc.
- Low power capabilities and sleep modes
- Software compatibility between different SAM MCUs
- Extensive development kit and code library support
With their versatility, the SAM D and SAM E can potentially surpass ESP32 in applications like IoT edge nodes, sensor systems, home/building automation, and medical devices. The availability of specialized MCUs for WiFi and BLE also makes Microchip a compelling option.
Infineon XMC4000 Series
The XMC4000 series from Infineon stands out for its blend of integration, connectivity capabilities and real-time performance. Compared to the ESP32, some of its advantages are:
- ARM Cortex M4 core with DSP extension and single cycle MAC engine
- Large memory up to 2MB flash and 640KB RAM
- On-chip peripherals like Ethernet, USB, CAN, LCD controller and advanced timers
- Excellent real-time behavior with deterministic instruction cycle timing
- Lock-step capable dual core options for functional safety applications
- Extensive Enablement from Infineon including software libraries and RTOS
With its real-time performance and safety capabilities, the XMC4000 can potentially beat ESP32 in industrial automation, motor control, power conversion and other such demanding applications.
Silicon Labs EFR32 Wireless MCUs
Silicon Labs’ EFR32 line combines ARM Cortex cores with integrated wireless connectivity giving tough competition to the ESP32. Some key advantages include:
- Integrated sub-GHz and multiprotocol wireless connectivity
- ARM Cortex M3, M4 and M33 cores for Application layer processing
- Low power consumption with multiple sleep modes
- Advanced security features including secure boot, encryption and authentication
- Support for mesh networking capabilities
- Wide range of hardware development kits and software tools
With its wireless-centric design, integrated security features, the EFR32 line can beat ESP32 for certain wireless sensor networks, home automation products, and battery powered applications where ultra low power is critical.
Nordic nRF52 Series
Nordic’s nRF52 Series BLE and multiprotocol wireless SoCs also provide stiff competition to the ESP32 in the wireless connectivity domain. Here are some of its notable capabilities:
- Multiprotocol support including BLE, Thread, Zigbee, Bluetooth mesh
- ARM Cortex M4F processor core with FPU
- Large selection of hardware development boards and kits
- Ultra low power modes with clockless wake-up support
- Built-in NFC capabilities in some variants
- Support for wireless protocols like Bluetooth 5.2 and 802.15.4
With its wireless focus, minimal power consumption and multitude of development resources, the nRF52 can surpass ESP32 for demanding wireless applications like asset tracking, home automation products and wireless sensor networks.
TI Sitara AM335x
The Sitara AM335x from Texas Instruments integrates an ARM Cortex A8 core with PRU coprocessors to deliver high performance. Compared to ESP32, some of its benefits are:
- ARM Cortex A8 core runs at up to 1 GHz
- PRU coprocessors enable real-time control and deterministic execution
- Graphics acceleration and support for displays
- Aimed for industrial communication and motor control applications
- Robust operating temperature rating from -40 to 105C
- Linux and real-time OS support
With its higher performance ARM core and real-time capabilities, the Sitara AM335x can potentially surpass ESP32 for applications like automation controllers, gateways, networking gear and other performance-demanding use cases.
Microchip AVR DB Family
Microchip’s AVR DB family combines an AVR microcontroller core with wired and wireless connectivity creating a versatile solution. Compared to ESP32, some of its benefits are:
- AVR core optimized for low power, performance efficiency
- Integrated Bluetooth 5.0 and 802.15.4 wireless connectivity
- Variants with on-chip USB controller, precision ADC, encryption engine
- Specialized & optimized for audio applications
- Available as convenient System-in-Package modules
- Mature AVR ecosystem with extensive open-source support
With its wireless capabilities, low power rating and thriving ecosystem support, the AVR DB family can potentially beat ESP32 in portable audio products, remote controls, and wireless IoT endpoints focused on low power.
Renesas RX Family
Renesas RX microcontrollers combine low power consumption with advanced connectivity making them a potential alternative to ESP32. Some of the key advantages are:
- Leading low power capability in active and standby modes
- Integrated Bluetooth and sub-GHz wireless connectivity
- Advanced sensor interfacing capabilities
- Large portfolio with memory up to 4MB and clock speeds up to 120 MHz
- Wide operating temperature range from -40 to 125 °C
- Hardware, software and tool chain support from Renesas and partners
With its wireless integration and ultralow power abilities, the Renesas RX MCUs can potentially beat ESP32 in battery-powered sensors, portable medical devices, connected sensors, and similar use cases.