Best 3D Printer Controller Boards

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Best 3D Printer Controller Boards

3D printers come installed with a board of silicon chips and electronics called a printer controller board. This is the ‘brain’ of the 3D printer, much like the motherboard and CPU in a PC.

Like computers, the processing power of controller boards affects how the printer functions and ultimately even determines how your final 3D prints will look.

Over time, the technology incorporated in controller boards has kept getting more advanced. As a result, these components have become a lot more diverse and powerful, and these innovations have further helped advance the 3D printing industry. This has led to the controller boards, including WIFI capabilities, quicker processors, and the ability to control more and faster motors. 

There are different brands and types of controller boards available, and you can upgrade your 3D printer by installing a new controller board to add functionality that you don’t currently have.

In this article, I will talk about the best 3D printer controller boards available, their features, and what makes them a worthwhile upgrade for your 3D printer.

Panucatt Azteeg X5 GT

Microstepping is a firmware process that entails the splitting up the stepper motors’ smallest movements into finer movements, thereby enabling a more precise printing. Every controller board can perform this process, but if you value optimal performance, the Panucatt Azteeg X5 GT is the right choice for achieving 1/128th micro-stepping with ease. This is way better compared to the 1/16th micro-stepping made by other boards on the market.

This controller board also features Bigfoot drivers, with a size twice that of standard drivers. As a result, it capably handles tasking tasks and applications with excellent efficiency.

The functionality of this controller board is similar to that of the Smoothieboard. This is because it is centered around the Smoothieboard, runs Smoothieware, and features the 32-bit 120-MHz ARM chip. However, it has one unique feature that differentiates it from Smoothierboard, and that is having an in-built WIFI.

Thanks to this, you need not go through the stress of running systems such as OctoPrint, which is a great relief in improving your overall 3D printing experience. With this controller board, you also get to save money since you can get your LCD screen, thermistors, and end-stops. Thus, you get to do a 1/128th micro-stepping without having to pay a premium for this.

Pros

  • It offers you remarkable value.
  • It delivers excellent performance.
  • It ensures accurate printing.

Smoothieboard 3D Printer Controller Board

Price excl. shipping / Last update on 2020-11-22 at 22:49 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Price excl. shipping / Last update on 2020-11-22 at 22:49 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Smoothieboard is, without a doubt, one of the best 3D printer controller boards you need to consider when looking for the perfect controller board. One feature that makes the Smoothieboard among the undisputed best controller boards on the market is the 120-MHz processor that outperforms the earlier ATMega chips with a clock speed of 8MHz.  It also is a 32-bit controller board, unlike the 8-bit board found on RAMBos or RAMPS.

When Smoothieboard was developed, Marlin and Repetier had to develop a new firmware that could run on this 32-bit controller board. Consequently, this gave birth to Smoothieware. With this firmware in place, most 32-bit derivates of the Smoothieboard run on Smoothieware that enabled easier configuration.

This controller board also features additional features such as an outstanding thermal performance, Allegro stepper drivers as well as an Ethernet port. Therefore, you not only get to enjoy a lot more practicality but also more convenience when using the Smoothieboard. Moreover, integrated into this board are breakouts, where you can add more powerful drivers to your CNC rig.

Pros

  • It is easy to configure
  • Faster compared to older generation controller boards
  • It is more practical

Cons

  • It is expensive

Duet 3D Printer Controller Board

With the capability of achieving a 1/256th micro-stepping and featuring a 32-bit processor, it is no surprise that many 3D printing enthusiasts love this controller board.  This controller board is made up of two separate boards combined to form one functional component. The evolution of the Duet began from a previous combination of an Arduino Due over a RADDS board.

The print quality of the Duet is exceptional thanks to several factors, including the Duet WIFI. It also incorporates standard connectivity and sound drivers that further ensure you always get to experience extraordinary performance. The combination of these aspects ensures the performance of this controller board is outstanding.

This controller board runs the RepRap firmware. Because of this, the process of printer configuration can be done through a web interface, unlike other firmware that needs direct flashing and compilation of the controller board. The Duet works impeccably well with dual extrusion setups, and delta plus can accommodate a maximum of five extruders. 

Having the RepRap firmware is what differentiates the Duet from other controller boards as it can support a remarkable combination of system movements. This includes numerous independent axes such as Sigma and BCN3D, as well as Hangprinter.

With an in-built WIFI, you need not go through the hassle when setting up the OctoPrint. All this is thanks to having a built-in print server, which eliminates the setup process.

Pros

  • The print quality is superb.
  • It operates smoothly

Panucatt Azteeg X3 Pro

Whereas most of the current controller boards incorporate a newer 32-bit board, this does not mean the 8-bit board is not as effective. This is what the Panucatt Azteeg X3 Pro proves by just being as useful despite being of an older generation.

This controller board is a superb choice as it is compatible with Repetier, Marlin, and several other firmware suitable for the old-fashioned 8-bit boards. It also features a dual heat bed and high current capabilities. Moreover, it supports a maximum of five extruders, so should you need numerous materials and colors, an extruder redundancy, or both, look no further.

Therefore, if you are looking for a controller board with five extruders, the Panucatt is undoubtedly one of the best picks to consider. However, many 3D enthusiasts find buying the Panucatt Azteeg X3 an impractical decision, especially when you consider it costlier than several 32-bit controllers.

Pros

  • It delivers stable and robust performance
  • It is compatible with numerous older 8-bit controller boards

Cons

  • It is quite expensive

Features to Consider In Your Search For The Best 3D Controller Board

Which are the essential features to consider when looking for a 3D controller board? This is, of course, essential information to know you’re getting the best for your money.

Here are some of the features to factor that will allow you to make an informed choice on which board meets all your 3D printing needs.

Capabilities of The Controller Board

There are different brands of 3D printer controller boards on the market to choose from, and the ideal choice is down to personal preference. This means you can opt to get the standalone boards such as the RAMPS, Azteegs and RAMBos. You can also decide to go for the boards that have a design specifically meant for a single machine, including hobby level printer boards such as Ultimakers and Creality.

The standalone 3D printer controller boards feature six end-stops, four thermistor ports for measuring temperature, and six stepper plugs. They also incorporate a lot more features to meet as many needs as you would have.

In contrast, the specific controller boards only come with the necessary hardware needed for your specific 3D printer. This means it might most likely don’t include a heated bed and lacks terminals that allow you to upgrade later on to a heated bed.

Connectors

The different controller boards incorporate various features, either going for the DuPont connectors or the screw terminals. The DuPont connectors are pins that between them have a standardized spacing. This can either be pins sticking out the bed and with notched sockets, allowing the plugging of items in a particular method (polarized) or pin sockets where you can plug in another item.

In contrast, with screw terminals, you need to fasten the screw above the wire and then connect it to the controller board.

Each of these setups has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the screw terminals enable to rearrange the wires of the stepper motor in case of improper movement. However, as you do this, ensure the screw has been well fastened in place to make sure it is firm and secure.

Communication

Many of the 3D printer controller boards incorporate a USB Type-A, and others the USB mini or USB micro. Likewise, some connect your 3D printer to the work or home network through their WIFI capabilities, whereas others have Ethernet, so you can do printing while in a different room. Any of these options is an ideal choice since they all perform at an almost identical level.

When printing over Ethernet or Wi-Fi, you should confirm that the g-code can be uploaded onto the controller board by your 3D printer instead of being streamed to the printer. The reason for this is that you might require to buffer, hence why some printers, including Makergear M3, Ultimaker S5, and Ultimaker 3, come uploaded with the entire G-code to ensure this doesn’t happen.

If you are 3D printing over USB, ensure the connected computer is not being used to perform other duties simultaneously, such as screen capturing, watching videos, and 3D modeling. This is important because running multiple computer applications will cause the print to stutter.

Stepper Drivers

Controller boards either have stepper drivers as separate boards which plugin, whereas others come fixed in the controller board.

The stepper drivers attached to the board deliver an improved thermal dissipation since the entire board is used as a heatsink. Nonetheless, should the stepper motor stop moving due to the drivers, you are required to either cautiously do minor surgery and exchange the destroyed stepper driver or get a replacement for the whole board. In contrast, with the plugins stepper drivers, you simply need to take out the dead driver and install another one.

Conclusion

The choice of the best 3D printer controller board is quite challenging due to the wide variety of options on the market. Fortunately, reading through this article has given you some invaluable insights on some of the best controller boards to consider.

Hopefully, you now have all the information you need to choose the best 3D printer controller board. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer it!

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