ESP32 vs. ESP8266: Which Microcontroller Fits Your Requirements?

ESP32 vs. ESP8266. When planning an Internet of Things (IoT) project, choosing between these two popular microcontrollers is a common dilemma. Both the ESP32 and ESP8266 are renowned for their compact size, low power consumption, and built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, making them excellent choices for a variety of electronics projects.

How do you decide which one is the best fit for your needs?

To assist in making this decision, let’s compare the two microcontrollers. We will examine several aspects beyond just speed, power efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. Factors like processing power, connectivity options, hardware features, development environments, and pricing will be considered.

Let’s delve into the comparison of ESP32 vs. ESP8266.



Released in 2014 by Espressif Systems in Shanghai, China, the ESP8266 is a budget-friendly Wi-Fi microchip featuring an integrated TCP/IP stack and microcontroller capabilities. Its ease of use and affordability quickly made it popular. It is powered by a Tensilica Xtensa LX3 processor and is mainly used in smart devices, wearables, and Wi-Fi-enabled projects.


Launched in 2016, the ESP32 is the successor to the ESP8266, offering numerous enhancements. These improvements include a faster processor, upgraded Wi-Fi, Bluetooth connectivity, additional GPIO pins, and other features. Notably, it has a dual-core Tensilica Xtensa LX6 microprocessor, greatly boosting its computational power.

Parts Required

Component NameBuy Now
ESP8266 NodeMCU CP2102Amazon
ESP32-WROOM-32 DevelopmentAmazon
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Processing Power and Memory

The ESP8266 is equipped with a 32-bit Tensilica Xtensa L106 single-core processor running at 80 MHz, which can be overclocked to 160 MHz. It includes 32 KB of instruction RAM, 80 KB of user-data RAM, and external QSPI flash memory ranging from 512 KB to 4 MB.

The ESP32 offers enhanced performance with its dual-core Tensilica Xtensa LX6 microprocessor, capable of running at up to 240 MHz. It features 520 KB of SRAM and supports up to 16 MB of external flash memory.

This boost in processing power and memory makes the ESP32 ideal for more intensive applications.

Winner: ESP32

Wireless Connectivity

While both microcontrollers support Wi-Fi, the ESP32 adds extra features like Wi-Fi Direct.

Additionally, the ESP32 includes Bluetooth v4.2 BR/EDR and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) capabilities, which are not available in the ESP8266. This added functionality makes the ESP32 more versatile for wireless communication.

Winner: ESP32

Peripheral Interfaces

Understanding the peripheral interfaces of microcontrollers is crucial when comparing them. These interfaces enable communication with sensors and other devices, significantly influencing the complexity and variety of projects you can undertake.

Here is a comparison of the peripheral interfaces available on the ESP8266 and ESP32:

Peripheral InterfaceESP8266ESP32
GPIO17 programmable GPIOs34 programmable GPIOs
ADC10-bit SAR ADC on 1 channel12-bit SAR ADC up to 18 channels
PWM4 channels16 channels
I2C Interface12
I2S Interface22
SPI Interface24
UART Interface23
CAN InterfaceNo1
EthernetNo10/100 Mbps
Touch SensorNo10 GPIOs
Infrared Remote ControllerNoTX/RX, up to 8 channels
SDIO/SPI slave controllerNoYes
Pulse CounterNoFull quadrature decoding

Winner: ESP32

Built-in Sensors

The ESP8266 is quite basic regarding onboard sensors, lacking any built-in sensors.

Conversely, the ESP32 is more sophisticated and includes several built-in sensors, such as:

  • Hall Effect Sensor: Detects magnetic fields, useful for applications like measuring magnetic field strength or sensing the presence of a magnet.
  • Capacitive Touch Sensor: Allows for touch-sensitive input.
  • Temperature Sensor: Measures the internal temperature of the chip, helpful for monitoring the microcontroller’s health.

These integrated sensors in the ESP32 provide more functionality out of the box, reducing the need for additional components in your projects.

Winner: ESP32

Power Management

Both microcontrollers have advanced power-saving features to minimize energy consumption effectively.

The ESP8266 offers four power modes: active, modem-sleep, light-sleep, and deep-sleep. In active mode, it can draw up to 80 mA with all features running, while in deep-sleep mode, it consumes as little as 20 µA.

The ESP32, with its more powerful processor and additional memory, has a higher power draw of up to 240 mA in active mode. However, it compensates with two extra low-power modes: hibernation (5 µA) and power-off (1 µA).

For simpler, battery-powered projects requiring minimal power, the ESP8266 is more suitable due to its lower power consumption in active mode.

Winner: ESP8266

Programming and Community Support

Both the ESP8266 and ESP32 are compatible with the Arduino IDE and Espressif’s native ESP-IDF (Espressif IoT Development Framework). The Arduino IDE is great for smaller projects, but for more complex applications, it’s better to use ESP-IDF with the Visual Studio Code extension or the Eclipse plugin.

Additionally, both microcontrollers support programming in MicroPython, Lua, JavaScript, and other languages (a comprehensive list is available on their wiki). The developer community for both boards is large and active, offering plenty of online forums, extensive libraries, and tutorials.

Therefore, in terms of programming support and community resources, both the ESP8266 and ESP32 offer extensive options and robust support.

Winner: Tie

Price: Which Board Offers the Most Value?

The ESP8266 is generally less expensive than the ESP32, making it a more cost-effective choice for simpler projects. The ESP32, with its enhanced features and capabilities, is slightly more expensive but offers better processing power and versatility.

However, the price gap between the two has narrowed in recent years. Often, you can find both boards priced similarly. In such cases, the ESP32, with its superior connectivity features, may offer better value.

Winner: Tie

Full Comparison

The following table provides an in-depth comparison of the specifications and features of the ESP8266 and ESP32. It serves as a reference, highlighting the capabilities and offerings of each microcontroller.

ProcessorTensilica Xtensa L106 32 bit single-coreTensilica Xtensa LX6 32 bit dual-core
RAM128 KB520 KB
Clock Speed80/160 MHz160/240 MHz
Operating Voltage2.5-3.6V2.2-3.6V
Operating Temperature–40 °C to +125 °C–40 °C to +125 °C
FlashUp to 4MB (usually 512KB to 1MB included)4MB
External Flash SupportUp to 16MBUp to 16MB
RTC Memory512 Bytes (inside the system RAM)16KB
BluetoothNoBluetooth 4.2, BLE
EthernetNo10/100 Mbps
I2C Interface12
I2S Interface22
SPI Interface24
UART Interface23
CAN InterfaceNo1
ADC10-bit SAR ADC on 1 channel12-bit SAR ADC up to 18 channels
PWM4 channels16 channels
Touch SensorNoYes
Temperature SensorNoYes
Hall effect sensorNoYes
GPIO17 programmable pins34 programmable pins
Infrared Remote ControllerNoTX/RX, up to 8 channels
SDIO/SPI slave controllerNoYes
Pulse CounterNofull quadrature decoding
Price$ ($5 – $6)$$ ($6 – $9)

Which One Should You Buy?

The ESP32 emerges as the overall winner, earning the title of the top Wi-Fi-enabled MCU. However, this doesn’t mean it’s always the best choice. Your decision should be guided by your project’s specific needs rather than just performance metrics. While the ESP32 excels in many areas, it lags behind in simplicity and power efficiency, which is why the ESP8266 remains popular for many users.

In summary, for straightforward, low-power Wi-Fi projects, the ESP8266 is the better option. If your project requires more processing power, additional memory, and features like Bluetooth, the ESP32 is the superior choice.

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