I decided to dust off my Arduino Ethernet board for an upcoming project, and found out something interesting – and disappointing – in that not all Ethernet boards are created equal.
With shield in hand, I was going through this extremely well-done series of articles on testing your Ethernet board/SD card shield, when I stalled in the driveway: Nothing worked. Sure, the ‘blink’ example worked fine on my Arduino Duemilanove even when the board was connected, but no Ethernet.
To make a long story short, I finally found the problem. There are a lot of low-cost boards out there that use the ENC28J60 chipset instead of the Wiznet W5100, and and while this seems just a minor matter of software, the problem is there is very little Arduino software for them. In contrast, the examples in the Arduino IDE (via menu Files; Examples; Ethernet) all work with the W5100/Arduino shield. The ENC28J60 uses code that is no longer available apparently (the referenced site www.nuelectronics.com no longer exists); as well, what code I could find available from GitHub doesn’t seem to work on mine for some reason. And I haven’t even tried to access the shield’s SD card yet…
At this point, I could debug code for the ENC28J60 and try to get it working, or spend another $8 on eBay and get the ‘standard’ Ethernet shield.
Easy decision. Done. And done.
If I sound ticked, it’s because I am – I don’t fault the coders (in fact, I have much admiration for Jonathan Oxer’s writing of the etherShield library on GitHub – I can’t comprehend the patience that goes into debugging such an opaque device), but I do fault the sellers for selling what is effectively a pretty blue brick.
Most of all, I’m ticked at me – because if I had just tested the product as soon as I got it, I could have asked for help or a refund – or even got the original source code before the company disappeared.
But like they say, when you point a finger, the other four point back at you. So if you go shopping for a board avoid any finger-pointing whatsoever and go for a proper board. Buy from a known source, or search on eBay specifically for ‘W5100’ for the proper chipset. And confirm in the listing it runs the IDE sketches, or ask a question to confirm that.
And absolutely, positively, check it the day it arrives – you’ll be glad you did.