A control board is to a 3D printer what a CPU is to a computer, and like a CPU, control boards come in different types, namely 8-bit and 32-bit. However, what’s less clear is the difference between these boards – so which one of them is the superior controller?
32-bit controllers are better than 8-bit ones. They are faster and can handle significant printing demands due to more RAM. They are also quieter when running and create more rapid and better-quality prints. 32-bit controllers aren’t superior in every way, however.
So, let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of 32-bit and 8-bit 3D printing control boards. Then, I’ll help you decide which option is best for you.
What Is a Control Board in 3D Printing?
A control board, or a compact printed circuit board (PCB), is the primary “thinking” mechanism involved in 3D printing. This tech thinks by essentially translating and relaying instructions given by slicer software into instructions for the hardware to perform.
As the machine’s brain, a control board needs to function as fast and as effectively as possible to handle the demands of 3D printing and produce excellent-quality prints. It does this primarily through controlling and maintaining optimal temperature and motor functions.
These aspects can make or break a build and require you to learn what is best for your situation.
That’s why you must distinguish between the types of controllers, the two main kinds being 8-bit and 32-bit. 8-bit has lower processing speeds and capabilities and is more power-efficient. Therefore, it is ideal for beginner printing or relatively minor, straightforward projects.
32-bit controllers are superior for more complex builds. They are, therefore, an excellent investment for someone who wants to take their 3D printing to the next level. 32-bit controllers also tend to have much more hardware available for replacements and add-ons than 8-bit.
Why Is a 32-Bit Control Board Better?
32-bit controllers are better because they can handle higher workloads at higher processing speeds, produce better quality prints, and are better suited to more demanding designs. They are also quieter than 8-bit controllers and have more readily available upgrades.
To determine if this control board is for you, you must consider how large, complicated, and time-consuming your print will be.
32-bit boards are better for working with large numbers and complex equations. Their enormous processing power allows a much faster print than you would have gotten with an 8-bit control.
3D printing looks easy enough from an outside perspective. Still, it’s a hugely complicated process that involves complex calculations, and understanding the mathematics behind 3D printing will help you produce better prints.
What Can a 32-Bit Control Board Do?
32-bit control boards can process data quickly and rapidly communicate between hardware and firmware. They are also more compatible with new firmware upgrades that come out as time goes by.
Understanding what you want from a 3D printer is instrumental in deciding which control board suits your needs.
In addition to deciding which control board will work best for your needs, there are many other considerations when buying and setting up a 3D printer. Read up about these considerations here.
Fast Processing Speeds
3D Printers traditionally have 8-bit controllers, but 32-bit is superior regarding processing power and speed. A 32-bit controller can complete far more calculations per minute than an 8-bit one.
Even if your builds are relatively simple, it’s an excellent investment for future projects that might be larger and more detailed.
Because of the higher processing power and better firmware compatibility, 32-bit controllers can produce better quality prints with greater detail and complexity. Additionally, they are more susceptible to machine learning and AI development.
Controlling Motor Function and Temperature
3D printing requires controlled and precise movement and effective communication between firmware and hardware.
The stepper driver communicates commands to the stepper motors, which communicate with and control other hardware like the printing nozzle and the extruder. This piece is also subject to overheating and, if not used correctly or too frequently, can wear down quickly.
That is another reason why a 32-bit controller is a good idea. It can tackle much more demanding projects for longer durations and thus preserve the stepper driver more than it would have been with an 8-bit controller.
Frequent Firmware Upgrades
In 3D printing, firmware is the mechanism that translates G-code, which are the printing instructions. It feeds them to the stepper driver and then the hardware components as a series of commands and printing coordinates.
As technology advances, so does 3D printing. 32-bit controllers are more compatible with firmware upgrades that might come out in the future, mainly because their processing speeds allow them to keep up with more demanding firmware.
Note that there are different kinds of firmware, similar to how there are different kinds of operating systems. Configurations can differ depending on which type of firmware you use.
Take a look at six of the best firmware types and what each offers to decide which one will work best for your specific needs and 3D printing goals.
Are There Any Advantages to Using an 8-Bit Controller?
An 8-bit controller, though not the preferred control board nowadays and much more limited in processing power than a 32-bit, has its advantages.
There are some advantages to using an 8-bit controller. These controllers are better if your prints are relatively simple and don’t require much processing power and arithmetic. Additionally, they are more power-efficient than their 32-bit counterparts.
8-bit controllers can also be a better option for someone looking to 3D print occasionally or as a hobby. 32-bit controllers are more complex and have a steeper learning curve, which requires you to dedicate more time to learning and teaching the firmware to behave in a certain way.
By comparison, 8-bits are far more straightforward. They can complete baseline tasks and prints with little trouble and minimal learning for 3D printing processes.
While there are advantages to both 8-bit and 32-bit control boards, 32-bit controllers come out on top due to their overall speed, longevity, and ability to rapidly print complex, high-quality prints.
However, an 8-bit controller might be the better option for someone who isn’t planning on producing complicated prints or printing often. You don’t need the most high-tech gear for low-level production, but you can still use a 32-bit controller for basic printing if you want to.
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I started 3D printing since 2013 and have learned a lot since then. Because of this I want to share my knowledge of what I have learned in the past years with the community. Currently I own 2 Bambulab X1 Carbon, Prusa SL1S and a Prusa MK3S+. Hope you learn something from my blog after my years of experience in 3D printing.