Hi - great post. Like many around here, I work professionally in technology but electronics is still a hobby / obsession. In my own lab I have many of the same - Arduino, mbed, Beaglebone, as well as Atmel and Freescale ARM devboards. (OK, I work for ARM, so have that bent, but some of thiose retail for just $12-95!) I also have the Xilinx Zedboard and the RedPitaya device - both based on Zynq, that I intend to use one day...
What I have been surprised at is how these boards are being used in production - a little scary, and risky, but just shows how technology is getting democratized. So far removed from my wire-wrapping and veroboard days. (But yes, I still do!)
Rick, I have no workbench but I have a desk, and kitchen counter and a workshop table (double duty as a woodworking, metal working, house repairs, etc..). Don't let not having a bench stop you from playing!!! I do not yet have a Raspberry Pi but want to get one, I do have some PIC32s, STMicro dev boards and will look into the BeagleBone Black. Thanks for the overview of your "stock"! I would have liked to know about the development board SDK support offereings as well. It seems most often that it is not the hardware but getting the software enviroment setup that is the challenge. Were any of the dev boards hard to get the software setup working? Were any just easy? Very curious and I am sure others are as well..
Interesting about the Red Bull PCB. I am wondering if its just the PCB design that makes it more fun or if they actually added anything new to it? I have a few of the TI dev kits and like you have yet made the time to tinker with them, the Atmel STK500, STK600, Nordic nRFgo Motherboard, many Cypress PSoC flavors (PSoC is my favorite platform from both a technical and personal viewpoint), and I keep a LabJack U6 which I consider more of a development platform rather than a DAQ as it is marketed.
If you are interested my company is experimenting with a run of "Made in the USA" USAduino™ boards based on the Uno R3 i.e. a clone but with a silk screen of the US Flag 100% PCB and assembly "Made in the USA" less the components of course. As well as compliance with the Arduino and LUFA terms so it is respectful of the open source spirit unlike the many existing clones. Check out www.edtrication.com if you are curious.
I agree with poster below:"Do not put yourself down." The results matter far more than the label ever will.
I'm a semi-novice like yourself and found that my go to dev board is simply an ATMega32a (in the 40pin DIP format) plugged into a solderless breadboard. I love the way the I/O pins all the ports are in bit order. I keep a handful of what I call "blinkeys" (an LED with a limiting resistor attached) around and plug them into the ports where needed.
The code is easily ported to smaller ATMega chips or even over to the Arduino.
@Caleb - don't put yourself down....You've said several times that you are not an engineer (nor am I so I sympathise) but you seem a lot more capable than some engineers I have known. It's ability that counts. Have a good Christmas.
It is easy for me to jump back and forth because I do EXTREMELY SIMPLE THINGS. I'm usually doing beginner level things, I often just have a nack for presentation that makes it look like maybe it is is more complex than it actually is.
Freescale and STM offer some pretty slick and inexpensive development boards too. Freescale has their Freedome boards for just over $12 and the ST's Discovery boards are about the same. On the software side...Freescale offers their software for free with a reasonable code size limit, and mbed has a free online compiler, downloader, etc that supports a number of these smaller dev boards.
Never before has there been such a plethora of dev boards that cater to so many different skill sets.
I have used several of the boards you mentioned and plan to eventually get around to a couple mentioned that I don't have yet. One new one I recently picked up was the Atmel ATSAMD20-XPRO for their new Cortex M0 processor.
I wanted to get some experience with the low end Cortex ARM processors. One thing that really pushed me towards the Atmel board was their free development system. It is based on Visual Studio, which admittedly is a hog but I am familiar with it, and it comes bundled with the GCC compiler already integrated.
Most of the other development boards require a higher end 3rd party development system that is either time limited, code space limited or cost several $K for the professional version. If I was working on a commercial product I might have gone a different route, but this is a self funded learning project that will probably extend over many months on a time as available basis.