APM1280 vs APM2560 boards -- should you upgrade?

As you know, earlier this year we released the latest version of APM, the APM2560 board, which has twice as much memory as the older APM1280 boards. This was to allow us to continue to add features and functionality to the ArdupilotMega and ArduCopter code without running into the memory limits of the older 1280.


The dev teams worked hard to maintain seamless compatibility with the older boards, which has proven successful. So, for example, if you use the Mission Planner to upload your firmware, it autodetects which board you've got and loads the right firmware. And the two boards are 100% plug compatible. There are countless other tweaks in the background to make that migration seamless, and it's worked well.


In the meantime, the dev teams have been doing just what they promised in adding cool new stuff and both the ArdupilotMega and ArduCopter code have matured tremendously both in terms of performance and features over the past few months. The result, however, is that we are now nearly out of memory on the 1280 boards and development must shift to the APM2560 board to take advantage of its additional capacity.


Our plan is to, in the next few weeks, release a "final" stable and full-featured version of both the APM and AC2 code that supports both the APM1280 and APM2560 boards. (The code versions will probably be 2.3 for APM and 2.0 [non beta] for AC2). After that, future versions of both code bases will be APM2560-only.The final 1280-compatible code will represent the state-of-the-art of APM software as of mid-2011 and reflects three years of learning and work. So it will be very good indeed. But further innovation will move to the 2560 boards.


If you have an APM1280 board, you can be assured that it will continue to work great and we will continue to support that final code version for a good long time, making bug fixes where necessary. If you're happy with it, you can use it as is for years.


But if you'd like to continue to evolve with the project and participate in the continual process of adding new features and improving performance after our cut-off date later this summer, you'll need an APM2560 board (don't forget to add a couple strips of breakaway headers, too, if you don't already have them).  Please note that there is no need to upgrade your IMU shield; it works equally well with both boards. Indeed, this is the reason we made APM modular, so people could upgrade one component without losing their investment in the other. And the good news is that the base processor board is by far the cheaper of the two!


You'll note that this generation shift is right on schedule in our product release cycle. If you look back at our history, we tend to release new hardware versions every six months (dating all the way back to the original ArduPilot board, two and half years ago). As new processors and better sensors become available, we work as fast as we can to make them available to the community, and the pace of that isn't slowing down. We try to maintain at least six months of backwards compatibility, and support older hardware for about a year after we stop making it. (We're no longer making the original ArduPilot, for example, but will continue to support it until the end of the year).


Going forward, you should expect this six-month pace of hardware releases to continue. If you'd rather not be on a continual learning curve, you can always choose not to upgrade (or go with commercial autopilots, which evolve much more slowly). But the spirit of DIY Drones is constant learning, experimentation and innovation. These are early days yet in the UAV world, and we've just gotten started with all the cool things we want to roll out. Thanks for joining us in the spirit of this collective adventure and exploration of the future of aerial robotics.

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Comment by Sebastian Gralla on July 6, 2011 at 8:31am

is it possible to just swap out the atmega?


I would like to keep my voltage regulator on board ;)

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on July 6, 2011 at 9:08am
Sure, if you're handy with hot air rework, you can just swap the chips.
Comment by Rana on July 6, 2011 at 9:36am
I did mine around a month back. I got the chip from Digi-Key in some 18US$, but the shipping was 32US$. In addition you would need an AVR Programmer (AVR Pocket Programmer: http://www.sparkfun.com/products/9825), as the bare chip ATMEGA2560 won't have the boot loader.

If you can get the chip in the local market and you can have the hot air rework station only then you should go for that otherwise buy another APM-2560 board.
Comment by Don Brooks on July 6, 2011 at 9:37am

So the upgrade path to the 2560, which is now about 2 months old, will change come the fall...

Is it really worth upgrading to the 2560 now, or for those happy with the (eventual) final 2.3 version of the code, should we wait and see what iteration of the APM board comes out next?


Also, is it possible to create an upgrade "kit" in the store? A proper upgrade from 1280 to 2560 requires not only the APM (which includes the right angle servo header), but also requires two sets of connection pin headers. I can't think offhand of any other items it needs, but I can see some disappointed users with a hot soldering iron coming to the realization that they are missing a 2$ item to get things working.

Comment by Jason Short on July 6, 2011 at 9:40am

Since both boards are pin compatible, You can always get into the newer code and turn off features you don't want or need and jam the new code into the old boards. 


Comment by Don Brooks on July 6, 2011 at 9:45am
Jason, you mean (at least in my individual case), I could remove say, code for the compass/magnetometer, and sonar, and force feed my little 1280 with newer code beyond 2.3?

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on July 6, 2011 at 9:52am

Don: Good point. I've updated the post to remind people to get a couple rows of headers, too (I assume that everyone had loads of those, but you're right that some people may not).  BTW, the APM2560 board is four month old, not two.


Our guidance is always the same: we plan to release new versions of the hardware about every six months. Sometimes they will be relatively minor upgrades, sometimes major upgrades. (We don't give hardware details until we're got something tested and ready to ship, to avoid setting unrealistic expectations). Generations of hardware have overlapping support, which is to say that current code will to the best of our ability support the current generation hardware and the previous generation hardware for at least six months. 


It is always the user's choice whether to wait six months and skip a generation, or upgrade to new hardware as we release it. That's the point of this post: to inform that choice. 

Comment by Rana on July 6, 2011 at 10:10am

APM2.20 Firmware does not compile with ATMEGA1280, gives error "Sketch is too big", however if ATMEGA2560 is selected then no compilation error comes.;

So migration to 2560 is recomended.

Comment by Kirill on July 6, 2011 at 10:10am

Chris, could you clear a couple of questions, please.

What is gonna be in the next generation hardware? I mean the next after 2560. Do you already have any plans? And it will appear in two months as I understood (because 2560 was released 4 months ago), right?

Is it possible to change the old 1280 board to the new 2560 with an additional charge?

Comment by DaveyWaveyBunsenBurner on July 6, 2011 at 10:30am
The fact that the final versions will continue to be supported and bugs fixed is very reassuring.


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