industrial-grade CNC machine

CNC Controller Board – 7 Best Options In 2023

The right CNC controller board is a prerequisite for optimum CNC machining

A CNC controller board is indeed the crucial most component that decides how your CNC mill or lathe functions. 


You see, the last decade has seen a rapid transition from manual to CNC machining within large industries and small/medium workshops alike. And thanks to the increasing affordability of turnkey solutions like CNC conversion kits, this trend continues to gain momentum. 


If there’s one thing that this switch to CNC confirms, it is that everyone wants the high-precision and high-volume production that automation brings about. 


But have you ever wondered what makes these CNC machines super efficient? 


Well, it’s none but the CNC control board that decides how accurate and productive your machine will be. As such, figuring out the right control board for your CNC lathe or mill is as important as buying the ideal machine. 

So what exactly is a CNC controller board? 

The CNC control board, or simply the CNC control, is like the brain of your CNC machine. That’s because, from controlling the spindle speed to handling the motion to maintaining the temperature, there’s a lot that the control board handles. 


In short, the CNC motion control board takes care of every machining aspect using CNC software. 


Now, when it comes to buying a CNC control for your machine, you’re sure to be puzzled. And rightly so, as the market is afflux with the best controls for the task. 


Not so far ago, CNC controls were available for industrial CNC machines only. However, you can now find a control board even for a small hobby machine. 


Also, while some control software turns your computer into a controller, a dedicated control board is always desirable. 


Nevertheless, to make your search easy, we’ve compiled the best CNC control boards for machines of all sizes and capabilities, along with CNC controller board comparison. Furthermore, we’ve also listed the things you should consider before buying one such control, FAQs, and more. 


So let’s dive right in and have a detailed look. 

The best CNC controller board (2023 list): 

#1. The BlackBox X32 from Openbuilds (best CNC GRBL controllers)

BlackBox X32 CNC controller board

Built by OpenBuilds, the X32 series is the latest avatar of BlackBox CNC control boards, one of the best-performing and top-selling boards in the GRBL category. 


In fact, if you’re looking for a CNC board that supports both online and offline control, then the X32 is the go-to solution. 


To begin with, this CNC controller is powered by a 32-bit processor, which enhances the machine’s performance manifold while also supporting its accessories such as coolant, rotary, etc. 


A noticeable advancement of the X32 from earlier BlackBox control boards is its 4-axis capacity, a shot in the arm for workshops. 


Talking about connectivity, the BlackBox X32 is also compatible with WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, and SD, apart from the proprietary extension system of OpenBuild itself. Also, the control board supports GrblHAL firmware, which you can easily port using new microcontrollers even without GRBL core’s know-how. 


One of the best things about the X32’s control board is that it allows for seamless integration with OpenBuilds Control, a free GRBL-based interface software. With this, you need not use a UGS, as the software itself provides the controller with the G-codes. 


Another exciting advancement that you’ll find on a BlackBox X32 control board is the INTERFACE offline touch-based control system. This allows you to do just about everything without actually connecting to a computer. 


That’s impressive, isn’t it? 


Note: you’ll have to buy the offline control feature separately, and this can cost you an additional $180. 

#2. Centroid Acorn CNC control (the cost-efficient solution)

 Centroid Acorn CNC control board

As a counterpart to the BlackBox X32, we have the CNC control board and control package from Centroid Acorn


While the Centroid control boards have features very similar to the X32s, they’re way more cost-efficient. 


And this makes the Centroid Acorn control package, in general, and the CNC control board, in particular, very appealing to small and medium workshops. 


Thus, if you’re on the lookout for an affordable CNC controller, this is where your search stops. More so because despite being a low-cost control system, the Centroid boards don’t lack features. 


Now, you might wonder what the similarities are between the BlackBox X32 and the Centroid control feature-wise. And more importantly, how useful are these features for machinists like yourself? 


Let’s find out. 


First up, the Centroid CNC control boards support 4-axis machining, making them apt for controlling large and powerful CNC machines. Also, thanks to its 1 GHz ARM processor, the control system ensures top-notch precision at the highest spindle speeds. 


Second, just like the X32, Centroid Acorn control boards offer a highly user-friendly interface. In fact, these are designed with beginner machinists in mind, meaning you can install and operate them even with an elementary knowledge of CNC machines. 


Third, setting up the control unit, including the CNC control board, is easy and DIY-friendly. All you’ll need to do is connect the control board to your PC using Ethernet and integrate it with the machine. 


In a nutshell, this is an industrial-quality DIY CNC controller available at beginner-level prices. 

#3. Mesa 7I76E (best among LinuxCNC controls) 

Mesa 7I76E CNC motion control board

LinuxCNC is a highly sought-after software among many CNC machinists, and the Mesa 7I76E is the frontrunner among the CNC controller boards for LinuxCNC. 


The 716E controller is an all-inclusive package combining a breakout board with an FPGA controller. 


Just like software such as Mach3 and Mach4, the LinuxCNC platform also turns computers themselves into controllers. And this eliminates the need for chip-based microcontrollers that you’d ideally use in a GRBL controller. 


Meaning you need not use a control system like the Mesa 7I76E to run your LinuxCNC-based milling or turning machine. 


Nevertheless, we always suggest that machinists integrate a dedicated ethernet-based control like the Mesa 7I76E. 


One of the exceptions of this CNC control board, especially when compared to the boards of its category, is its ability to run a 5-axis machine. This makes it a truly industrial control board, that too at an incredibly low cost. 


Awesome, right? 


Coming to installation, you can have the board, as well as the entire control package, up and running by yourself. 


You can simply use an ethernet cable to connect the Mesa 7I76E to your PC and connect the spindle motor and stepper drivers to the controller. 

#4. Ethernet SmoothStepper (go-to CNC controller board for Mach3 and Mach4)

Ethernet SmoothStepper CNC controller board

Looking for a highly efficient yet simple-to-use CNC motion control board? 


If yes, then the Ethernet SmoothStepper from Warp9 Tech Design is worth considering. 


You see, the Mach3 software, along with its updated version, i.e., the Mach4, is always high in demand and comes second after GRBL in terms of popularity. And the SmoothStepper control boards offer the most reliable solution to run this CNC software, especially for beginners and hobbyists who need an easy-to-run CNC. 


Like all the best CNC controller software out there, Mach3 and Mach4 can also turn your computer itself into the controller. However, as a dedicated control, the Ethernet SmoothStepper enhances your machine’s performance manifold. 


What sets this CNC controller aside from other similarly priced ones are the features which include a very powerful processor and a number of axis motions it can support. 


First of all, the control board boasts a 64-bit processor, which is double the processor strength of its counterparts. 


Furthermore, the SmoothStepper CNC controls can handle a machine with up to 6-axis motion, something you rarely see among control boards of this size and range. 

#5. Buildbotics CNC control board (excellent for hobbyists) 

Buildbotics CNC control board

Are you a hobby machinist with no past experience in CNC machining? 


Well, for those of you who’re just starting out with a small mill or a mini lathe CNC machine, the Buildbotics CNC control is the one-stop solution. 


Built on Raspberry Pi, the Buildbotics CNC control board is an entirely open-source and autonomous control system. 


This controller can handle smaller machines with up to 4 axes. And while this might be below the average for most CNC router control board units, it’s sufficient for beginner machinists. 


One great advantage that the Buildbotics controls offer is the ease of installation. You see, these are completely plug-and-play systems, which not only makes them ideal for easy retrofitting. 


Talking about compatibility, this control board works really well with mills, routers, lathes, plasma cutters, etc. So notwithstanding your machine type, you can use Buildbotics to control your machining tasks. 

#6. The xPro V5 CNC control board (low-cost option for beginners)

xPro V5 CNC control board

A beginner-level counterpart to Buildbotics, the xPro V5 is one of the most affordable CNC control boards on the market. So much so that you can get one for approximately $220. 


Nevertheless, it’d be wrong to assume that the latter is lacking in terms of abilities. That’s because, in many ways, the xPro V5 has more extensive features than the Builbotics controls. 


For instance, unlike the Builbotics, this controller board has the capacity to run up to 6-axis machines. 


Similarly, when talking about xPro V5 vs BlackBox, the xPro V5 is also powered by a 32-bit processor, which is quite powerful and thus also seen on controls for large machines. 


There you have it, a low-cost yet featureful CNC control board. 

#7. Masso G3 controller board

Masso G3

The G3 CNC control board from Masso is a futuristic solution that removes the need for a computer to control a CNC machine. 


The controller uses Masso link, which is the manufacturer’s property software and graphical interface. And this allows you to run three types of CNC machines, namely, milling, lathe, and plasma cutting machines. 


Masso G3 lets you run three machine types, i.e., a 3-axis, 4-axis, and 5-axis machine, all with the same controller. Furthermore, it can produce a 110 kHz pulse rate on each of the axes, enough for most CNC machines. 


Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? 

Some things to consider before you buy a CNC control board: 

#1. The purpose of your controller board

A basic yet important consideration before purchasing a CNC control package is the purpose that it serves. That’s because while some control boards are a great fit for milling machines, others are tailored for lathes or turning machines. 


As such, by picking the right kind of control, you will not only retrofit the board conveniently but also let the control package work optimally on your CNC machine. 

#2. The total number of axes 

Another important factor to bear in mind is the number of axes your CNC control board can handle. 


The beginner-grade controls are mostly made to handle up to 3 axes. At the same time, most of the advanced control boards can run machines with 5 or 6 axes. 


So you should factor in the number of axes on your CNC machine and choose a control board accordingly. 

#3. Take into account the features 

Your CNC control board should have the features to perform the applications as per your requirements. 


For example, a milling machine cutting through bulky pieces of metal uses high torque. And that means your control board should be able to support such high-torque tasks. 

#4. Compatibility with the software of your choice 

There are multiple CNC software providers out there, with the most prominent ones including GRBL, Mach3, Centroid Acorn, etc. 


Now, every machinist has an ideal software, depending upon their machining requirements and hands-on experience.  


Thus, it’s important to check whether or not the control board is compatible with the software that you intend to use. 

#5. DIY-friendly installation 

You should go for such boards or controllers that are easy to install over those that aren’t. 


Why, you may ask? 


You see, unlike CNC conversion, which is performed mostly by a skilled machinist, retrofitting a CNC control board is something that you might have to do by yourself. 


And towards that end, a control kit with simple installation steps and a detailed installation manual is something you should go for. 

CNC controller board: frequently asked questions

What are the different types of control boards? 

There are extensive choices for CNC control boards on the market. And the most popular ones include USB-based controllers, ethernet controllers, parallel port controllers, standalone control boards, and more. 

What software is a control board based on? 

The controllers or control boards for CNC machines are available for almost every CNC software. 


For instance, you can get CNC controls that are compatible with software like GRBL, LinuxCNC, Mach3, etc. 

What is the ideal processor strength for a CNC control? 

CNC control processors start at 8 bits and can go over 64 bits. 


However, we recommend you go for control with at least a 32-bit processor for seamless machining. 

Can you install a CNC control board by yourself? 

Yes, you can. 


You see, most of the CNC control packages include a detailed installation manual provided by the manufacturer, something you can follow to complete the installation. 

Can you replace the control board? 

Yes, control boards can be replaced. 


Most of the control boards are retrofit units, which means you can easily replace them with new ones.


As you can see, a CNC control package is indispensable to a CNC machine. And for obvious reasons, as the functioning and overall performance of your machine depends on the control board. 


Looking to buy one such control board and related accessories? 


You can reach out to us!


At CNC Conversion Plus, we have CNC control packages from leading CNC software manufacturers like Centroid Acorn. So you can rely on us for effective control and robust CNC machining. 


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