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Skynet vs Marlin: Which of These Two Firmwares Is Best?

Skynet vs Marlin: Which of These Two Firmwares Is Best? | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone

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September 16, 2021

An essential component of any 3D printer is the firmware you utilize to control your device’s functions. Marlin, the most popular non-factory firmware, and Skynet are just two of the multitude of different options available for 3D printers.

Marlin is by far the more superior option for newer machines and updated firmware options. Skynet has failed to stay relevant, and due to that, has suffered, with most major development support fading away in 2018. While not entirely irrelevant, Skynet cannot compare in terms of functionality or support when used in older machines.

Taking a look at the Anet A8, one of the most affordable and popular 3D printers, we will compare the firmware’s history and differences. Stick around for all you need to know about Skynet vs. Marlin, and which of these two firmwares is best.

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Skynet vs. Marlin

When choosing a firmware, it’s important to factor in how important it is for you to have the most current and updated options. If you’re working with an older 3D printer and it does the trick, then relevancy might not be as important so that Skynet can be effective. On the other hand, Marlin is a newer firmware that’s efficient and up to date.  

Up next, we’ll detail Skynet and Marlin firmware, along with the ins and outs of each. This will help you better navigate the decision of which is better.

What is Marlin?

Started in 2011 for use on the RepRap and Utilimaker printers, Marlin has quickly become the favorite for use on several of the most popular low priced 3D printing machines.

It has had constant support since it’s 1.0 release and recently celebrated the new and improved 2.0.7 release in October of 2020. Running on G-Code, the program manages all of the machine’s real-time functions, such as the stepper functions and monitoring of the thermal sensors.

Installed on many of the standard printers, the base “Vanilla” Marlin is very functional but still leaves room for niche additions and new versions. For this reason, tons of apps and additional upgrades have popped up for the firmware in recent years.

Some of these build off of the original, while others take Marlin and stretch it into something unique like Skynet did.

Some of these different versions of Marlin include:

Vanilla Model

Vanilla Marlin is the foundation upon which all of the Marlin based firmware is built. Currently, on its 2.0 release, Marlin has seen incredible growth upon its base kit. As 2.0 is relatively new, as of the time of writing, the additional support is not as robust as many creators have yet to move to the latest version.

The new Marlin firmware update allowed for the addition of 32-bit boards to be compatible with the firmware for the first time.

This new update allows for faster communication speeds between your printer and computer. Along with the upgraded boards, it has become comparable to other 32 and 64- bit firmware.

While they have recently released Marlin 2.0, that does not mean there is anything inherently wrong with the older versions being on your system. As they are not updated anymore, most bugs and features that are on the firmware 1.0 and 1.1 releases are there to stay.

One issue often stated with the original release of Marlin was that it has a tendency, in some extreme cases, to cause thermal runaway.

Unified Firmware 2.0

The first third party firmware to upgrade to the 2.0 version of Marlin expands upon the original functionality and focuses primarily on the Ender E-3 and E-5 machines.

Intended by the developers for use on most stock machines, it does not mesh well when acquiring aftermarket parts that may not be supported.

Unified is one of the easiest to use and great for those new to the hobby or have acquired a printer for business. They market themselves and their parts as easy to change out and connect with their firmware.

Having a large inventory of parts and printers, TH3D and Unified Firmware are a tremendous one-stop sort of shop.

Adopting Unified may not be perfect for everyone, as with their 2.0 release and later, you are stuck using parts from them or using compatibility guides for finding if your own printer will even work.

RepRap

A mish-mash of Marlin, Sprinter, and Grbl, RepRap is its unique program. Still updated and a strong competitor with Marlin, they are a much smaller organization of developers. For many, RepRap shows what is possible in terms of combining features from several other firmware.

While it is still supported, the firmware is by no means the top of the line anymore, falling from being a frontrunner after the release of Marlin. It can only be recommended if you are familiar with the corresponding firmware is a target of or really need a particular set of niche uses.

Tiny Machines 3D

Shipping stock on all printers from the Tiny Machines website, this firmware is made especially for their selection of machines. Supporting the most popular devices like the Ender and Creality, they are more well known for shipping pre-built printers with the firmware installed.

Initially, based upon the Marlin 1.1.9 firmware, they are actively updating and bug fixing. Again, not as large as Marlin 2.0, but an excellent firmware for beginners none the less.

What Is Skynet?

Skynet is a legacy firmware that was developed using the Marlin 1.0 as a baseline. Adapted for the Anet Technologies 3D printers, those who wanted to split from Marlin most often used it in conjunction with the Anet8 and A8 Plus models of 3D printers.

Low priced and easily accessible by hobbyists, schools, and professionals alike, the A8 and Anet as a whole revolutionized 3D printing.

Releasing in January of 2017, they lowered the cost of entry to the hobby, and in response to the rapid growth, several dozen new firmware upgrades begin to pop up.

Marlin was generally the most widely used upon the release of the A8; however, due to an issue with overheating and inadequate sensor monitoring, the community criticized the firmware for safety issues.

In response to the criticisms and slow reaction to update from developers, the community created Skynet.

Taking what was essential in the Marlin program, the developers of Skynet were able to create features on the firmware that was previously unavailable. Among these features were the security checks upon heat sensors, which was seen by many as a significant flaw of Marlin 1.0.

As inadequate security checks could lead to overheating, melting, and even fires, this was seen as a substantial boon by those who used the software.

Fall and Legacy of Skynet

In contrast to its Terminator film counterpart of the same name, Skynet died a quiet and relatively unsubstantial death. While you can still download legacy versions, it is no longer supported as many developers who worked on it went on to larger companies or stopped working on firmware altogether.

A small but loud community exists, promoting Skynet and working on unofficial updates, mostly sharing over sites such as Github and Reddit. Still, many of these are dubious at best, as, without proper research from the user, an incompatible or broken firmware can ruin a machine.

Should you still own an original A8 or A8Plus from 2018 or before, Skynet may always be an option for you to flashover. There is nothing inherently wrong with Skynet for anyone who used the firmware and found it to their liking. It will still function perfectly well on the machines for which it was designed. They were just eventually beaten out by Marlin.

With the release of Marlin 1.1.8, the heat sensor monitoring issues were addressed by developers and mostly rectified.

Most of what made Skynet unique was rolled into Marlin and saw its usefulness wane as many out of the box Marlin powered systems functioned just as well. The final nail in the coffin for Skynet would be the release of Marlin 2.0, which changes the core functionality and improves upon several features.

Comparing Marlin and Skynet

If this piece were being written in 2017 and not 2021, there would be a solid argument for installing Skynet onto your machine.

Because of its development, focusing mostly upon the filament and smooth operations’ efficiency, Marlin struggled with heat issues at first. Skynet was poised to fill a niche that needed it, and thus a great two year-long argument was held within the growing 3D printing community.

Skynet was the definitive loser in the battle as the last recorded official development update was in late 2017. Burning fast and burning bright, Skynet failed to grow with the industry, and due to its lack of compatibility with newer devices, it has fallen from the public consciousness.

Looking up legacy posts and old records, most Skynet mentions as a firmware stop around mid-2018, with the release of Marlin 1.1.9 in July of the same year being the final nail in the coffin for the fledgling system. It is relatively easy to assume that not many people will be using Skynet now or any time in the future, while Marlin continues to thrive and prosper.

Firmware Options Outside of Marlin

Despite its being the definitive winner in terms of 3D printing firmware for the small-sized printer, there are still several other options available in the marketplace today.

Most of these are open-source, just like Marlin, and can be edited by those with the skills to fit nearly any niche that can arise. While none have yet to reach the success levels of the big one themselves, some may pose a definite threat to Marlin some time in the future.

Repetier-Firmware

Arrayed with a vast number of features, Repetier-Firmware is a bit more complicated in terms of usage than Marlin. Their site and reviews boast about breakneck connection speeds, allowing rapid responses and near real-time feedback.

Repetier has an incredible amount of documentation to read if you wish and has a large support forum. Like Marlin, it allows you to edit Arduino files directly and tweak the specifications to suit your needs.

Due to the vast number of features and supporting documents, this firmware can be daunting for new users.

Smoothieware

Despite its goofy name Smoothieware is an absolute beast for CNC mills and most laster cutting machines. Smoothieware is, of course, able to be used for 3D printing and has expanded capabilities to add other things like extra stepper motors.

Unfortunately, as it is a relatively new player in the 3D printer market, there is a very small community for support.

Along with limited capabilities and forums, the firmware is limited by development constraints to a small number of boards. If you plan on using this newer firmware, it is imperative that you check compatibility settings before installing.

Teacup

Simple and relatively unimpressive in its features, Teacup can be used on a wide range of devices from the small 8-bit board all the way up to 7th gen ARM 64-bit boards.

It is simple to install, and due to the wide range of compatibility, Teacup can help bridge the gap when building your own rig and using parts that are not compatible with one another through other firmware.

As it is also suffering from the small community syndrome, Teacup may be easy to use but can be frustrating to find support.

Summary of Firmware

As mentioned, the firmware is one of the primary components of a 3D printer. Used when software and hardware are combined into a single function, there is the firmware. Nearly all computer devices have it, so long as they have physical moving parts that are controlled by software.

Most 3D printing machines come with factory default firmware installed within them, intended to make the machine work optimally in as many conditions as possible.

The factory-installed firmware, while functional, may not have the features you need, or if you want to have a custom rig, you can change your settings to one of many options.

Why Change Firmware?

If the factory installs it, and it has been tested extensively, then why change it? Several reasons exist for not wanting to use what default on your printer; some of these include:

  • Improper Testing: Sometimes, companies make mistakes. More often than not, these mistakes stem from inadequate Quality Assurance. Some 3D printers, especially cheaper ones, come with significant flaws that were not tested out in a rush to sell products.
  • Thermal Protection: The firmware has to do quite a bit, managing everything from movements to thermal sensors. An issue with many 3D printers is thermal runaway protection, something that, if you are using your printer often or for large projects, may be a problem. Finding a firmware that focuses on or has remedies for your situation is paramount in such a case.
  • Open Source: Marlin is an open-source type of firmware that can be flashed onto nearly any Arduino powered system. Meaning that almost anyone can develop on it. There are many applications and modifications that you can use to tweak your settings to match your preference.
  • Support For Different Machines: Should you become comfortable operating with one firmware type, acquiring a new machine may feel unfamiliar. Should your preferred firmware, such as Skynet, be supported on that device, you can easily copy over your preferences.
  • Crashing Or Stuttering During Use: Some of the more simple programs, like Marlin 1.0, cannot handle the same load of calculations necessary for newer machines or parts. Updating and changing the firmware can help alleviate these issues by providing a program that can handle the complexity.
  • Personal Customization: Having first-party support can be a hassle when you are locked out by the software that stops you from editing the properties you need. Having the freedom to customize and do anything is a core tenant of 3D printing, and this extends to the very firmware that operates your machine.

There are many reasons for you to want to change the firmware; however, you should keep in mind compatibility when considering the change. Ensuring that your board can handle the firmware and vice versa is essential as loading incorrect firmware can potentially damage a machine.

Closing Remarks

To conclude, there is a definitive winner between Marlin and Skynet. As the latter failed to keep up in development, it was quickly overshadowed by its older and more established brother. During its time, when the need for it was high, Skynet could have boasted of being superior but has failed to stay relevant in recent years.

Marlin is not the only contender within the 3D printing sphere. As Arduino boards are improving, so too are other open-source computing options. Raspberry Pi-based systems have started to arise, their functions still in the experimental stage. Due to this competition, we may see Marlin fade into obscurity, but that does not appear to be happening any time soon.

There is no way to conclude which firmware would be best for you or if you should even change it in the first place. There are several helpful guides on each of the sites that host this firmware, and with things such as Marlin, Unified 3D, and Tiny Machines, there is a large community that continues to grow.

About THE AUTHOR

William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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Skynet vs Marlin: Which of These Two Firmwares Is Best?

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