If you are wondering which stepper driver to get for your DIY CNC build or to replace an existing stepper driver in your CNC, then this guide will help you.
Ideally you need the driver to be capable of running your stepper motor without any excess heating or noise. You also don't want to overbuy with an expensive stepper driver when you are running a relatively small stepper motor.
I wrote this guide after considering several stepper driver options and using many of them in my personal workshop.
This guide is divided into sections, where I go from stepper drivers with the lowest peak current ratings to the highest ones.
To make the most of this review, you should know either the maximum current rating on your stepper motor or at what current you plan to run your motor for your torque and RPM requirement.
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My best pick is the DM542T stepper driver which is a powerful yet affordable stepper driver that will suit almost any CNC application.
- Overall Best-StepperOnline DM542T Stepper Motor Driver
Best Stepper Drivers with up to 2A Rated Current
|Max. Current||1A (2A with cooling)|
|Stepper Motor||NEMA 14 (Under 1A)|
The A4988 Stepper Driver is one of the most popular small CNC stepper drivers that's on the market.
This stepper driver is found in a lot of budget CNC controllers and desktop CNC's. The Sainsmart 3018 desktop CNC uses this as the stepper driver.
The code A4988 represents the model number of the stepper IC made by Texas Instruments.
This IC was first used on a breakout board and made into a practically usable stepper driver by Pololu Robotics, NV.
Later it was cloned by many chinese manufacturers and it currently sells for a very affordable price.
The BIQU stepper driver is one of the most reliable ones among those clones.
This driver is sold as a pack of five where one driver costs less than a pack of gum (yes!).
The A4988 can deliver a current of 1A to the stepper motor without a heat sink. With an additional large heat sink and forced airflow cooling, this driver can technically deliver up to 2A current.
And the BIQU A4988 does come with an aluminum heat sink.
However, realistically you should only expect to run up to 1A current to the stepper motor with this driver unless you want to risk frying it.
What does this mean in terms of stepper motors? This means the A4988 can run a NEMA 14 with current under 1A very well.
It can also run smaller NEMA 17 motors with a current rating of up to 1.5A. Although I don't recommend it. As a rule of thumb, you should ideally buy a stepper drive that has a rated current that is 1.4 times the rated current of the stepper motor.
If you don't know which stepper motors to choose for you CNC, then this will help you- Stepper Motors for Every Type of CNC
This driver powers a lot of desktop CNC's and 3D printers, so it would be ideal for such an application.
Note that you need one A4988 driver per stepper motor you use.
The A4988 can do microstepping up to 1/16 with five step modes. It is essential to run this stepper on microstepping mode to avoid resonance issues.
The potentiometer in the A4988 allows easy adjustment of current to match your stepper motor requirement.
For running this driver you need a power supply voltage in the range 8V-35V. Most people set the supply at 24V to get a smooth performance from A4988.
Overall, this is a great starter stepper driver which is shockingly inexpensive.
|Max. Current||1.5A (2.2A with cooling)|
|Stepper Motor||NEMA 14 & 17 (Under 1.5A)|
The DRV8825 Stepper Driver is yet another small CNC driver that's really popular in small CNC applications.
The DRV8825 is also a stepper IC that's manufactured by Texas Instruments. Pololu Robotics put it on a breakout board for the first time.
This clone of the same driver by SongHe, is an affordable alternative to the Pololu one with similar performance.
The driver is sold as a pack of 5 pieces.
You can always buy the original Pololu DRV8825 although you have to pay around 5 times the price for almost a negligible performance upgrade.
This driver can be called us an upgraded version of the A4988 driver.
It can handle 1.5A current without any cooling and 2.2 A with forced air cooling and heat sinking, an upgrade from the 1A current without cooling in the A4988.
This driver can run a 1.5 A NEMA 17 motor reasonably well and obviously any stepper motor that's smaller than that.
While the A4988 can do up to 1/16 microstepping, the DRV8825 can do up to 1/32 microstepping, making the motor movement smoother.
The Songhe DRV8825 ships with aluminium heat sinks included.
The DRV8825 is a drop in replacement for A4988 drivers in any CNC setup. This is because they share the exact same size, pin out and interface.
Adjusting the current from the driver in DRV8825 is very similar to that of the A4988, by doing a potentiometer adjustment.
The supply voltage of the DRV8825 is in the range 8-45 V, which is an upgrade over the 35V upper voltage bound of the A4988 Driver.
This is overall an upgraded A4988 stepper driver which funnily costs, almost the same. Unless you have specific reasons to get the A4988, go with the DRV8825 stepper driver.
Best Stepper Drivers with up to 4.2A Rated Current
|Stepper Motor||NEMA 14,17,23,24 (Under 4.2A)|
The DM542T is my personal favourite and the one I most commonly use for my DIY CNC applications.
This stepper driver can power almost any NEMA 17 and NEMA 23 motor, except probably the high torque NEMA 23 with 4.2A.
For almost every other stepper motor in a CNC, this stepper driver is an excellent choice. I say this because NEMA 34 is very rare in a CNC.
This makes the driver an excellent choice for almost any GRBL based DIY CNC project, including the large 8' x 4' frames.
If you need to choose the GRBL based controller you need for your CNC, then this guide I wrote will probably help you- CNC GRBL Controllers for Hobbyists.
This driver is known to be extremely reliable with a long life.
With the DM542T IC Manufactured by Leadshine, and the rest designed and marketed by StepperOnline (It's the market leader in selling steppers), this product is top quality.
The heat sinking and cooling on this motor is excellent. It is a very silent driver and it doesn't sweat even when you hit 4A.
One nice feature on this motor is it's excellent soft start system. Steppers without this draw a large current when they are initially powered.
This produces an abrupt jump in the motor and reduces the life of the motor significantly.
The DM542T softens this by regulating the current and allowing torque to increase only gradually.
Anti Resonance feature of the DM542T works as advertised and this avoids any vibration and noise in the mid-ranges(amps).
Also, stepper motors usually heat up when they are not rotating while connected to the supply. The DM542T has an idle current reduction feature, whereby the current drops to half the value if the RPM is zero.
DM542T offers microstepping up to 1/128. But what is really nice is the microstepping control. You can use the DIP switches in the stepper to easily set the microstepping number from 15 preset modes(1/2,1/4, .. and so on up to 1/128).
Unlike the previous stepper drivers in this list you don't need to do any potentiometer turning for adjusting the current. Similar to the microstepping control, you can use DIP switches to set the current from 8 selectable peak currents(1.00A, 1.46A, 1.91A, 2.37A, 2.84A, 3.31A, 3.76A, 4.20A).
To run this stepper driver you need to supply 20-50 VDC input voltage. To be safe, it's safer to keep the upper limit of supply voltage as 45 VDC.
As with most steppers, as you increase the supply voltage you will get higher torques even at higher RPM's.
Please note that, to run 3 motors you need three stepper drivers. You cannot run multiple motors from a single stepper driver, as these are single axis stepper drivers.
If you are looking for a multi-axis stepper driver to run multiple motors with a single driver, then the Gecko G540 is what you need. I've reviewed that below (No. 3 in this list).
StepperOnline offers a 12 month replacement warranty on this device whereby they'll send you a new driver if it's damaged in under an year after buying.
In short, if your Amp requirement is up to 4A, I highly recommend you get this stepper driver.
|Stepper Motor||NEMA 14,17,23 (Under 4A)|
The TB6600 driver is a highly popular driver and most commonly used to power NEMA 17 and NEMA 23 motors.
The stepper IC of this driver is manufactured by Toshiba, Japan and this particular breakout board is sold by the brand MYSWEETY.
To be very precise, the IC stepper used is TB67S109A and not exactly TB6600. But the specifications are similar so the seller calls it a TB6600.
It has seven preset output currents (0.5A/1.0A/1.5A/2.0A/2.5A/2.8A/3.0A/3.5A) which can be controlled through the six digit DIP switch on the driver.
The maximum output current that you can set through the DIP switches is 3.5A, which is lower than the 4A theoretical maximum current.
In my opinion, this motor could work well if your requirement is up to 3A. Above that, the motor is bound get noisy and heated up.
Like other steppers of this range, it has a built in overcurrent and temperature protection features.
This stepper has five preset microstepping modes(1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16,1/32), which can be controlled using the DIP switches.
Power supply that can be used to run this stepper is 9-42V, with recommended voltage of 12-30V. It's best not to exceed the 30V limit to be safe.
Most users run this stepper at 24V as they get the RPM and torque they need at this supply voltage. According to the manufacturer this stepper is ideal for a target torque of 255 oz.in or below.
What I found to be most interesting about this stepper is that it offers at least 3A current without being noisy, at almost half the price of the DM542T.
With this driver or the DM542T, remember that you need to get three of those to run a three axis CNC.
If your budget is tight and your stepper motor Amp requirement is under 3A, I suggest you get this. Else I suggest you go for the DM542T.
|Stepper Motor||NEMA 17,23,24,34 (Under 3.5A)|
The Gecko G540 is really the premium option in this list of stepper drivers.
Manufactured and marketed by Geckodrive Inc. CA, this multi-axis stepper driver is a time tested option for anyone looking for quality.
The only US made driver in this list, this driver has been around since 2008 and is still a go to option if you can stretch your budget.
The driver has undergone several revision and improvements to make it stand out among stepper drivers in the market today.
The G540 is one of the few multi-axis stepper drivers I know of, that can run up to 4 stepper motors using a single driver.
If you don't prefer the G540, the Leadshine MX4660 4-Axis Stepper Driver is also an option, but it's more expensive than the Gecko G540.
The Gecko works as advertised. The G540 runs smooth even when you connect four stepper motors at 3.5A, which is its maximum capacity.
Even when pushed to the maximum, the G540 only reaches a temperature of 70°C.
As a testament to the quality of the product, Gecko offers a 90 day return window, if you are unsatisfied with the product.
They also give a three-year warranty on the driver. If you have questions, Gecko offers phone support with technical assistance, which is not possible with most other stepper drivers in this list.
The documentation, especially the 10-page manual is clear and well made. This is very helpful for giving the connections initially.
However, the GECKO is a plug and play device. There's not much setup to it other than connecting the power supply and the stepper motors.
One important difference between the G540 and the other steppers is that it is run on Mach instead of GRBL and operates via a parallel port to connect to the CNC controller.
One such controller is the USB smoothstepper (Warp 9 Ethernet Smooth Stepper). Once you have such a controller, you can connect to your computer via USB and things are smooth from there.
The connection to the stepper motor is made using a DB9 plug which comes bundled with the Gecko 540.
The G540 has a ten microstep resolution and +/- 5% step accuracy.
Recommended supply voltage for the G540 is 18-50VDC.
Overall, I think the Gecko is like the Apple of the stepper driver world with premium products and proprietary Mach software.
It's a great solid option for those willing to use Mach instead of the open source GRBL and for those who appreciate phone support for their questions.
Best Stepper Drivers with up to 7.2A Rated Current
|Stepper Motor||NEMA 17,23,24,34 (Under 5.6A)|
This Stepper Driver is run on the DM556T IC chip manufactured by Leadshine and is marketed and sold by StepperOnline.
This driver is similar in interface to the DM542T. However, it can handle a peak current of 5.6A.
This makes this stepper ideal for even the high torque NEMA 23 motors (4.2A) with 425 oz.in of holding torque.
This stepper driver will suit almost all CNC projects, including the large 8'x4' CNC Routers.
The only thing it can't run is probably the NEMA 34's with 6A current and more than 1000 oz.in holding torque. If that is your requirement, I suggest you look at the next stepper driver in this list.
The DM556T has excellent anti-resonance features for ensuring smooth motion and silent operation.
Similar to the DM542T, it has DIP switches to select from 16 pre set microstepping resolutions (up to 1/125).
Also it has another set of DIP switches that you can turn on and off to select from 8 preset output current settings (1.8A, 2.1A, 2.7A, 3.2A, 3.8A, 4.3A, 4.9A, 5.6A).
It does have an idle-current detection feature whereby it halves the current output if the motor is not running.
This stepper runs under 60°C at almost all times, due to the excellent heat sinking technology on this driver.
The recommended input voltage on this stepper driver is 20-50VDC.
I found the documentation of this stepper driver to be good enough for beginners.
StepperOnline offers a 12 month replacement warranty on this device whereby they'll send you a new driver if it's damaged in under an year after buying.
This driver costs only a bit more than the DM542T and is excellent for any CNC with stepper motors up to NEMA 24.
|Stepper Motor||NEMA 17,23,24,34 (Under 7.2A)|
This stepper driver is really the mammoth stepper driver in this list in terms of rated current.
With the DM860T stepper IC from leadshine, this driver can handle up to 7.2A of power.
Rarely do you need this on a DIY CNC machine, because that kind of amps is demanded only by NEMA 34 stepper motors and those are rare on DIY CNC's.
However, there are some affordable CNC's which use NEMA 34 motors (like the avid CNC) for the extra cutting power during heavy production work.
You also find those heavy motors on the Z axis of heavy benchtop mills and some lathes as well.
There are some heavy anti-resonance features built on this stepper driver to make it power through such large motors and high torques.
Them DM860T has an 8 bit DIP switch system to control microstep resolutions and peak current.
You can select from sixteen preset microstep resolutions (up to 1/256).
Similar to the other StepperOnline drivers you can use the DIP switch to select from eight preset peak currents(2.40A, 3.08A, 3.77A, 4.45A, 5.14A, 5.83A, 6.52A, 7.20A).
At the sort of peak currents offered by this driver and the heavy NEMA 34 motors that run on it, you will need some heavy power supply.
Understandably, the DM860T runs on both AC and DC power supplies. You can use power supplies in the range 18-80VAC or 36-110VDC to run this stepper device.
Just like other StepperOnline drivers, even this driver has a 12 month replacement warranty whereby they'll send you a new driver if it's damaged in under an year after buying.
Overall, this is a powerful beast of a stepper driver which you should get if you have high current requirements. There are a few other brands which offer this kind of power, however they are much more expensive.
Things to consider before choosing a Stepper Driver for your CNC
- Choose your Stepper Motor first: Do not choose the stepper driver before you decide what stepper motors you will be using.
- Peak Current Rating of Stepper Motors: This is the primary value that determines your driver. Ideally, get a stepper driver that is has a maximum current rating that is 1.4 times that of the stepper motor. If that's not an option, make sure your driver rating is at least the same as that of the motor to extract maximum torque.
- Power Supply: Get reliable power supply with a voltage rating that matches your stepper driver for maximum performance. For getting high torques at high RPM's you need to raise your voltage considerably.
- Number of Drivers: The number of stepper drivers you need is the same as the number of stepper motors you plan to run, unless it is a multi-axis stepper like the Gecko G540.
- Resonance and Noise: As you increase the current, unreliable stepper drivers result in noise and vibration. This is why anti-resonance is so important.
- Warranty: A warranty is really useful as things can go wrong with stepper drivers.