I am a hardware engineer and want to get aquainted with embedded programming by working on a microcontroller development board. I would like to buy one for myself to experiment, so are there any sites giving good deals on the dev boards. I would like to have suggestions on what sort of board to go for. I know a bit of C and assembly programming.
1) Get a full-on developments system that lets you trace assmebler code at the source level.
2) Get an 'in circuit' programmer (lots of those around). Build up your own prototyping setup with LED's, buttons, switches, and whatever and load programs into it.
If you dont program in assembler, you will not have the control over the PIC that makes it such a great device. Mostly, just build your projects around a PIC and use the in-circuit programming feature to test out code as you write it.
Luhan Monat (luhanis 'at' yahoo 'dot' com)
"The future is not what it used to be..."
and, first, sign up for the magazine, and then, sign up for some of their design contests. Most of them provide a free development kit and development software, plus give you a little motivation to actually DO something with the kit.
Some time ago, I wanted to do a microcontroller project to become more familiar with hardware. I decided not to go with any existing board, but made my own design. The preliminary board may be viewed at
I have some experience in student labs. Many existing boards are targeted for isolated individuals, have lots and lots of features, are a bit expensive, and the design is closed. I designed the board so that one working board can program the PIC in the peer board, read voltages, accept future designs on companion boards, and students can retain them. Olin's PIC programmer also has been demonstrated to program the board.
There are a couple of hidden items on the board. For example, the LED array has a different value limiting resistor for each LED, so a student can use the board to measure voltages across the drop resistor and construct the VI curve using the board and a single probe wire. (With student supplied software, not even a VOM should be needed.)
There is also a companion board that connects to RS-232 and tests the cable on 8 signals. It can monitor the lines, and display the line status when it changes. This is interesting during dial-up or an incoming call event.
Software does 3 channel bit-bang RS-232, and when the daughter board is configured to a pass through arrangement between a computer and a modem using PPP, it will detect network time protocol packets and set the 64 bit firmware clock: it is on the 'net and set to UTC. (Severe restrictions apply)
The PPP packets can also be sniffed, and dumped through the third channel back to a monitor station.
The hardware prototype appears to be stable, and I took delivery on 21 of the boards. The one in the photo is the previous revision, where (LOL) I placed the power jack backwards. I built up one of the final revision, and a hardware guy in town is building another one to see if he can spot trouble.
Some of my thoughts of what to do with the board begin on page 8 of
I wrote this curriculum before I did any of the EAGLE work, but it has stood up pretty well. I have demonstrated almost every item on the list in isolation, but not a coherent final package. When I declare the software finished, I'll make "Revision 2" of the curriculum. Work continues.
Currently I am backing down the software to a more stable revision and found that the previous software checkpoint was corrupt. I wanted to add a UTC timestamp on each RS-232 line change report. I needed to do a task swap, and the execution speed and software complexity issues looked like they would grow a lot, but this really is beyond the original curriculum and I came to view this as "specification creep."
As the last items in the curriculum suggest, I envision this as a project where the design is visible and easy to change, both in hardware and in software. For example, the "Using zener diode to protect test circuit?" thread with Jim's crowbar and Win's 4 transistor rectifier seem to be concepts to improve the simple zener protection that I have, and someone else could add this if I am too pokey for their satisfaction.
I am putting together a CD for the course. This is not ready to distribute. Most of the materials are on my computer, but the final ready to burn CD content still requires time. Items of interest on the CD are:
The complete hardware description. a. The CadSoft eagle files that were shipped to Olimex to manufacture the prototypes. b. The Bill of Material ready to upload to Mouser. c. Several photographs of the board and workbench. c. The CADSOFT EAGLE public distribution (pending permission)
The complete software description a. The MICROCHIP MPLAB assembly source. b. The MICROCHIP MPLAB distribution (pending permission)
The complete curriculum. a. Notes for 11 Saturday short courses. b. Bill of Material to walk into empty art studio space and produce a class for 15 students in 5 groups. (actually, 11 BOM, one for each class ...)
Marketing material. (I am so lost on this section. No real progress has been made.) a. Concept to sell a 10 or 15 second television ad on "Andromeda" for the short course. b. Produced, ready to air material. c. Web site for registration and class management.
If you feel particularly adventuresome, or like the improved access to the design and production aspects, let me know and I'll put a bare PCB up for auction on eBay. My address is in the .pdf file mentioned above.
( hope line wrap works) kitsRus programmer from dontronics (OZland)
and the Amrai C compiler, does 4K code for free.Reasonably adequate
I built the 8051 "test" board on stripboard, ZIF socket for the cpu,with a max232 serial port, a couple of leds and switches, powered from a wallwart. You could possibly get up to "hello.c" in a couple of days, down the serial port, to a PC There are many other options, PIC's which I find confusing, so many types.try
TI's MSP340, free GNU tools, AVR from atmel, 30 day C complier from Imagecraft.
I think the most important tool is a GOOD programmer, there are plenty of parallel port based ones, they are free, they all have different parallel port pin usage, and I never really got one to work properly, (must be me). Thats why I suggest the dontronics one, its cheap as well
After the first death, there is no other. (Dylan Thomas)
John Peatman is an excellent author, his books kinda remind me of the K&R C book. They are very concise, yet contain a wealth or practical information. His new book comes with a circuit board and Digikey sells a complete parts kit for
A recent contest required you to go on-line, and complete a tutorial on the line before they would ship a contest kit, but that is the only time that this has happened lately.
The real limitation is that Steve (Carcia, the publisher) would PREFER that you actually submit contest entries when you get a kit. That is why they are providing them, after all.
Now, I got at least 3 different kits before I finally submitted an entry, for three different makers. I have now received kits for PIC, AVR, Freescale (twice), Cypress PSOC (twice) and Renesas (twice). I have only entered once, but I have a contest entry I am writing up now. For some reason, both my entries have involved Freescale processors. I guess it is because the programming tools have been easier to master.
AFAIK, the pre-qualification is that you get your request in before they run out of units. ;-) I got a Motorola QT board, a nice Hitachi board w/lcd and some kind of Cypress PSOC thingy. I'd never used any of that stuff before, I really think that's why they have the contests. They just want people to try their stuff even if they have to coerce you into it. ;-)
It is a great idea, Charlie, thank you very much. I did check out the magazine's site myself and, unfortunately, all of the current contests have evaluation kits out of stock, so it does not look like an immediately available option to acquire a kit. How often do they run those? I'd love to try later.
Dmitri Abaimov, RCDD
Steve usually runs 3-4 contests a year. The latest Phillips ARM contest started Monday, but it looks like they have ALREADY run out of kits. I have heard a rumor that the next one may be something from Atmel (using Z...) but I am afraid that it might not start up till November. Keep checking the site, and look for updates. As I said, the forums there can be very helpful.
I just went to an Arrow TI seminar on the MPS430 chips. They offered the basic development kits for only $50 with a special discount number. While I don't feel comfy listing it here, if you email me I will give you the details.
These are really good microcontrollers with some great features for low powered work. The kit comes with a reduced capacity c compiler too.
The browser may be hiding my email address so I'm giving out the info right here, right now. As I understand it the kits now come with a 3rd party c compiler that goes up to 2 K words of code, and also with a TI compilier that goes up to 4 K of code.
Go to the TI Estore, must be somewhere off of TI.com? enter cupon code FMPU482E. The discount is supposed to be on 5 different basic kits for, FET-430U1F, ... U28, U64, U80, and U100.
I know of no cheaper way to get such a learning package!
I don't believe that TI has ever had their own C compiler for the MSP430 series, have they? Last I heard, it was IAR Systems... a C compiler that's OK, but about the most expensive one out there and not even as good as some of the others!
Word on the street is that they're working on their own but that it's not go yet. The limited version of the IAR compiler, available with the kits or as a TI download, has been getting better with every version; the latest one is even usable as long as you don't need to enjoy the experience. There are also plenty of 4th party compilers out there for various prices if you Google. I've heard good things about the free MSPGCC compiler, but the debugging interface is a port of good old gdb, and hence akin to pulling teeth.
I went to the TI website, and it seems they are making a c compiler available with their design studio. I got this but have yet to try it (I only play for free when I don't have a client to pay) the web site makes it sound like it is free and can compile up to 8K (might be in bytes so that would be 4K words) programs.