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Learning to use PICS

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by David Harper, Nov 23, 2004.

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  1. David Harper

    David Harper Guest

    I'm interested in learning how to use PICS. I've done lots of
    advanced stuff with the Basic Stamps, but am starting to feel some
    speed, capacity, and temperature (low) limitations. I'm wondering if
    there are PICS out there that are more rugged, have more memory, and
    are considerably faster than BS modules. Not to mention, the prices
    I've seen are alot lower. :)

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions, insight, or comments!
  2. Craig

    Craig Guest

    Hi Dave,

    You should take a look at the Atmel AVR microcontrollers. The C compiler is
    free (GNU GCC) and they don't need any special programmers. You just
    connect them to the parallel port of your PC and then you can program them.
    You can program them in different ways if you need to and they're supported
    by different programming languages. You can see a simple AVR project I did

    I've used PIC microcontrollers quite a lot and I think the AVR's are better
    (and cheaper). But if you're determined to use a PIC then something like
    the PIC16F874 is a good place to start. It has a lot of the features
    offered by other microcontrollers (USART, PWM, ADC, Timers, etc etc).
    You'll need a programmer of somesort, the PICSTART Plus is a common one but
    it's probally cheaper to make your own. This site has a homemade programmer
    (do a google for others):

    A free assembler and IDE can be downloaded from the Microchip website. It's
    called MPLAB. They also offer a restricted C compiler for free. You have
    to pay for the complete C compiler.

    PIC's are good, but I would recommend the Atmel AVR's.

    Hope that helps,

  3. Dave,

    Look at A lot about PICs, PIC programming and PIC program
    developement. Plus links to other interesting PIC sites.

    petrus bitbyter
  4. Colubris

    Colubris Guest

    Hi Dave,
    Since you're experienced with the BASIC Stamps, you might consider
    PicBASIC ( or one of the other BASIC compilers.
    The commands are more-or-less the same, but you can buy your PIC
    processors for a few dollars in the temp range that you need. You'll
    need to build/buy a programmer.
    I made a "picall" programmer, and use the free software for it:

    Not quite as fast or code-space efficient as assembly - but much
    better than the Stamps.

    You can try out PicBASIC free at

    There are also a few BASIC compilers available free for the AVR's -
    sorry, no links for those.

  5. David Harper

    David Harper Guest

    So those compilers allow standard PICS (from Microchip Technologies)
    to be programed in BASIC? How much slower is a PIC program in BASIC
    than assembly?

  6. David Harper

    David Harper Guest

    Is C the only language they're programmable with? The reason I ask is
    that I'm a mechanical engineer by job and major, so I have not (yet)
    learned C.

  7. Here is a nice list of references:

    If you are looking for basic, I'd stick with the stamp. However, I find
    it cheaper and easier to program in assembler.

    A nice reference site is

    Robert Monsen

    "Your Highness, I have no need of this hypothesis."
    - Pierre Laplace (1749-1827), to Napoleon,
    on why his works on celestial mechanics make no mention of God.
  8. Craig

    Craig Guest

    The AVR's do support other languages. The 2 most common (for any
    microcontroller) are assembler and C. Because the AVR C compiler is free,
    most AVR examples are programmed in C. A lot of PIC examples are programmed
    in assembler just because the assembler is free. PIC assembler is very very
    easy to learn whereas AVR assembler can be a bit more involved.

    If you want to get the most out of your microcontroller then you should
    consider either assembler or C. Assembler is lower level than C and so
    offers you more control. But well programmed C can be just as good as
    assembler and has the advantage of being more readable (and portable if that
    matters). Also, trying to program complex problems in C is much easier (and
    therefore less prone to error) than assembler. If you already have
    experience of programming in BASIC and you understand the idea of registers,
    then moving over to C isn't so daunting. You also have the advantage of
    various programming newsgroups who can help you solve any problems you

    My advice is take the plunge and learn C using an AVR microcontroller. The
    whole setup will cost no more than £10. And once you've got some experience
    with C you'll be able to program whatever you want.
  9. Bill Bowden

    Bill Bowden Guest

    There is a good PIC tutorial (13 pages) that covers
    PIC assembly programming. There are only 35 instructions
    to learn.

    And for good hardware prices, look at Randy Jones site at

    Most of his pics are less than $3.

  10. Byron A Jeff

    Byron A Jeff Guest


    You're going to get 10,000 suggestions. But given your situation
    I would suggest taking a look at the XC Structured Basic Compiler
    (XCSB) by Sergio Masci. It's a highly optimized Basic along the lines
    of the Stamp. So migration is easy. Since it is compiled, you should
    get much better performance than the Stamp. Also you can load it into
    the 16F chip of your choice. I would suggest the 16F877A if you have the

    While you stated in another post that you didn't want limited software
    I would strongly suggest that you try before you buy. XCSB has a limited
    Lite version that will let you test our some ideas. Then if everything
    works you can purchase the standard or pro edition of the software.

    If you're willing to spend some time learning another language, and
    BTW no matter what you do you'll be learning another language to some
    degree, consider JAL. This Open Source, Pascal like, compiled HLL
    primarily targeted to the PIC has a large following and lots of
    libraries for doing different things. Also it's completely free and
    without restriction.

    Finally you can always go back to the source and write PIC assembly.
    As you step into the wider PIC world you'll find that lots of code
    and examples are written in PIC assembly. So having at least a reading
    knowledge of it can be helpful.

    One last interesting place to look is Myke Predko's Basic87X interpreter.
    Like the microcomputer BASICs of old (C64, TRS-80, Apple II) the interpreter
    , program code, and parser are all embedded on chip:

    There are lots of resource links. Hope these help:

    JAL and XCSB can be found on my PIC langages page:

    Jal's Open Source page is here:

    Lots of resources on the PICLIST website:

    hope this helps,

  11. Colubris

    Colubris Guest

    Hi Dave,
    You can write your BASIC code, and then compile it into a standard
    ..HEX file - with which you can program any PIC of your choice (TONS to
    choose from for just a few $$ each!).

    There are a bunch of different BASIC compilers for both PICs and AVRs.
    Some are more efficient - but all will run much faster than the
    I don't have much experience with 'pure' assembly, so can't compare
    speed of the BASIC compilers to ASM - but from things I've heard the
    BASIC compilers run maybe 25 - 50% slower depending upon how complex
    your code is.

  12. David Harper

    David Harper Guest

    Thanks for the help so far. I have a question in regards to speed.
    I'm trying to figure out how to equate clock speed (for SPI/3-wire
    interface) to oscillator speed. From what I've read, it's
    adjustable...? I'm basically wondering how much faster the clocks
    are for various PICs. The Basic Stamp clock speed is about 16.6kHz,
    and I'm wondering how PICs (or Amtel's chips) compare?

    I've also eyed the SX chip from Ubicom, distributed by Parallax.
    Anyone have any experience with those?

    Thanks in advance!
  13. Byron A Jeff

    Byron A Jeff Guest

    -Thanks for the help so far. I have a question in regards to speed.
    -I'm trying to figure out how to equate clock speed (for SPI/3-wire
    -interface) to oscillator speed. From what I've read, it's
    -adjustable...? I'm basically wondering how much faster the clocks
    -are for various PICs. The Basic Stamp clock speed is about 16.6kHz,
    -and I'm wondering how PICs (or Amtel's chips) compare?

    The BS clock speed is actually 4 Mhz. The 16.6Khz speed is probably
    the speed of interpretation.

    As for SPI if you use the hardware SSP module you can clock it up
    to the instruction rate of the chip. For a 20 Mhz part this is
    5 Mhz. It's fast.

    -I've also eyed the SX chip from Ubicom, distributed by Parallax.
    -Anyone have any experience with those?

    None personally. It's a 75 Mhz low end PIC clone. Doesn't have
    flash, so you'd have to have to go the programmer/eraser route.

    JAL, which I mentioned before has Ubicom support. May give you
    an avenue for HLL development for a really really fast chip.

    But you may be overstating the speed issue. Some 18F PICS can be
    clocked at 40 Mhz giving a 10 MIPS instruction rate.

    Fast chips + fast hardware can lead to unbelievably performance.
    Working with the Stamp is like driving an earth mover in terms of
    speed. Raw PICs will feel like a high performance sports car in
    comparison, while the SX will feel like a rocket.

  14. Sergio Masci

    Sergio Masci Guest

    This depends on three things (1) the person doing the programming in
    (2) the BASIC compiler and (3) the complexity of the problem.

    A good BASIC compiler WILL produce code that is within 10-20% of that
    by an experienced assembler programmer. If the assembler programmer is not
    experienced then a good BASIC compiler WILL produce code that is MUCH more

    As the complexity of a problem increases so too does the ability of a good
    compiler to outperform the assembler programmer. The compiler is a tool that
    enables the computer to automatically perform hundreds of thousands of tests
    your code. A good compiler will search for optimisations that an experienced
    assembler programmer would find laborious and a non-experienced assembler
    programmer would not even know about. Most importantly, the compiler can do
    this work each and every time you make a change to your program. An
    programmer would typically only look at a small part of the program when he
    changes it.

    Some compilers convert BASIC source code into a special internal form that
    requires an interpreter to run. This internal code is downloaded into the
    and then processed by an interpreter that is running on the PIC. Each
    instruction in the BASIC program is effectively executed by the interpreter.
    the instruction is executed 10 times in the BASIC source then it will be
    executed 10 times by the interpreter.

    Some compilers convert BASIC source code into machine code which is the same
    stuff that assemblers produce. A mediocre compiler will generate several
    code instructions for each BASIC instruction. A good compiler will combine
    multiple BASIC instructions and generate fewer machine code instructions.

    Programs executed by an interpreter WILL run much (several hundred times)
    than an optimised machine code executable produced by a good compiler that
    produces machine code.

    The XCSB compiler will convert the following to just 6 machine code

    proc inline set_bit(ubyte *addr, ubyte id)
    *addr = *addr | (1 << id)

    proc inline clear_bit(ubyte *addr, ubyte id)
    *addr = *addr & ~(1 << id)

    proc inline ubyte test_bit(ubyte *addr, ubyte id)
    return (*addr & (1 << id) != 0)

    proc main()

    ubyte a, b

    if (test_bit(&a, 1) then
    set_bit(&b, 2)
    clear_bit(&b, 2)

    A 20MHz 16F876 can execute (aprox) 5,000,000 machine code instructions per

    Sergio Masci - optimising PIC compiler
    FREE for personal non-commercial use
  15. john jardine

    john jardine Guest

    Looks like "C" to me.
    I know this must be so, as I can't understand it :).
    Yet I can easily read the 'Proton','CH-flash', 'iL_Bas16' etc Basics.
  16. Sergio Masci

    Sergio Masci Guest

    It supports pointers like "C" but unlike many C compilers for the PIC it
    doesn't generate a ton of code to build and pass the pointers and then
    dereference them if it can determine the address at compile time. PEEK and
    POKE would be more in keeping with other BASIC dialects but pointers allow
    the programmer to give the compiler more information which in turn helps the
    compiler trap silly errors and generate better code.

    The reason I chose the above example is because it shows how the compiler
    converts some very complex functionality into very tight code

    Sergio Masci - optimising PIC compiler
    FREE for personal non-commercial use
  17. CBarn24050

    CBarn24050 Guest

    Subject: Re: Learning to use PICS
    Assembly language programmers do that in 3 instructions.
  18. Sergio Masci

    Sergio Masci Guest

    No they could not.

    They could rearrange the code to give the equivalent of:

    clear_bit(&b, 2)

    if test_bit(&a, 1) then
    set_bit(&b, 2)

    Then yes the assembler programmer could reduce it to 3 machine code
    instructions but in this case the XCSB compiler would then generate 4
    machine code instructions (still infinately better than many other PIC


    In the original, bit 2 of "b" follows bit 1 of "a" exactly, in the
    rearranged code bit 2 of "b" will glitch (temporarily change from 1 to 0
    and back to 1) when bit 1 of "a" is 1. If "b" is used to send messages
    to an interrupt service routine this may cause you problems, also if
    "b" is an alias of an I/O ports this WILL cause you problems.

    The XCSB compiler will not perform this kind of optimisation behind your
    back because there are MANY ways that it could cause problems.

    Sergio Masci - optimising PIC compiler
    FREE for personal non-commercial use
  19. David Harper

    David Harper Guest

    I appreciate everyone's suggestions and help so far. Right now I've
    started diving into understanding the architecture and memory of a
    typical PIC (16C84), which I figure is the best place to start. After
    that, I figure the programming will be a lot easier to understand.

    The program memory I understand, no problem (like the BS2, only it
    seems only instructions can be written at these locations for PICS,
    and only during programming).

    However, with the data memory allocation, I'm having some difficulty
    based on some of the online datasheets:

    and beginner guides (from

    From what I've read, there are 2 banks each divided into 128
    registers. The first 12 registers are SPR, which more or less define
    the chip's current state. The next 32 registers are GPR (like RAM?).
    What are the next 88? It's defined as "unimplemented data" according
    to Fig 4-2 in the 16C84 datasheet.

    Secondly, figure 4-7 (pg 18) shows 4 banks, not just two... just how
    many banks are there for this chip? Can it be more than 2 banks for
    different PICS, which is why they're showing it as 'off limits', so to

    Lastly, back in figure 4-2, it states the 36 GPR in bank 1 are mapped
    to bank 0. Does this mean they're connected, and if a GPR in bank X
    changes, then the same GPR in the other bank will change also? If so,
    are any of the SPR connected in this fashion?

    Thanks for the patience if you've made it this far, and I really
    appreciate the help!


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