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Microcontroller development board

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by Neo, Apr 26, 2005.

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  1. Neo

    Neo Guest

    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.

    thanks in advance
  2. Atmel AVR - because there are Free Tools for that (apart from the micro
    being decent and all).
    see -

    The development boards costs money, but really not more than it would cost
    yourself to build one - for "a few off" the development board is fine.
  3. My simple route was:
    8051 breed from Atmel 89C51 series
    ( 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
    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



    After the first death, there is no other.
    (Dylan Thomas)
  4. Guest

    Microchip PIC microcontrollers probably have more free resources
    available than any other micro and there's a huge user base on the web.

    Development boards and programmers cost money, but that's par for the
    course in the microcontroller world. The assembly development tolls are
    quite good and free though.

  5. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Hello Martin,
    The USB programmer for the MSP430 works quite well and it was $99
    directly from TI. Considering what's in there I felt this was a bargain.

    One word of caution to those who think a USB-parallel converter would
    work for laptops that only have USB: For programmers they often don't.

    Regards, Joerg
  6. and of course, a scope, absolutely essential. You think you've written
    a routine to flash a led for a second, but you got the scaler wrong,
    and its a mSecond.... you can't spot that with a DVM


    After the first death, there is no other.
    (Dylan Thomas)
  7. You might be interested in 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 <$60. It makes a very decent learning tool. I got started with
    PICs using his older book (which is still a very worthwhile book for the
    14-bit core chips). If you are just starting out, I recommend using the
    18F (16-bit core) parts as they are quite advanced and make things a bit
    easier for the newbie.
  8. Luhan Monat

    Luhan Monat Guest

    I do a lot with PIC's - see website listed below.

    There are 2 approaches.

    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.

    Good luck,
  9. 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

    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:

    1. 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)

    2. The complete software description
    a. The MICROCHIP MPLAB assembly source.
    b. The MICROCHIP MPLAB distribution (pending permission)

    3. 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 ...)

    4. 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.
  10. Go to 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.

  11. Dmitri

    Dmitri Guest

    I was under impression that they would want to pre-qualify you and would
    NOT give you any free development tools unless you are ALREADY familiar
    with the MCU. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    Dmitri Abaimov, RCDD
    Cabling Forum, color codes, pinouts and other useful resources for
    premises cabling users and pros
    Residential Cabling Guide

    Article posted with Newsgroup Archive
    no-spam read and post WWW interface to your favorite newsgroup - - 36965 messages and counting!
  12. 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. ;-)
  13. Oh, very wrong.

    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.

  14. Dmitri

    Dmitri Guest

    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
    Cabling Forum, color codes, pinouts and other useful resources for
    premises cabling users and pros
    Residential Cabling Guide

    Article posted with Newsgroup Archiv
    no-spam read and post WWW interface to your favorite newsgroup - - 37068 messages and counting
  15. 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.

  16. Rock

    Rock Guest

    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.

  17. Rock

    Rock Guest

    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
    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!

  18. Joel Kolstad

    Joel Kolstad Guest

    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!

    Of course, for free one can't complain...
  19. Rob Gaddi

    Rob Gaddi Guest

    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.
  20. Rock

    Rock Guest

    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.

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