Author Topic: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers  (Read 2625 times)

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Offline everettdaleTopic starter

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As the story usually goes, I've always wanted to build a robot. But I'm not sure how to start. etc. What I want to know right now is about micro-controllers.

I've seen MCs for as little a a few bucks each, but sometimes the programmers cost hundreds. Then again, sometimes the programmers are only 20 dollars or so but the software to run them is expensive. Then of course there is the programing language and the learning curve that that implies, plus the upwards of a grand for a really nice suite of language/debug tools....


Is there a way to get started (from scratch, although I do have a computer already) with MCs for under $100.00? I'm really new to this so you are going to need to dumb it down as much as possible. And I kinda like the idea of really cheap MCs so when I do something that releases the magic smoke I'm only out a few bucks.

Thanks

-everettdale

BTW this site is really cool

Offline WaterPig Master

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2011, 03:33:06 AM »
No time for a proper reply now, but: PICs can be programmed with assembly language or Hi-Tech C (without the paid enhancements you will not need them) for the cost of a programmer I got a Pickit 2 clone and universal ZIF board for 22. I have not yet paid for a PIC, as Microchip's free samples program provides me with whatever I want, so long as I don't want more than six of them, every month or so.

I would recommend the Pickit 2 or 3 get yourself a starter kit (comes with a premade board and lessons). PK2 for assembly, PK3 if you want to get started in C (I think). Either will cost you no more than about 50.

I don't know what the situation is with AVRs. I know there are some cheap solutions, and that the software costs nothing (then again, neither does all you need for PICs). I have heard it is more difficult to get free samples from Atmel that put me off. Microchip are great.

Thanks,
Barnaby

Offline Graynomad

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2011, 06:11:14 AM »
As you said you can get a $20 programmer, for AVRs the compiler and AVRstudio IDE is free, just download the lot.

Another easy way is to buy an Arduino clone for $20-30 and download the IDE (free as well and no programmer needed).

So for $30 you can have as much as you need to make a start. If you are new to programming I'd go the Arduino route.

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Rob
« Last Edit: May 08, 2011, 06:13:04 AM by Graynomad »
Scattered showers my arse -- Noah, 2348BC.

Offline knossos

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2011, 05:19:43 PM »
Well if cost was the only concern, TI has the MSP430 Launchpad.  It's a development board that comes with two 16 pin microcontrollers that can be swapped in and out of the 20 pin socket for testing programming etc.  It also includes software (via download) and a usb cable.  All that for only $4.30 which includes shipping.  They also sell a capacitive touch add-on board for the launchpad that comes with a 20 pin microcontroller and a touch sensitive board with LEDs also for $4.30 with shipping included.  Now I haven't looked into them that much so I can't say anything about ease of use or community support, but I ordered a couple sets that I'm gonna use for Cub Scouts for some demo projects.  I would probably go with AVR/Arduino based stuff if ease of use is your primary concern since there is a lot of community support for them.  Then after you've cut your teeth on them, you will be more prepared to make a more informed decision on what you are looking for in a microcontroller.
"Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light."
 
Oscar Wilde

Offline Razor Concepts

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2011, 08:24:47 AM »
I have tried all four mentioned (Arduino-based, AVR, PIC, TI Launchpad/MSP430) and I far prefer Arduino over the rest for programming simplicity. All four can be had for well under $100, though, it's just you need to find the right setup.

Arduino: Buy arduino board for $30 (on-board programmer), free IDE (Arduino)
AVR: Buy avr chips, AVR ISP programmer for $30, free IDE (AVR Studio 4 + winavr)
PIC: Buy pic chips, pickit 2 or 3 programmer, free IDE (MPlab) and pick a free compiler
MSP430: Buy launchpad, use launchpad programmer, free IDE (CCS v4)
« Last Edit: May 09, 2011, 08:26:32 AM by Razor Concepts »

Offline WaterPig Master

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2011, 02:30:34 PM »
So there you go some great replies from far more experienced people than me. At the kind of prices we're talking about here, you could easily try multiple setups and be better off for having done so. If you're new to programming and want to get straight into programming for robots, going for the Arduino would be my suggestion. They appear to be straightforward, powerful and well supported.

Thanks,
Barnaby

Offline MikeK

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2011, 06:38:23 PM »
I think the absolute cheapest way is to get a Picaxe.  They're around $10 (some are cheaper, I think) and you only need a serial cable and two resistors, the IDE is free from the Picaxe site.

They do have some limitations...the number of lines of code (but the bigger ones probably have more capacity than a beginner will use, maybe the smaller ones too) and speed.  But I think it's a good introduction to microcontrollers and once you get comfortable you can buy PIC/AVR chips and a hardware programmer and play with the big boys.

Offline knossos

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2011, 07:22:30 PM »
I think the absolute cheapest way is to get a Picaxe.  They're around $10 (some are cheaper, I think) and you only need a serial cable and two resistors, the IDE is free from the Picaxe site.

Well, as I said above, the TI Launchapad is all inclusive (USB Cable, Software, and development board) at only $4.30 shipped and you get two chips for that price.  But a better question would be what is the best value for the price.  I can't speak to that since I haven't tried the MSP430 or the Picaxe stuff yet.
"Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light."
 
Oscar Wilde

Offline MikeK

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2011, 07:38:38 PM »
The Launchpad is $4.30 plus shipping.  But it's still too cheap not to try.

Offline knossos

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2011, 08:32:37 PM »
If you order the Launchpad from TI instead of Digikey, Mouser, etc.  The shipping is included in the $4.30.

*Edit:  Looks like you do have to pay shipping now.  I got mine without shipping a few days ago.

** Edit:  Just went through the order to see what they charge for shipping,
and it still shows $0.00 shipping to the U.S.
« Last Edit: May 11, 2011, 08:40:07 PM by knossos »
"Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light."
 
Oscar Wilde

Offline MikeK

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2011, 07:06:36 AM »
That's weird... their website says "plus shipping", but I went through the order process too and it says that shipping is included.  It also made me enter customs information (?!).  I decided to buy a few and give them to children of coworkers.

Offline arrrrgon

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2011, 11:44:21 AM »
I grabbed a couple of the ms430, thanks for pointing them out.

Offline garrettg84

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2011, 07:46:57 AM »
I picked up some of the msp430/launchpads as well. I just got em in yesterday and haven't had time to dig in yet. I also got a bunch of them for my robotics club kids. We will all be having fun with them shortly =)
-garrett

Offline Razor Concepts

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2011, 07:48:32 AM »
MSP430s are a pain to program, though...

Offline MikeK

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2011, 03:53:33 PM »
FYI, there's a forum for the LaunchPads with lots of ideas: http://www.43oh.com/

Offline everettdaleTopic starter

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2011, 10:51:18 AM »
Okay,

I think I'm ganna try the MSP430 Launchpad. It seems to be a pretty inexpensive way to go. At least to get started.

I have one more silly(read stupid) question. The DIPs that come with are re-programmable yes? I mean are they a one time use thing or can they be wiped and used again, assuming you don't fry them in some way?

Thanks again everyone

-everettdale

Offline MikeK

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #16 on: May 16, 2011, 03:42:14 PM »
Yes, reprogrammable.  Years ago (10 or more?) most of the microcontroller chips were OTC (One Time Programmable), or the EPROM type where you had a UV eraser, but then Flash memory became available.  Now all chips are Flash.  OTC might still be available, I dunno.  I even bought a UV eraser years ago when I started in microcontrollers, but never used it.

Offline arrrrgon

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2011, 09:42:02 AM »
I just got my 2x launchpads in the mail.  I can't believe everything that was in the box for 4 bucks.  I'll start testing it pretty soon and I'll post back about how useful it is.

Offline MikeK

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #18 on: May 20, 2011, 09:57:17 PM »
I just got mine too.  And tried one out.

I was hoping these would be useful for young teens...A coworker of mine has two early teen boys and I thought the LaunchPad would be good for them, but after running CCS to produce a simple program I have to conclude that it's too complex for anyone new to programming.

Offline rbtying

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #19 on: May 20, 2011, 11:53:47 PM »
For ease of programming, you really can't beat the Arduino or the PICAXE series - they have another layer of abstraction, allowing for simpler and more high-level commands.  Then again, you may be underestimating the ability of teenagers to learn - if you make it interesting, then they'll probably be willing to work at it. 

Offline MikeK

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Re: what is the best (cheapest) way to get into micro-controllers
« Reply #20 on: May 21, 2011, 08:58:30 AM »
I agree with the Arduino and PICAxe.  With the LaunchPad and their Code Compiler Studio...I just see so many ways for things to go wrong and then beginners getting disgusted with it.  TI should have created a version of the compiler just for the LaunchPad to make it simple.

 


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