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Author Topic: microcontroller newb, what should I get?  (Read 4177 times)

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Offline kevinisnekkidTopic starter

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microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« on: August 21, 2008, 07:57:53 PM »
I admit, I'm a microcontroller newb... but hey, gotta start sometime.

I am comfortable enough with computer programming that I don't care what language a chip uses. I'm fluent in C, C++, BASIC, etc.... I can even scratch out ASM, but I prefer not to. I've seen the topics on PIC vs. AVR. I've heard that a BASIC stamp isn't worth much. I've heard of hardware programmers. But I admit I get abit lost reading details I don't fully understand.

I want the most for my money. If I have schematics, and directions, I can build anything I need. I want to be able to reuse the chip when I'm tired of a simple design, and put it in something more complex. Or should I just get a handful of the same kind of chip so I don't have to keep learning new chips for each design I make? I've seen that I can get some PIC samples free. And even the fancy PIC chips are cheap... but I saw the price of the programmers...

So what should I get, and why?
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Offline Penth

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2008, 08:12:34 PM »
If money isn't a huge concern, get Admin's Axon.

Offline MarkBrown

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2008, 08:14:52 PM »
I know how you feel.  Experience with programming, plenty of drive, but not sure what to do first without spending a ton of money.  It is my opinion that you should start here: http://www.societyofrobots.com/robot_tutorial.shtml.  This will give you an insight as to what building robots is about and help prepare you for your first robot.  There is a link at the top of the article to what Admin calls the $50 Robot Tutorial.  In it, Admin walks you through the process of building the chasis, gives a list of parts to buy, walks you through creating the control unit which can be reused, making the sensors, and programming the robot.

If you are new and this is your first robot, or you just want to build your first microcontroller, I would, and did, definetly start there.


Mark
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Offline Carter05

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2008, 08:17:18 PM »
Ya I agree with getting the Axon. I have no experience with micros at all and I figured I should get something that has a lot of power and able to evolve with my skills, which is what you seem to also want. Admin will be constantly updating it and providing code and all the support you need.

Also as a bonus everything you need to program it is FREE!!! Aside from the $35 programming cable that isn't essential since the Axon has a bootloader.

I ordered my Axon 2 days ago! I can't wait!!

Offline kevinisnekkidTopic starter

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2008, 09:22:41 PM »
Well.... Money deffinately IS an issue. From what I see, the axon is a board/chip combo to make everything easier. I know admin has put alot of work into it. But I would like to start with the actual chip, and design my bots out from there. I don't want plug & play. :P I got into linux long before it got easy. I don't mind diving into a deep project. I find the hard learning fun. It's not like this is my first robot. I have made several simple robots (photovore, line follower, etc) from IC's and components. I have even done a little interfacing with my desktop computer. I stopped that since I was was limited by a cord, and I don't like that. I did fry one parallel port on a computer, but fortunately it was an old computer. :D

I was looking at the PIC32 for less than $10 a piece. The specs look nice. If I knew there was a way around spending $1000 on a programmer, I'd jump on it in a heart beat. Or if there was a really good one from AVR (I haven't looked yet), I'd do the same.

-Kevin
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Offline MarkBrown

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2008, 10:25:05 PM »
The tutorial I mentioned uses a $4 chip, but it also goes further by showing you how to create the power circuitry for using the chip as well.
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Offline zack

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2008, 05:51:45 AM »
If you want a low cost, low barrier to enter mc, start with a Picaxe.  If you want something more challenging on the software side, go with Arduino.  If you want personalized support, go with Axon.

Offline JesseWelling

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2008, 07:03:56 AM »
The most programmer friendly is AVR. Uses GCC and has RTOS and Libraries available. Programmers are fairly cheap, Development boards aren't that expensive. Check SparkFun.

Offline ArcMan

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2008, 07:32:36 AM »
> I was looking at the PIC32 for less than $10 a piece. The specs look nice. If I knew there was a way around spending $1000 on a programmer, I'd jump on it in a heart beat. Or if there was a really good one from AVR (I haven't looked yet), I'd do the same.

Everybody thinks differently and has their own opinion.  You seem to be thinking similar to me.  When it comes to flexibility, you can't beat PIC or AVR chips.  You can buy whatever size you need for the job for a few bucks.  The barrier to entry is kind of high - learning to program it, buying the programmer, programming software, etc. - but after that's over you can implement any kind of controller cheaply.

Everyone feel free to flame me now  ::) - I don't care for open-source software because it's too buggy for my taste, so I use PICs with the CCS C compiler.  The chip programmer and C compiler will set you back about $300, but then you're off and running.  The CCS C compiler is solid as a rock.  I like to buy the development boards from Sparkfun - They come with a PIC chip, crystal and RS-232 or USB comm electronics for CHEAP.

Offline JesseWelling

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2008, 02:00:13 PM »
I'll bring the flame.

I guess your taste is better than the Navy, the New York Stock Exchange, Garmin, DARPA contenders and various Cell Phone Makers. Must be nice to be so awesome.  :-\

But realistically, OSS does take more time to learn because it's made by engineers, for engineers. Or is that by hackers, for hackers? In any case, it's not exactly meant for hobby purposes unless software is already one of your hobbies, or you don't mind learning it. YMMV
« Last Edit: August 22, 2008, 02:02:48 PM by JesseWelling »

Offline kevinisnekkidTopic starter

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2008, 05:05:01 PM »
JesseWelling & ArcMan,
  Software already is one of my hobbies. I'm used to GCC. Yea, I like the "by hackers, for hackers" heh ;D

  So I buy (or request samples) a few chips. What all do I need to go with it? I've noticed many different programmers for both PIC & AVR, how do I know which to get? And with the devel boards, do they provide access to everything on the chip? Is it easy enough to just put a chip on a board, and connect up what I need?
-Kevin
« Last Edit: August 22, 2008, 05:20:01 PM by kevinisnekkid »
Robots don't hide what they are.

Offline dunk

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2008, 06:07:53 PM »
Quote
What all do I need to go with it?
as MarkBrown keeps trying to point out, the $50 robot tutorial talks you through programming an AVR ATMega8 for cheep.
jump in here: http://www.societyofrobots.com/step_by_step_robot_step4.shtml

there is a GCC port for AVR and Linux tools available so the tools should feel fairly familiar.

and if you want my PIC vs AVR opinion,
there is little to choose between them these days.
i started out with PICs but switched to AVR because of the availability of free compilers. these days there are free compilers for PICs as well though.
if low cost is your primary concern, it is possible to build an AVR programmer with a D connector and a bit of wire.
PIC programmers are a lot more complex.

and one more thing, this question has been asked many times before so try looking through the archives for the advice given to others asking the same question.


dunk.

Offline ArcMan

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2008, 09:04:36 PM »
For the PIC, I've built a cheapo programmer, bought a cheapie and finally ended up with a nice USB programmer with a ZIF socket.  The cheapies work, but you quickly get tired of dealing with prying the chip in and out of the non-ZIF socket and manually sending HEX code outside the the IDE.  My good programmer is the Olimex that I got from Sparkfun - the PGM-00004 for $92.

Offline ArcMan

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2008, 09:12:43 PM »
I really didn't answer your last question.  If you were to buy the Olimex programmer and a devel board from Sparkfun, then you would just connect the programmer to the devel board via the ICSP (In-Circuit Serial Programming) cable.  You don't have to move the chip from the devel board to the programmer to program it.  Then you would get the free MPLAB IDE from Microchip (which supports the programmer).  Now you're all set for assembly programming.  Then you would add a C compiler that integrates with MPLAB (like CCS that I mentioned before).  All that certainly is a chunk of change, but it's a nice setup.

Offline RobD

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Re: microcontroller newb, what should I get?
« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2008, 02:28:27 AM »
Programmer

I haven't used it personally, but I keep going back to this website that hosts a device called a PICALL that supports PIC, AVR, SX and some EEPROMS.  The software .ini file can be modified to support additional chips if you know the fuses.   It's about USD 30.00 in kit form.  It uses the LPT port though.

   

 


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