Microcontroler Newbie... Which To Choose ?? Anyone help??

Looking to get into microcontrollers. Looking for a line of microcontrollers which is fairly easy to program (newbie), not too hard on the budget (poor grad student) and fairly versitile. Anyone know a good starting point ?? Any help would be greatly appreaciated!

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westfw10 years ago
I went ahead and created an Instructable:

How to Choose a Microcontroller

It's opened to colloboration from the uC group; I hope people will add additional data without deleting any of my witty and clever philosophy :-)
westfw10 years ago
There are two lines of microcontrollers that come up in this sort of discussion. The Microchip PIC line, and the Atmel AVR series. Both are relatively inexpensive, available through dealers that cater to hobbyists, have a range of package sizes and peripherals to suit many applications, have widespread support communities and inexpensive (or free) tool sets. Both will require you to learn something about microcontroller architectures, even if you program them in a high-level language. There are assorted High level "modules" that make programming easier at the expense of performance and cost (basic stamp, PICAXE, etc.) I'd say they're good if you're in a real hurry to do something, but you won't really learn as much as you ought to about microcontrollers as you should...

PIC user community
AVR user commuity

Note that "inexpensive" means that an orrder for one microcontroller will have the cost of the microcontroller dwarfed by typical postage. Microchip has a nice sample policy, but I wouldn't think you'd have trouble getting samples of either chips through your school. You might want to check around school and see whhat people are using; a helpful local mentor can be a lot more valuable than a slightly cheaper chip.

Gnaw westfw10 years ago
It's funny that you brought-up microchip, around the time you probably posted, I was browsing their site trying to determine which one type to pick (they have so many!) do you have any suggestions? What kind of questions should I be asking myself when choosing the right kind?

As you said, if you really want to learn more about the process and architecture a low-level language such as assembly is great especially if you’re an efficiency-freak like me; I'm looking for something along those lines. I can personally say learning the small amount I have opened a lot of doors in my head and helped me to further understand the machine in ways I would have never thought.

At some point I'm sure to use a high-level language (C/C++) but, I'm not really interested in that right now. However for those of you who might be I came across this document by Guido Socher which explains how to program the Atmel AVR 8-Bit RISC Microcontroller though Linux with C by using GCC.

My program's class' don’t start until the 8th of this month, I still can’t get any information as to even who my instructors are to even ask them questions! Hopefully on the 5th when we have orientation they will tell us and maybe I'll be able to gather some more info...
westfw Gnaw10 years ago
Which PIC to pick is somewhat controversial.

One common thought is that you should AVOID the venerable PIC16F84; this was one of the first flash microcontrollers available to hobbyists, and there are many published projects that use it, but time has passed it by. Newer PICs have more memory, more peripherals, AND are cheaper! The PIC16F628A or PIC16F648A is a close replacement for the f84 (same number of pins...)

Other than that, the usual controversy is whether you should skip the 16F series and jump right in to the PIC18F chips, which are somewhat more powerful, easier to use, and more expensive. ("expensive" is a difficult thing to measure; in theory, the difference in cost between a $3 chip and a $6 chip is pretty irrelevant for a hobbyist project where you're only making one and things are relatively certain to work. But it hurts my frugal nature...)

Personally, I'm partial to tiny packages (6pin SOT23 micros - heaven!) But I know people who argue that you might as well standardize on a 40pin chip just to have those pins around if you need them; the price differential isn't as big as it used to be. I can see their point...
Gnaw10 years ago
Thanks Vegas. In school they mainly focused on the 8086; which we used to program some basic assembly commands. After I graduated, I decided I wasn’t satisfied with what I was taught so I'm going back to school in the New-Year and I would like to brush-up/learn more about computer architecture.

I found a mother load of information/projects on the 6502 and the Z80 CPUs found here, check out, Adam's Great 6502 Projects; It seem promising.

I smell a future instructable coming...
LasVegas10 years ago
You could go with one of the first educational microcontrolers, the 6502. Many early homebrew computers were built with this beauty (including the original Apple I and PET) and it's very easy to learn how to program.
Gnaw10 years ago
I would like to know as well! Us poor computer engineer students want to know! If so, can I find the stuff I'm looking for dumpster diving at computer recycling depo's?
Zujus10 years ago
yea i have a same problem! plyz someone?