Step 17: Modules, bootloaders, and "hidden" microcontrollers

A number of companies have made a business of selling "modules" , usually incorporating some sort of microcontroller and some of its support components with a high-level-lanaguge development environment, some sort of chip-programming capability, and communications. This gets rid of the need for any special hardware tools (usually just a cable to your PC), provides the HLL, and in general lets you get started much faster than the "pure" microcontroller route. The main disadvantage would be price ($30 for a basic stamp vs $5 for a chip with similar capability) and (sometimes) performance (the basic stamp uses interpreted basic, which is very slow compared to native code.)

Parallax: home of the Basic Stamp
Basic Micro "ATOM"
SunSpot Java thing
Modules/IDEs with ethernet/etc
Arduino: open source hardware and IDE for Atmel AVR

Another disadvantage is WRT the education aspect. You won't learn much about "microcontrollers" by programming a module in a HLL that hides ALL the microcontroller details.

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jastreich6 years ago
You mention Parallax;s Basic Stamp, but you missed their coolest and most useful two MCUs. The SX and Propeller. The SX is sort of in the Basic Stamp family, but it runs assembly and I think it is a RISC chip. They are cheap, easy to program and are less "hobby" than the Basic Stamps or Javalin chips. The Propeller can run Assembly natively or interpret Spin out of the box, it has 32 general purpose I/O lines which are accessible on all 8 Arithmetic Logic Units (cores they refer to as "cogs").
westfw (author)  jastreich6 years ago
There is a SX-based Stamp, IIRC. Otherwise, I'd describe the SX and Propeller as being sufficiently "far from mainstream" as to not be good choices for a beginner...
I'd agree, while I love the propeller IDE and programming language, it is totally importable across architectures, as nothing else uses their proprietary spin code. However, they now have a C compiler for the Propeller, so it may not be as bad a choice for a beginner as it used to be.
chazpdx4 years ago
I recently used a PICAXE18x for a school project. I needed something cheap, easy to learn, and easy to get setup. The PICAXE turned out to be the best choice. It kicked butt, was really easy to program, really cheap to set up, the chips are really cheap, and it was powerful enough for what I was doing. It was the first time I'd really played around with a microconroller, and I had it working the day I got it.
dmt1956 years ago
Dont forget the PICAXE! Picmicros with a bootloader - cheap as chips!