This Lazy Old Geek is also an Arduino Geek. If you are an Arduino Geek, one of the common microcontrollers used by Arduinos is the Atmega328 chip. In order to use Arduino software, the Atmega must have bootloader software on it.
Okay, so I bought some blank Atmega328-PU chips from Mouser.com.
TIP: If you want to make your life simpler, order the Atmega328P-PU chips instead of the Atmega328-PU chips.
I didn’t realize there was a difference. As far as I can tell, the Atmega328P-PU has lower power but it also has a different device signature which is important to Arduino users. As of November 2011, the Atmega328-PU is cheaper by about $1.
Problem: So there are hundreds of articles on installing bootloader on the Atmega328. I built one using another Arduino to program the chip. I built one using the USB-BUB to program the chip. I built one using a parallel port to program the chip. Well, even after a week of troubleshooting and searching the Internet, none of them worked. So I gave up. I am usually a very persistent hacker but I’m getting old so I gave up.
Solution?: Well, about a month later I saw another bootloader from Ladyada.net:
Well, this one looked a lot like most of the others I’d built. But it was from AdaFruit which has some of the best tutorials (accurate, complete, well documented) I’ve seen for the Arduino and it had different code. So I hacked up the hardware (See picture) using a RBBB Arduino and loaded the software. And guess what. It still didn’t work.
Well, I looked at the code and saw that it was set up to use the Serial Terminal. So I opened up the Serial Terminal and ran the program again.
This is the error message I got. (See picture)
After a lot of fooling around with Bootloaders I thought that this was not the correct signature that most software was looking for.
Signature: So what is a signature? Well, it turns out it is a specific code hard wired into the chip to identify it. Now all of the bootloader software seemed to be looking for 0x950F and not 9514 or 0x9514.
GeekSpeak: This is like ROM code that cannot be changed. By the way when you see programming code written starting with ‘0x’ that means it is a hexadecimal number. I won’t go into details but hexadecimal numbers go from 0 to 15 instead of 0 to 10.
Signature: So it turns out the bootloader software I’ve seen were based on the 0x950F signature which is the signature for the Atmega328P-PU chip. Being in electronics for 40 years, I usually ignored letters after the number. They are usually just revisions. This is basically true but in this case, the change also affects bootloading.
GeekSpeak: The PU refers to the packaging in this case PDIP which will fit into the 28 pin narrow IC socket preferred by most hobbyists.