What is the Propeller?

The Parallax Propeller is a 32-Bit 8-Core microcontroller.  Chance are you've already seen a few Propeller Powered projects like:

OpenStomp Coyote-1: open source digital guitar effects pedal

Music Demo (.mp3)

The Replica 1, an Apple 1 Clone


ybox2, DIY Networked Set-top Box


and plenty more.  The Propeller is commonly used because it's high performance, has easy video output, and offers a lot of I/O.

So What is the Propeller Platform?

The Propeller Platform puts the Prop on a circuit board with voltage regulators, memory, a crystal, and connectors to other modules.  It's a lot like the Arduino with a few improvements on the basic idea;

1 - Modules (a.k.a. shields) can be connected to each other on top and bottom. For example, you might have a Propeller module in the middle, an LCD UI on the top, and a prototyper on the bottom.

2 - Pin spacing is .1". The space between sockets is .2", too. This makes the Platform compatible with breadboards, and it lets you use Platform modules in combination with other project boards.

3 - The board footprint is 3.8" x 2.5", which is the same footprint as ExpressPCB's MiniBoard service, so adding your own custom module is inexpensive and straightforward.

4 - They're well documented. They're featured in Jon Williams' column in Nuts and Volts and the Propeller Platform Module will be the basis for many of projects described in his upcoming columns.

5 - They're Public Domain. Module designs use the MIT license, giving you more flexibility than more restrictive licenses like Creative Commons Share-Alike. Templates and specifications can be downloaded here.

The Propeller Platform is available as a kit or pre-assembled from Gadget Gangster.

Build time is about 45 minutes. Get started by going to the next step!

Step 1: FAQ

What is the Propeller Platform?

The Propeller Platform is an open-source embedded computing platform - it's a lot like the Arduino, but improves on the concept by using a faster microcontroller, standard pin spacing and a less restrictive license (MIT License).

What are the specs?

Propeller Microcontroller:
  • Built-in video generator hardware to output to NTSC/PAL or VGA displays
  • Built-in high level language (Spin) that's easy to learn
  • High performance (160 Million Operations per Second)
  • Speed can be changed at run-time for improved power efficiency
  • Available in a hobbyist-friendly DIP package
  • 32 I/O pins, each pin can be set as an input or output
The Propeller Platform adds:
  • 5v and 3.3v Voltage Regulators, rated at 800mA, each
  • 5Mhz Crystal, user-swappable
  • 32kB on-board memory, with space for a second memory IC
  • All IC's are in sockets for easier replacement and assembly
  • Standard .1" pin headers in a dual-row configuration, so modules can be stacked above and below or added to a breadboard or Protoboard

Propeller Platform with Battery Platform and ProtoPlus modules

How does it compare to the Arduino?

  • More Expensive The Arduino is $30, a Propeller Platform  with PropPlug (what you use to program the Prop) is $50. But you'll only need one PropPlug and a Propeller Platform on it's own is $35.
  • Smaller Community You'll see the word 'Arduino' in Make Magazine a lot more often than the word 'Propeller'.
  • No onboard 'Analog In'  Instead, you have to use a capacitor and a resistor to read analog values. Not hard, but not as easy as the Arduino.
  • 2 Chips You need 2 IC's when using a Propeller, the Prop itself, and the EEPROM to store the program
  • Much faster microcontroller WAAY Faster. This lets you do really cool things like output VGA, do speech synthesis, play .wav files, and more, all on the chip. The Propeller does 160 MIPS while an atmega168 does 16.
  • Hi-quality audio and video The hardware for video is builtin and numerous audio libraries are available under the MIT license.
  • Real Multitasking tell one cog to take care of video and another to handle the keyboard / mouse, and that's it. No interrupts, no timers - it's REALLY easy to do multitasking on the Propeller
  • More I/O, More Flexible Each I/O can be reconfigured, and there are 32 of them.
  • Standard Pin Spacing The Propeller Platform fits on a breadboard or protoboard
  • Better Power Usage The Prop can change clockspeeds on-the-fly to save power and shutdown un-used cogs.  Power usage can go from 80mA all the way down to 4-5mA
  • Better License Arduino is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike (read it - it's several pages). The Propeller Platform is available under the MIT license (read it - it's 2 paragraphs). Don't worry about how you use our designs - we won't sue! 
Mixed Bag:
  • Software focused A lot of microcontrollers have dedicated hardware to accomplish certain tasks. Instead, the Propeller does most stuff in software. This doesn't bother me, but some people have problems with it.
  • Spin The high-level language for the Prop is Spin - this is a much more modern language than C/C++, but it takes a little getting used to
  • Mac Support There is no official Mac client, but getting up and running with a Mac isn't hard. Parallax has a Mac page right here.

Personally, I use the Propeller for most development, and I use a PICaxe (read: 08M the 555 of our time?) when I just need simple / cheap logic.  The Arduino is 'aight, but I find the Propeller easier to program and a lot more powerful. The Arduino is too expensive when I just need simple logic.

What modules are available?
There is no definitive list of modules, but you can check Gadget Gangster for some of the modules currently available. Some example modules:
  • Video / Audio
  • Battery
  • DMX
  • LCD Displays
  • Protoboards
  • microSD
  • Motor Controller
More modules are coming out all the time, too.
could you link two of these, or ten of them to get higher graphics quality?
Just put mine together this week and had my first led blink a few minutes ago...great instructable!&nbsp; <br />
Awesome instructable and very easy to follow for the gumbies out there, like me, with limited knowledge but&nbsp;just like to tinker
Thanks! It's easy to put together and a lot of fun to program.<br />
is this a instructables, looks more like an advert. <br />
It's a howto - I&nbsp;sell a kit to put it together, but you're free to build it yourself - all the parts are commonly available and the pcb design is open source (you can download it on the project page).&nbsp; <br />
The 6 <Analog In> on the Arduino are very usefull . It would be very nice for beginners to find such connectors on the Propeller Platform .
I used Sigma Delta program or an ADC chip with the Propeller but I think the Arduino connection is easier to use. cats92
For sure. I do like how you can do ADC with any of the pins, though. I wonder if maybe the prop has better resolution? You can do 16 bit at 1KHz, or 10 bit at 78KHz. I wasn't sure what the resolution for the Arduino is.
For the Propeller, all the I/O are equal, every pin can function as input or output.<br/><br/>That said, doing ADC on the prop requires a simple circuit. Take a look at <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.rayslogic.com/propeller/Programming/ADC.htm">ray's writeup</a> on how it's done.<br/>
Very nice instructable!
The main problem with parallax propeller is that the software is only available for Windows. Otherwise, as a hardware platform, it is excellent.
There's no official Mac / Linux support, but there are a few unofficial compilers - <a rel="nofollow" href="http://forums.parallax.com/forums/default.aspx?f=25&m=298620">Brad's version</a> is pretty good.<br/>

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