Choosing a development board

Discussion in 'Embedded Systems and Microcontrollers' started by lukasoft, May 23, 2011.

  1. lukasoft

    Thread Starter New Member

    May 23, 2011
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    Hello, I'm obviously new to this forum. Just as a short intro, I'm a computer engineering student working on my undergrad, and I've messed a little with PIC microcontrollers and have made other electronics with discrete components, but am fairly new to microcontrollers in general.

    I've been looking online, and have seen some development boards for pretty low prices, however there is little information online (ie no user base of hobbyists) other than the documentation. For example, the STM8L Discovery is only $10.
    http://www.st.com/internet/evalboard/product/250636.jsp
    but I have found almost no projects online that hobbyists have made. Another example is the Kinetis Quik Stik which is only $29.
    http://www.freescale.com/webapp/sps/site/prod_summary.jsp?code=KWIKSTIK-K40
    This seems like it comes with a pretty powerful MCU and a screen and buttons allowing you to interface with it.
    I have found other cheap dev boards in this same situation, but these are ones that I have been particularly interested in.

    These devices seem like something that I could to use in a project and after seeing them (and reading the documentation) have already come up with ideas for possible uses. And for how cheap these are, I just don't understand why I cannot find more information on them. Are hobbyists using devices like this? Or are there few enough MCU hobbyists where most products don't have a 'user base'? Do most MCU hobbyists not post their projects online? I would love to mess with these but am confused at this. I guess I'm also asking, what is the catch (or is there one)? Can somebody shed some light on this for me? Thanks.
     
  2. kelvinmead

    Member

    May 15, 2011
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    0
    i think its because there are other chips, with development boards that have larger fanbases.

    the arduino http://www.arduino.cc/ system is a little bit more pricey (30-40$) but the userbase is phenomenal, but the advancement to other chips seems limited.

    the pic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PIC_microcontroller chips are older, and theres millions of different types, but you can pick the exact right one for your project, and by the by, the chips are much cheaper (most costing just over £1 / 2$)

    i started with the arduino, but have progressed to the pic as i wanted more i/o ports

    i dont doubt the 2 you've put out above, especially with microsd cards built in and all sorts, but you will make your project based directly around the development board and then when your done with it, you have to take it apart and start again. its good for learning, quick projects, but not so useful for permanent projects.
     
  3. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
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    Personally I have a decided preference for Microchip devices having been using them since the time they were only programmed in parallel into ultraviolet erasable EPROM memory. I have seem some other devices from other manufacturers and they are also great tools, but I stick with what I know.

    The current crop of EEPROM devices are first rate and run a full spread from 8 bit 5 pin SOT types thru 32 bit 100 pin quad packages. The support on their web forum is very good (better & quicker then their customer support).

    Their baseline development package is the DV164131 $45USD which gives you their very good PICKIT3 USB programmer/in circuit debugger and a dev board. The board just has some LEDs and a pot and a small prototype area but a good place to start.

    Smaller devices can be programmed in assembly, but once you hit the 18 series they give free mostly unrestricted demo C compilers that you can do serious work with.

    Third part tools abound both kits and compilers. I have used MikroElektronika for an excellent color graphic touchscreen dev board for only $150USD. That unit needs a different programmer/debugger such as the ICD3 ($180USD).
     
  4. lukasoft

    Thread Starter New Member

    May 23, 2011
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    1
    Thanks guys for the information.

    kelvinmead, I understand where you're coming from. That makes a lot of sense. One of my ideas however would use the whole development board, so I would plan on just buying a new one for the next project. It seems to me that it wouldn't be any more economical to buy each part for the development board myself and build something similar with almost all of the parts. So I'm figuring I might as well just use the development board, as everything is already put together for me.

    ErnieM, MikroElektronika seems pretty awesome. The UNI-DS6 seems to be able to program many different architectures, and assists you in the programming with all of those peripherals. However the board is $150 and each 'mikroboard' costs ~$50. This is definitely something I would interest me in the future, but I would rather mess with stuff that has a much lower initial cost until I am sure of exactly what I want in a higher end development board.

    I think from your explanations I think I now have a better understanding of whats going on with all of these boards. I do have a PIC programmer and a few spare chips, but they're 40 pin chips, so until I have a project that needs all those pins, I'll probably stick with chips of a smaller nature. I also recently purchased one of those TI launchpads, being irresistible at the price of $4.30 and no shipping costs. Any opinions on TI as a company? Or the MPS430 line? I know I'm asking a lot of questions, but I would prefer to understand everything and make an educated decision than to just go with the most popular line of MCUs 'because everyone else is doing it'.
     
  5. THE_RB

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 11, 2008
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    I'll second the MikroE dev boards being awesome. I know they cost $140 but it's probably the greatest tool you could use for anybody starting with PICs I would just say "bite the bullet and just buy an EasyPIC6 and get it over with". :)

    I have EasyPIC4 and 6 and BigPIC 4 and 6, and it's common for me to grab one, and program it to be a piece of test equipment (like a signal generator or specialised readout/data logger) and connect it to the dev board in use. So to me they are not just dev boards but are also powerful pieces of programmable test equipment.

    In an age where young people spend hundreds of dollars on a 'phone it seems a bit silly to skimp on dev boards when you can get an awesome one for $140. ;)
     
  6. lukasoft

    Thread Starter New Member

    May 23, 2011
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    I like the PIC development boards, but I prefer not being anchored to a single brand of components. The universal board requires an add on for each architecture, but results in a board that will allow you to work with whichever brand is best for the specific project. Naturally this requires familiarizing myself with lots of brands and all their chips. But isn't that what learning is all about? ;)
     
  7. Markd77

    Senior Member

    Sep 7, 2009
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    Sticking with one brand isn't as bad an idea as you think. If you choose a chip from any of the major companies you will almost certainly be able to get a chip with equivalent features from the others. As long as you get a development kit which can program a large portion of your chosen brands chips there is probably no reason to switch.
     
  8. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
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    Exactly. Even using several devices from the same manufacturer can drive you batty trying to keep all those facts in order for each device. The smallest 5 pin SOT with 256 memory words from Microchip has a 96 page spec. The PIC32MX460512 I use has an abbreviated 214 page spec with a 33 section reference manual. The first one I've read end to end, the latter I've just read what I use (and pray I did not miss anything).

    Choose carefully, as it is more like you're STUCK with that one manufacturer.
     
  9. THE_RB

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 11, 2008
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    Definitely ErnieM, which is not necessarily a bad thing. If you keep your experience on one brand of IC you get better with that IC than if you spread your time over a number of brands (which I think is the same as what you and Mark77 are saying). :)

    You will eventually settle on a few "favorite" chips even within one brand which has benefits as you can buy them by the stick (bulk discount) and always have plenty in stock, and always have heaps of working source code for that chip that you can cut and paste into new projects.

    I would just make an early decision PIC or ATMEL and then never look back. PIC can be better if you want to use up lots of chips and especially if you want to manufacture products, ATMEL can be better if you will use less chips and they can be faster but a bit more expensive. PICs are a bit better supported in free source code all over the web, although the others are catching up.

    If you have a support group of friends that use one brand, then you can benefit by going with their brand. Or if your studies require one brand you may as well standardise on that. :)
     
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