Recommendations on microprocessor & development stuff

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by someonesdad, Nov 14, 2010.

  1. someonesdad

    Thread Starter Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    In a few months, a young friend will visit and spend 10 days with us. He's got an MS in computer engineering and has been working as a programmer for high tech companies for 10 years or so (he's in his 30's). He and I would like to have a project to work on while he's here (his wife will be spending a number of days skiing).

    One project idea we've thought of would be to purchase a microprocessor development kit and learn how to build various hardware things with them. We'd probably buy two of them so we each could have one (I live on one side of the US and he lives on the other).

    I like this idea, as it would give me a reasonably general-purpose toolkit to throw something together when I needed some special circuit for some purpose. I thought I'd ask the folks on this board what they would recommend. Here are some of the constraints/requirements/desires:

    * I would like there to be a family of processors available that run the gamut of cost, memory (RAM), speed, and on-board flash. I would imagine that this would probably mean something like the PIC or Atmel families. I have no experience or knowledge of either, so any recommendations appreciated.

    * The documentation available for the processor family must be good, complete, and available in PDF form.

    * There must be a C or C++ development environment available (C++ preferred, but I know it's less likely to be found for embedded stuff). In other words, I am not willing to program in assembly (a little is OK for performance, but that's it). My preference would be a command-line cross compiler I can use at either a Windows or Linux command line. I'd also like to be able to debug using gdb from the command line if possible. I'm averse to using some company's all in one code builder/IDE/debugger because I like to work with tools I'm familiar with. Of course, if I have to use an IDE, then I will.

    * The development board ideally will connect to the PC with either a serial or USB connection. A LAN connection would be fine also, but I'd imagine it would be more expensive (and I'm not terribly willing to pay a premium for it).

    * The development board will have a ZIF socket for the processors. Ideally there will be some small breadboarding space for custom circuitry; this is a want, not a must. It would also be nice to have some LEDs to help communicate various bits of information.

    * It would be nice if the development board also came with a LAN connection and a TCP/IP stack to allow the processor and project to be put on the LAN. Again, this is a want, not a must.

    * Price isn't terribly important. While I don't want to spend a bunch of money, if something $250 is significantly better than something $100, I'll spend the extra money.

    Given that those requirements are what I can think of as of this moment, do any of you have recommendations as to how we should proceed? If you can, please be specific with links to the pages that describe the products you recommend. It would be great if the recommendations you have are based on your personal experience (but of course word-of-mouth recommendations are fine too).
     
  2. hgmjr

    Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
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    I recommend you get an Arduino Uno or Arduino Duemilanove. The boards are around $30 and the software is C language based and free for download from www.arduino.cc. There are tons of libraries that will allow you to get something useful up and running in less than ten days. The boards can be purchased from www.sparkfun.com.

    hgmjr
     
  3. thatoneguy

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 19, 2009
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    I'd say start with the Arduino or picaxe to get the concepts of controllers down first.

    Once you have that figured out, you will be able to decide exactly what you want for a project, such as a PIC or Atmel or other processor.

    Reason for suggesting arduino or picaxe is the languages are rather easy to learn, and one can get started with either very fast.

    When starting out from scratch, there is a good deal of reading and setup to get going with a bare PIC or AVR.
     
  4. GetDeviceInfo

    Senior Member

    Jun 7, 2009
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    230
    I would pack the electronics away and going skiing with the wife.
     
  5. someonesdad

    Thread Starter Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    OK, Arduino noted and I'll investigate it. I like the fact that it looks like you can get going with a project with minimal expense.

    However, it appears that you need to use the IDE that comes with it. Both my friend and I prefer to edit source, build, and debug code using command line tools found on UNIX (and cygwin) boxes. Does the Arduino support this type of workflow? As I mentioned, if we have to use the IDE, we will, but it would be nice to use the tools we already know.

    Can you folks recommend some good references that would help us pick a processor family to work with? Or, for that matter, just give a precis of the different families/architectures to choose from?
     
  6. hgmjr

    Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    9,030
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    Pretty much anyway you go you are going to have to deal with a new IDE. PIC, AVR, and others all will require you to use the microprocessor specific IDE.

    The good news is that the IDE for the Arduino is fairly user-friendly. You can investigate that immediately since the IDE is free.

    hgmjr
     
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