Getting started with Microcontrollers

Thread Starter


Joined Jul 21, 2007
I'm getting started with electronics and I'm reading a bunch of books, but I can't find anything good about Microcontrollers. I'm am intrested in building a robot, programming, and all of that stuff. I have a couple of questions:

1) What type of microcontrollers should I use? I here BASIC are the easiest, but I don't have that kind of money to buy it and it's programmer. Right now I think it's either between PIC and AVR.

2) What is the difference between a programmer and a development board?

3) Is there a difference between series and parralel programmers?

4) Can someone point me towards a good cheap development board/programmer?

5) What's an external crystal? what does it do?

6) Can someone point me to a "microcontrollers for beginners" page?

Thanks in advance!


Joined Jan 28, 2005
PIC or AVR they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

However, they are the best way for someone with a bit of knowledge and a strong desire to get into microcontrollers to get started.

I myself am most familiar with the AVR series. If you are interested in taking that route then for an expenditure of around $100 US, you can obtain a very handy development board. This board is the STK500. The board has everything you need to get started. It has LEDs that you can hook up to the AVR device as well as switches that you can hook up to the AVR. It has the AVR programmer built in and ready to use. ATMEL provides a FREE software development tool that you can download from their website. This software development tool is for assembly language but there is also a FREE c-compiler that is available called WINAVR.

You can find out more about the board by visiting You just look up the AVR 8-bit RISC devices and you will find it comes in many different packages containing many different built-in functions. The AVR works great as the basis for a robot design.

If you are interested in more information on the AVR let me know.

You may want to check out and for information on AVR projects.



Joined Jun 30, 2006
The Arduino and the *free* ide is hard to beat for AVR design.

I have one and it works well. I bought mine from sparkfun for 40ish and while I was there got the proto shield to stick on top and the recommended power supply. Make magazine is selling them for slightly less though they call it a "plus" it's the same thing.

The Arduino will run off of USB power or external power it does not come with a power supply or USB cable. The power supply is not needed unless you want to run it stand alone.

Once you've perfected the design using the Arduino you can make or buy a bare bones one to install in your project.

I don't know if there is something similar in the pic family.
Guyfrom7up, why not try downloading some EDA (Electronic Design Automation) tools instead.
You'll learn more, quicker, without paying a cent.

There are some free and other more professional software usually is priced, but money well spent.