Microcontrollers for Beginners #1; A Choice of Board

I hope that this blog will serve many people who, like myself, could not find a definite and easy to understand list of the needs and the progression towards learning to program a microcontroller.

In this, my first post, I will talk briefly about my time trying to find a microcontroller to begin with.

At first, I started with a development kit made by Velleman. It was very simple, having no inputs or outputs built onto the board. It was up to you to screw components into place with terminals. The 'compiler' (program you created the instructions with) came on a small CD. However, there was no clear indication of what language it was geared towards. Anyway, I installed the software on my computer and hooked up the board via a port on my laptop. Nothing.

I tried powering the board via the port, but nothing worked. The power light refused to come on, so I linked it with a wall wart, and tried to power it that way. But still nothing.

It didn't help that the kit didn't come with its own power supply - instead it assumes you already have a connector and a wall wart which supplies 12V at whatever current. I went through a selection of connectors but none really fitted properly, which is strange as nothing came which suggested what type of connection it was. After being ignored by Velleman and their support forums being quite daunting, I decided to find something else.

I came to AAC and asked for help and got a wide range of suggestions. In the end, I went for a demo kit which used the HCS08 family by Freescale. However, after I bought it, its compiler (Codewarrior) refused to work on my current laptop. It wouldn't work with 64 bit computers, which kinda sucks when I have 64bit Windows 7! So I dug out my old laptop and tried it. But the board wouldn't communicate with the laptop.

After some troubleshooting with help from the guys on AAC and from help from Freescale's LIVE technical support, I figured out that my laptop was missing a driver for its port! Gutted!

Even though this board wouldn't work on my computer, I must say I was really impressed by the kind, helpful advice given by both its users on these forums and Freescale's own technical team, so I thought "why not try for another Freescale board?".

Back it was to the Freescale technical support, who were only too happy to suggest another development board - this time it came with a guarantee that it would work on my Windows 7, 64 bit computer - ports and all!

And so that's how I am now the proud owner of a LFEBS12UB kit. I even bought some extra goodies with the LFEBS12UBLAB, which contains stuff like a motor, relay, LCD screen, keypad, etc to play around with. I installed the version of Codewarrior it came with no problem. Hooked the board up to its own wall wart which comes with the kit and sure enough the demo program works! Hurray, finally a board which works, and a compiler which works on my laptop!

The LFEBS12UB kit comes with everything you need to get programming, however, if you want to see the fruits of your efforts - be it on an LCD screen or interfacing with a keypad, you might want to buy the 'peripherals' in the LFEBS12UBLAB. I'll put links at the end.

I also bought a book from Amazon, which should arrive soon, so I won't talk about it until I get it. But for sure, the extra documentation you get with the LFEBS12UB looks like it can teach you the basics by itself. It comes on a flashy program with some annoying sound effects, you might want to turn your volume down for that, but it really does (seem!) to cover lots. It is clearer split up into labs, with a introduction, a lab exercise, short quiz (with answers) and a conclusion/revision PDF.

As I say, it really impresses me - especially the bother I had in the past.

I'm not trying to force you to buy this kit, but what I aim to do with my blog, is show and describe clearly how I learn programing. At the moment, I know nothing, so I don't take anything for granted - much like any beginner.

I hope you find this useful, below is what I have. It works fine on a Windows 7, 64bit laptop.

LFEBS12UB - http://uk.farnell.com/freescale-semiconductor/lfebs12ub/kit-s12ub-starter-for-hcs12/dp/1579753

LFEBS12UBLAB - http://uk.farnell.com/freescale-semiconductor/lfebs12ublab/kit-s12ub-evaluation-lab/dp/1579754

To summarise;

Pros of LFEBS12UB:

1. Works on a modern OS - you don't have to worry if you don't have XP anymore.

2. Excellent support from live Freescale technicians - for free!

3. A powerful microcontroller which should prove useful for years - I don't see myself 'out growing' it in a couple of months.

4. Comes with free lesson plans which are easy to understand for absolute beginners (like me!)


1. Expensive - about £110 for both the development board and the lab kit. Saying that, it's a lot cheaper than buying several kits which don't work.

2. I think you really need to get the lab kit to get the full potential of the board, but again, I can't think of any board which comes with its own LCD display.

Look out for my next post - which shouldn't be far away!


P.S. You'll notice the links are for Farnell. This is because they have free next day delivery and everything comes well protected and packaged very well.

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