Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cheap Microcontroller Programmers for Students and Hobbyists

Few years ago, microcontroller programmers and development boards were quite expensive to afford for students and hobbyists. Besides they were not easily available everywhere.When I was in school, we had two AT89C51 programmers in our whole department of electrical engineering and we had to get permission to use them. Things have been changed since then, and now you can buy one for less than $20 online that could fulfill a student's or hobbyists' need.

I am writing this article with the intention to show some cheap microcontroller programmers that you can buy online. The most popular microcontrollers among hobbyists and students are PIC (from Microchip) and AVR (from Atmel). For PIC, people usually recommend to buy Microchip's PICkit because the programming software is maintained by Microchip itself, and the software also provides debugging feature. But the disadvantage is it is little bit expensive for beginners. I don't have PICkit, I bought a third party programmer, it works great. And if you are going to use high level compiler for programming, debugging is rarely used for beginner's level project. But I would definitely recommend one thing: buy USB programmer and not serial or parallel type, because the later two are outdated and modern laptops (and may be computers) don't have them.

AVR Programmers
1. Pololu USB AVR Programmer: The Pololu USB AVR Programmer is an extremely compact, low-cost in-system programmer (ISP) for Atmel’s AVR mirocontrollers. The USB AVR programmer connects to your computer’s USB port via an included USB A to mini-B cable and communicates with your programming software, such as AVR Studio or AVRDUDE, through a virtual COM port using the AVRISPV2/STK500 protocol. The programmer connects to your target device via an included 6-pin ISP programming cable.The programmer is powered by the 5V USB power bus, and it is intended for programming AVRs that are running at close to 5 V (note that the programmer does not deliver power to the target device).
Cost: $19.95 Buy it here: http://www.pololu.com/catalog/product/1300

2.USBASP AVR Programmer: It is based on Thomas Fischl's USBasp design and connect to your computer's USB port. Not only are they quite compact, but the design is really elegent. The USB interface is achieved by using an atmega processor and the rest is done in firmware. For those interested, the firmware source code can be downloaded from the USBasp website.
Supported Software:AVRDude 5.2 or higher
Supported Microcontrollers:

Mega Series
Tiny Series
Classic Series

CAN Series

PWM Series
Cost: $16.00 Buy it here: http://www.protostack.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=24

PIC Programmers
1. iCP01 - USB PIC Programmer:  iCP01 offers unprecedented level of performance, reliability and scalability for PIC programmer solution with ICSP (In-Circuit Serial Programming) method. By the same time, it allows users to program their hex code into the well-known Flash PIC MCU by using commonplace USB connection.
Features & Specification:
  • Low cost, small size, high performance and user friendly device
  • Every part is assembled perfectly and programmer is tested before submitting to users.
  • Used for programming the popular Flash PIC MCU, includes PIC10F, PIC12F, PIC16F, PIC18F and dsPIC30 family
  • Supported operating systems (32bit/64bit): Windows XP ,Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • No external power supply is required
  • 100mA current output at VDD pin with over-current protection
  • Compatible with Microchip's PICkit 2 and MPLAB IDE
  • USB plug and play function
  • Excellent flexibility that allows using in both PC desktop and laptop.
  • High speed programming
  • Allows to use in both commercial and free interface software
  • Supported for 5V operation voltage only
  • 3.3V supply, J-Series and in-Circuit Debugging mode are not supported
Support Devices:
  • 8 Pin: PIC10F200, PIC10F202, PIC10F204, PIC10F206, PIC10F220, PIC10F222, PIC12F508, PIC12F509, PIC12F510, PIC12F519, PIC12F609, PIC12F615, PIC12F629, PIC12F635, PIC12F675, PIC12F679, PIC12F683
  • 14 Pin: PIC16F505, PIC16F506, PIC16F526, PIC16F610, PIC16F616, PIC16F630, PIC16F636, PIC16F676, PIC16F684, PIC16F688
  • 18 Pin: PIC16F54, PIC16F84A, PIC16F87, PIC16F88, PIC16F627A, PIC16F628A, PIC16F648A, PIC16F716, PIC16F818, PIC16F819, PIC16F1826, PIC16F1827, PIC18F1320, PIC18F1330, PIC18F1220, PIC18F1230
  • 20 Pin: PIC16F631, PIC16F639, PIC16F677, PIC16F685, PIC16F687, PIC16F689, PIC16F690, PIC16F785
  • 28 Pin: PIC16F57, PIC16F72, PIC16F73, PIC16F722, PIC16F723, PIC16F726, PIC16F737, PIC16F767, PIC16F870, PIC16F872, PIC16F873A, PIC16F882, PIC16F883, PIC16F886, PIC16F913, PIC16F916, PIC16F1933, PIC16F1936, PIC16F1938, PIC18F2220, PIC18F2221, PIC18F2320, PIC18F2321, PIC18F2331, PIC18F2410, PIC18F2420, PIC18F2423, PIC18F2431, PIC18F2450, PIC18F2455, PIC18F2458, PIC18F2480, PIC18F2510, PIC18F2515, PIC18F2520, PIC18F2523, PIC18F2525, PIC18F2550, PIC18F2553, PIC18F2580, PIC18F2585, PIC18F2610, PIC18F2620, PIC18F2680, PIC18F2682, PIC18F2685
  • 40 Pin: PIC16F59, PIC16F74, PIC16F77, PIC16F1937, PIC16F727, PIC16F724, PIC16F747, PIC16F777, PIC16F871, PIC16F877A, PIC16F884, PIC16F887, PIC16F914, PIC16F917, PIC16F1939, PIC18F4220, PIC18F4221, PIC18F4320, PIC18F4321, PIC18F4331, PIC18F4410, PIC18F4420, PIC18F4423, PIC18F4431, PIC18F4450, PIC18F4455, PIC18F4458, PIC18F4480, PIC18F4510, PIC18F4515, PIC18F4520, PIC18F4523, PIC18F4525, PIC18F4550, PIC18F4553, PIC18F4580, PIC18F4585, PIC18F4610, PIC18F4620, PIC18F4680, PIC18F4682, PIC18F4685
  • dsPIC30 (With ICSP only): dsPIC30F1010, dsPIC30F2010, dsPIC30F2011, dsPIC30F2012, dsPIC30F2020, dsPIC30F2023, dsPIC30F3010, dsPIC30F3011, dsPIC30F3012, dsPIC30F3013, dsPIC30F3014, dsPIC30F4011, dsPIC30F4012, dsPIC30F4013
 Cost: $15.00 Buy it here: http://www.piccircuit.com/product.php?id_product=25

2.Cytron USB ICSP PIC Programmer: The Cytron USB ICSP PIC Programmer offers low cost yet reliable and user friendly PIC USB programmer solutions for developer, hobbyist and students to program popular Flash PIC MCU which includes PIC12F, PIC16F and PIC18F family. It can also program 16 bit PIC MCU. For complete list of supported PIC, please refer to UIC00A User's manual. Features:
• Compact USB plug and play programmer
• Industrial grade PCB with SMD component for compact size and reliable quality
• IDC box header for ICSP connection and IDC cable is included for external on board programming
• Windows XP, Vista and 7 compatible software
• Auto load program capability
• Compatible with Microchip's PICkit2
• Target PIC should be powered with +5V
• Programmer is powered directly from USB port, no external power is required
• USB 2.0
• Low cost yet reliable solution
• Suitable for Laptop and Desktop PC
• Optional item: UIC-S

Cost: $16.19 Buy it here: http://www.robotshop.com/cytron-usb-icsp-pic-programmer.html?utm_source=google&utm_medium=base&utm_campaign=jos

Once you have programmer with you, you can learn microcontroller programming using resources online.
Here are two of them:

PIC16F628A Programming in C
PIC12F683 Experiments 


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