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 Where to start? AVR? Arduino?
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By: Anonymous: ConfusedScientist () on Saturday, July 23 2011 @ 07:56 PM PDT (Read 3282 times)  
Anonymous: ConfusedScientist

I feel like this question should have been answered 100 times, but I can't find a good reference.

I want to start playing with microcontrollers.
I love the projects on Evil Mad Scientist, but I also like the Arduino projects and community I keep reading about.

I keep wanting to start somewhere, but an Arduino UNO is $30 and an AVR is less the $5. Then there is everything in between (and even some more expensive) like the Diavolino.

Can I get the best of both worlds by buying a programming cable and a breakout board and just flash my own AVR or Arduino when ever I need a new chip? Do I need to full UNO over something like it?

I just want to start playing and don't want to be backed into a corner with only one platform or exhausted my budget by spending it all on the wrong hardware.

Help me mad scientists! You're my only hope.

By: dnewman (offline) on Sunday, July 24 2011 @ 04:21 PM PDT  

Here's my 0.02 USD worth.

It's really, really easy to get started with an Arduino or an Arduino clone that already has onboard USB support and a bootloader installed. As long as you have a computer with a USB port, a USB cable, and an OS supported by the Arduino application, then you're Good to Go.

That said, kits like the Diavolino are really cute but you will need a FTDI cable (or an ISP programmer and a 2x3 pin header). But since you likely will eventually want both a FTDI cable and an ISP programmer (such as the USBtinyISP), getting a FTDI cable now is not worth spending too much time thinking over.

As to a programming environment, it's easy to start with the Arduino app and use it's gentle, friendly AVR programming environment. That app will work just as easily with a Diavolino as it will an Arduino. Later you can branch out and start writing some more "basic" AVR code using a tool chain of your choice. (I use that provided by CrossPack AVR for the Mac.) The advantage of doing this is that your can write more compact code: depending upon what your code looks like in Arduino environment land, you can drag in code from various libraries that you might otherwise have avoided.

But starting with JUST a basic AVR chip? I wouldn't do that unless you have a very, very specific project in mind and know just what you want to do. The great thing about using an Arduino or Arduino clone and a decent tool chain is that you can prototype the code and circuit with the Arduino and then, when you have it working, recompile it for the specific AVR chip you want to use. (Yeah, there may be some code changes here and there but after you play around a bit you learn how to organize your code to support different AVR target chips.)


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By: karlgg (offline) on Saturday, July 30 2011 @ 10:11 PM PDT  

To explain the difference a little more, the Arduino Uno and Diavolino (and many, many other Arduino compatible boards) all use an Atmel AVR for the processor. Buying an AVR by itself would be like buying an engine... Fine if you have an application for it, but not so good if you're looking for a whole car.

The Arduino costs more because it has everything you need for a basic setup, including the USB interface. The Diavolino is cheaper by skipping everything not absolutely necessary, which is why it needs an FTDI cable with the USB interface built in. Other boards will have other features, or design considerations.

If you want to start, an Arduino would be the simplest to work with, since it comes pre-built. If you have (or want) soldering experience, a Diavolino and FTDI cable would be a good choice, as it isn't hard to build - and gives you nearly the same system when done. Once you've fiddled with those, you have some of the experience needed for using plain AVRs in your own circuits.

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By: Anonymous: Bill Stewart () on Thursday, February 16 2012 @ 08:42 AM PST  
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Absolutely start with the Arduino, or an Arduino clone like the Boarduino, not the chip - it's got everything you need to get started doing simple programming and hardware control, and the learning curve is much shorter than starting with the raw AVR chip. You'll also need to buy a breadboard, wire, and some assorted LEDs and resistors.

Unless you've got an old enough computer to have a real parallel port, if you want to use the AVR chip, you'll need to spend at least $25-50 for an AVR chip programmer. But an Arduino costs $30, and you can use it as a programmer if you want to program more AVR chips, so you might as well start there.

Another approach is to get the TI MSP430 board - it's about $5, and similar in complexity to the Arduino. You'll need to do a bit of soldering to make it useful (because it doesn't have the female headers soldered on the board), and the programming environment's a bit closer to the metal than Arduino.


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