As many engineers are aware, there are many development boards. Among the most popular is the Arduino, BASIC Stamp, and the MSP430 Launchpad. But do you need to have the big brand name for those? Well first we’ll highlight some of the aspects of the popular boards that are really great:
The Arduino does not have its own microcontroller (mc), they purchase microcontrollers from AVR and they have been using the line of Atmega microcontrollers ever since their launch. Each model of Arduino generally has a different a mc than a different model. But they function very similarly since they are using the same line of microcontrollers. The arduino also has an amazing community for it and that is needed considering the code isn’t exactly like some language that people are familiar with. Arduino is coded in some form of C, i’m still trying to figure it out. Some people say that it is C and others say it is C++ and I’ve also heard a combination of both and i’ve also hear something I’ve never heard before, C++2, who knows.
The BASIC Stamp is fairly simple to figure out in terms of coding and such, but you can’t do that until you fully understand the electronics of it. The BASIC Stamp is from Parallax and they have their own microcontrollers. They make them, and they aren’t cheap but they have first hand support with anything that may go wrong with the mc. A big plus for the Stamp is that the mc isn’t encased in that black plastic stuff, you can actually see whats going on with your microcontroller. Looking at them, though, you’ll notice that it seems like a few components from different companies all put on a little board with pins. And that what it is, sort of; the actual microcontroller chip can have a few separate things on it, although the actual microcontroller microchip is made by Parallax, so it is their own. Allo of the components on the mc chip are surface mounted, just saying.
The MSP430 Launchpad is a new development board from Texas Instruments. Although it doesn’t have the greatest community, its still very popular because its very cheap. You can get one of these babies for $4.30 and it comes with free shipping! On top of that it comes with 2 microcontrollers as well. The MSP430 is programmed in C which many people know. The Launchpad is purely a programmer. You can use it as you would use an Arduino because it also functions as a giant breakout board for the pins of the microcontroller.
So thats a little bit of alternate boards. There are many others that I have yet to test although I’ll list a few off so you can check it out. There are many avaliable at Sparkfun.com made by them. There also is the Freeduino. As well as the Seeeduino, The Romeo, Roboduino, Twentyten, Volksduino, Wiseduino, Zigduino, Brasuino, Diavolino, Sunduino, and a lot more!
Some are more specialized, like the zigduino, which is more geared towards wireless communication.
I would strongly recommend that you start at Sparkfun.com. They have many arduino boards, like the pro mini. They also have great support and documentation on each product.
Next i’ll guide you through a few examples with the arduino, step-by-step. Anybody can look at it and think they’ve figured it out, I’ll help you actually learn in half the time everybody else does. Next time!