I would like to start using PICs in my projects and was wondering which programmer I should get. I have plenty of experience using micro-controllers (68k, avr), I also have lots of experience with electronics (so building a programmer is possible).

I would like to be able to use MPLAB, icsp, and the in-circuit debugging feature seems pretty neat. USB would also be convenient, but is not necessary. In your answer, I would appreciate a comparison of the pros and cons of your recommendation.


4 Answers 4


If you are looking for the best in-circuit programmer/debugger for your own productivity, either ICD3 or RealICE is best. (these are pricier, but you get what you pay for!)

These are faster (+therefore quicker to recover from bugs/weirdness) than the older ICD2, which in turn is lightyears better than the original ICD1 (ugh!)


Get a Microchip PICkit 2, about $35. It has USB, ICSP, and in-circuit debugging via MPLAB. It can also act as a standalone ICSP programmer, and can also be used as a serial port analyser and simple logic analyser.

PICkit 2

There is a newer PICkit 3, but some users claim to have had problems with it.

Alternatively, get one of the new ICD 3 units, about $150. I've replaced my old ICD 2 with one, and it's a marvelous piece of kit - very fast (high-speed USB) with several nice new features. It's a more professional unit than the PICkits; for instance, Microchip replaces them free if they ever develop a fault even if the user has done something silly to it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks like they've jacked the price up to $50... I was tempted, however I found a "clone" on ebay for 23.99, not sure if it's any good, ever heard much about it? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ It will be a clone of the PK2. If you want to work with the newer chips you will need the PK3, there aren't any clones of that as the circuit details haven't been published. I'd pay the extra and get the real thing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 21:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure what the problems are with the PICkit 3. In some cases the PICkit 3 works better for me than the ICD 3. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 5:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are these "clones" as good as the original by Microchip? Can they program any PIC microcontroller? \$\endgroup\$
    – Shubham
    Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 2:52

For hobby use, the PICkit2 is certainly a very good option. It's a modern design, USB, integrates with MPLab, does in-circuit debugging, it's cheap (with even cheaper clones available), and both the design and firmware are open source so you can build your own or integrate one for debugging into your own board designs.


I don't have much experience across multiple programmers, but I have the Pickit 2 and it seems pretty cool, I bought the signal analysis daughter board with the hopes of using it somewhat as a o-scope, but havn't gotten a chance to really play with it yet, I've managed to program the 16F913, and 16F684 I believe using the 100 microcontroller projects for the evil genius as a reference and it's been really helpful.

I would recommend that one, but until I've used others I won't know if it's the best.

EDIT: (I thought I fixed this already....arghhh), I've had pretty good experience with Pickit 1, I don't actually have the pickit 2, I'm sorry, I got confused.


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