I'm reposting this from stackoverflow, as the question is better suited here.

I'm a first year Computer Science student looking to get started with development for micro-controllers. I'd like to use the 8051, as it's common as dirt, and is used frequently in the real world.

During my junior or senior year, I'll be taking a PIC micro-controller based embedded design class, so I'd rather not do PIC now; otherwise, I'll be fairly bored during that course.

Most commercial kits I see are for the AVR or PIC series of microprocessors. I'm just looking for something with decent development tools, documentation, and enough add-ons to keep my novice self occupied for the summer.

Any recommendations for an 8051 family kit? Thanks!

I should have added, that I'd like to keep the price at $150 or less ideally. I'm pretty much just looking to learn -- not do anything too serious. I'm looking for more of a projects based kit.


I ended up going with a SiLabs MCUNIVERSITY Kit, on recommendation from svec on stackoverflow. The tools and documentation look superb; there are also a set of exercises and labs. Plus, for less than $50, it's an excellent price. Thanks everyone.


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  • \$\begingroup\$ When you're a junior or senior, if you are already skilled with the PICs for that class, you'll be very glad you won't have to deal with that part of it and can instead get some extra sleep. Learn the PICs. \$\endgroup\$ – whatsisname Jul 29 '14 at 20:06

I realize that you're looking for an 8051, but I think that's an antiquated choice. For an old, trusty tool, 8051's are great, but I'd strongly recommend against starting there. They're widely used in industry because they're incumbent, not because they're the best.

The easiest way to start is the Arduino-- it's cheap and easy to program. You can program it with a subset of C/C++, at least to start with.

If that seems not hardcore enough, and PICs are ruled out, I'd start with an MSP430 from Texas Instruments. Digikey has an eval board with two different MSP430s for $100. You also need a JTAG programmer. You can get the TI FET, but I've had success with the cheaper Softbaugh programmer.

(But if you really are dying for an 8051, I'd start with an Atmel chip and the Keil tools.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to stick with low-level development. This SiLabs board silabs.com/products/mcu/Pages/C8051F120DK.aspx has been recommended; it looks excellent in terms of development and debugging tools. However, it just doesn't seem very beginner friendly. I suppose I'd like to have my hand held in the beginning. Something like this cgi.ebay.com/… has lots of things to toy with. Obviously, the support would be bad though; I'd like to combine both of the above. \$\endgroup\$ – LucidDefender May 20 '10 at 21:48
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @pingswept Oh man. I hate to be the pedantic guy again, but the Arduino is not programmed with Java. It's programmed with C/C++ and the code is compiled with AVR-GCC. I don't know where this 'Arduino is programmed with Java' meme started, but it's wrong. It's probably due to the fact that Arduino uses the same IDE as Processing, which is, in fact, Java code. Or maybe it's because the IDE runs in Java. \$\endgroup\$ – ducksauz May 23 '10 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey, no problem. That's not pedantic at all. I think you're right that I was thinking of the Processing IDE-- I've used that a fair bit, and I haven't used an Arduino in the last year or so. I'll correct my post. \$\endgroup\$ – pingswept May 23 '10 at 14:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also recommend the Arduino mainly because of the community. You can ask anybody a question and you'll get so many responses very quickly which is important for a beginner because otherwise they will get discouraged extremely fast. If you have a question that isn't answered by documentation, you'll have a hard time getting the answer quickly enough if you get on at all \$\endgroup\$ – Funkyguy Jul 29 '14 at 18:56

As has been pointed out, the 8051 is an older 8-bit architecture, but it is still widely used. If you want to dabble a little in assembly code, it is easier to grasp than the RISC-based microcontrollers.

One of the cheapest ways to get started is a "Toolstick" from Silicon Labs -- plugs directly into a USB port, includes an evaluation copy of the Keil compiler, and costs only $15.81 from Digi-Key:


For $99, you can get a prototype board with a connector for add-ons:

KIT DEV C8051F53XA, C8051F52XA

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point about assembly. For learning assembly, the Toolstick sounds great. \$\endgroup\$ – pingswept May 20 '10 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ 99$ is too much. \$\endgroup\$ – Standard Sandun Apr 18 '12 at 12:27

One of the best kits that I found is Micro-Master Computer Training Kit by Elenco. This kit about 8000 series, kit includes book, PCB and components for soldering and assembling. Very interesting and educational. I'm assembled kit, this was diving in IC world, working with memory, testing circuits, fun. Book very good but needs additional resources for theory and some explanations. (I'm not pro in IC but as beginner I recommend this kit)


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