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What equipment would you recommend for getting started with micro controllers. I guess I need a programmer, but what else do I need? What are the essential tools for debugging?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you already chosen a brand Microchip, Atmel, etc? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 8, 2012 at 22:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ After you have the programmer/debugging interface, I would say DMM and a digital oscilloscope. \$\endgroup\$
    – kenny
    Sep 8, 2012 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why don't you try a microcontroller already built on a PCB? Like the Arduino. \$\endgroup\$
    – capcom
    Sep 8, 2012 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've already got one of those :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2012 at 19:23

2 Answers 2

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For the microcontroller development you need following tools;

  1. Microcontroller Development Board along with programmer. You can buy ready available boards from market or you may develop your own board, as their is no such a rocket science in developing you own custom board. I had developed my own boards.

  2. Bench Power Supply from 0-30V and 0-2A minimum and have dual separate voltage pin outs and voltage adjuster.

  3. ISP Programmer, as some time ISP do best among regular programmer, this will be very useful for programming, modifying and verifying microcontroller program which is already installed or soldered on some circuit.

  4. JTAG Debugger, This is very essential tool for microcontroller development, as it provide online debugging from running microcontrollers who have JTAG support.

  5. Logic Analyzer You can buy already available Logic Analyzers from market or if you want to make you own and have some fun than you can try one of these.

    Scanalogic-2 Logic Analyzer and Signal Generator

    AVR Logic Analyzer

    AVR based 4 channel mini logic analyzer.

  6. Oscilloscope, I recommend you to buy a Digital Storage Oscilloscope of upto 50MHz or low cost PC-Based Oscilloscope if you can afford you can also old Analog 50MHz Oscilloscope. As Analog Oscilloscope show result what it received, and digital show results after processing, sometime analog oscilloscope required to be; use as compare to Digital. Or make your own for fun with following links

    AVR Oscilloscope

    AVR Oscilloscope 2

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that one needs bench power supply, but why 0-30V and 0-2A minimum? Most (all?) uC will need 5V and below for operation. Sure, some will need higher voltages for programming but those are so rare this days ... Also I have not seen project that would require for DIY uC/digital subsystem more then few dozens of mA. You will need big amps for audio, motor control or lightning thingy, but then you need size you supply for this application, not for digital electronics/microprocessor. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 9, 2012 at 7:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why 0-30V? because many microcotroller need to be interface with the real world, In industries normal voltage is 24VDC, which is quite common in almost all industrial process. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 9, 2012 at 10:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the 0-30 V supply. Yes, the micro and it's immediate circuitry only needs up to 5 V, but the application the micro connects to often needs more. I've got three projects I'm actively working on now, all of which I currently power from my 0-30 V bench supply. One needs 24 V, one 15 V, and the other 4 V. Having the supply somehow display its current is also very useful. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 9, 2012 at 13:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that #4 is unnecessary for Microchip PICs as apposed to Atmel AVRs. You can get a programmer/debugger cheaply (PicKit3), and the same serial interface is used. JTAG is never needed to program or debug PICs, and most don't even have a JTAG port. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 9, 2012 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that for the bench power supply, you can make a usable one with an old ATX power supply, an adjustable switching regulator, and a couple of power transistors if you need more than 1.5A of current. Then, you'll have lines for the most common voltages, and have a way to get other voltages as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Earlz
    Sep 9, 2012 at 15:08
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A digital storage oscilloscope. Preferably with at least 50 MHz bandwidth and preferably with at least two channels. There are many low-cost options out there, either stand-alone or PC (USB)-based. There's also a lot of servicable used gear on places like ebay.

With this one instrument, you'll be able to measure voltages, verify that oscillators are working, and view more complex time-based behavior that's too fast to see on an LED. Plus, if it has PC connectivity, you'll be able to capture waveforms and share them with people who can help you solve your problems.

I see too many people who start complex microcontroller-based projects that get stuck on an issue and end up very frustrated without this one essential piece of equipment.

I think the second item would be a decent bench power supply. 0-20V, 0-2A at a minimum. A lot of basic start-up issues can be skipped if you don't have to guess about the quality of the power going to your circuit.

Anything else is going to depend on the types of applications you want to get into, and the specific technologies you intend to use.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Presumably you'd want an oscilloscope capable of measuring the particular bus that you're developing on. If the bus is 10MHz then 20MHz would probably be sufficient. I ask as budget may be a limiting factor. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 9, 2012 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Get as much 'scope as you can comfortably afford. Many microcontrollers can run at 20+ MHz, which is why I suggested 50 MHz bandwidth. Beyond that, I really can't say without knowing more about the kinds of applications you want to get into. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Sep 10, 2012 at 0:41

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