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I am new to electronics and have been seeing a lot of so-called "evaluation kits" for certain MCUs. For example this Atmel SAM R21 Xplained Pro kit claims to be: "a hardware platform to evaluate the ATSAMR21G18A microcontroller".

As a newcomer, I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I'm guessing that the ATSAMR21G18A is just a microchip, and not a full bore MCU. And perhaps, in order to write applications for it (that will interact with all sorts of devices and peripherals) you need a way to test the chip on a microcontroller that has memory, typical computing parts and GPIO ports on it?

So I'm guessing that the typical flow here is:

  1. Buy one of these "evaluation kits" for your targeted microchip
  2. Write and test your application using this kit/MCU, and hook it up to all the devices and I/O peripherals that will be there in production, and get it working correctly
  3. Now you're ready to start figuring out what your production board (containing the targeted microchip) will look like, and you can have reasonable confidence the application will perform as expected on the production board

So first, if any of my guesses/assumptions above is incorrect (even slightly), please begin by providing some course correction for me!

Assuming I'm more or less correct here...

I assume that the reason why you wouldn't just put an evaluation kit board into production is because of cost and unnecessary waste, right? If these evaluation kits have GPIO pins/ports on them, they are too generic for you specific application at hand, and so the real difference between the evaluation board and your production board is: your production board is optimized and specific to your product and the specific application(s) running on it, yes?

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    \$\begingroup\$ just a microchip, and not a full bore MCU - care to explain the difference between the two? MCU is (usually) a microchip. Most of the other things in your post are pretty much correct though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene Sh.
    Nov 24, 2020 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahhh perhaps I'm showing my rookie-ness (and +1). My understanding was MCU is basically a system on a chip: microcontroller, memory, other "computer-y stuff"; and that a microchip is just the processor. I guess the distinction I'm trying to explain is that the evaluation kit seems to be the former, whereas the ATSAMR21G18A appears to be the latter. Correct me if I'm wrong though, please!!! \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2020 at 21:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ This ATSAMR21G18A seem to be a full blown MCU - you can look at its datasheet and see the whole bunch of peripherals built in. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene Sh.
    Nov 24, 2020 at 21:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ For reference: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/1092/… Thre are more similar question too, if not satisfied with this one \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene Sh.
    Nov 24, 2020 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ start here arduino.cc \$\endgroup\$
    – Juraj
    Nov 26, 2020 at 14:04

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It is a full bore microcontroller. You could take the IC with just power and run programs on it. Plus IO to make it useful. It has memory and clock on chip. The evaluation board has extras to make it easier to use, like usb based programmer, leds and being a breakout board.

As for your typical flow, that is correct.

And it depends on your idea of production. Hobbyists would put evaluation boards as is in their projects. Cheaper ones like the TI msp430 line had arduino competitor evaluation boards that were cheap enough to put into projects. Especially with the bonus of usb power and communication and programmer as part of the board. And while an arduino isn't an evaluation board, thats only because it wasn't made by the manufacturer of the microcontroller and labeled an evaluation board. There are commercial products with an arduino board as the controller instead of a unique pcb designed with the atmel microcontroller.

But most evaluation boards are geared towards professionals and corporations and priced accordingly. And yes, the boards are generic enough that they aren't suited for embedded purposes. The size and cost of them are much larger than a target approach of implementing the microcontroller and small number of features needed on their own pcb.

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