One of the many factors that can put people off learning how to use microcontrollers is the cost that can be involved. Steven show us how to minimize the costs for solid PIC microcontroller development environment for using free (or very cheap) software.
This article was submitted by Steven Moughan as part of the “Hobby parts for articles” program. Steven receives a Modern Device Company Bare Bone Arduino Kit for this great article. Check out The Obsolete web site for more information and projects by Steven.
Starting with PIC development…
Ok, let’s face it, you can’t really develop anything for microcontrollers without the following tools…
- A programmer
- A compiler
- An IDE
- A simulator
There is an awful lot of commercial and hobby solutions when it comes to programming PIC microcontrollers. There is the PICKIT1 / PICKIT2 programmers from microchip that can program almost any PIC under the sun, but then there are some, very comparable hobby solutions for programming that can be put in place… Im not going to list them all, but I will however give a good overview of what is available…
http://www.instructables.com/id/EGXZT1ZXHUEX5037SA/ is a good homebrew solution to a PIC programmer, it is based on a programmer first released by David Tait
http://www.finitesite.com/d3jsys/ is another TAIT style programmer with a very low parts count.
When it comes to compilers its all down to language choice, do I use C, do I use BASIC, Pascal, what? Don’t worry if none of this seems familiar to you, not yet anyway…
BASIC is generally a good starting point for most programmers, it boasts a loose, English style syntax which is quite easy for most people to pick up. Some basic compilers are…
Great Cow BASIC, free open source compiler released under the GPL license.
MikroBasic, Commercial but a free (restricted) demo
C is my personal programming language of choice, I find it to be very robust with many, many options, but with options comes complexity…
PIC C LITE, Commercial but a free (restricted) demo
CCS, Commercial but a free (restricted) demo
JAL is another language, syntactically similar to BASIC, but is free and open source, distributed under the GPL Licence
Please keep in mind that these are not the only compilers available for PIC microcontrollers, there are many many many many (get the point?) more…
IDE (Intergrated Development Environments)
IDE’s are great tools, and possibly the best one of all is MPlab which is one that Microchip themselves released, it integrates well with Hi Tech C Lite and CCS, I have never tried it with any other compilers. It also has a built in assembler and IC Prog integrates well also. http://www.microchip.com
IDE’s are available from most compiler distributors too, but one not to be over-looked is Proton IDE, which while is not one I use regularly, I have found to be very flexible…
Simulators are _ALMOST_ essential for microcontroller development, MPlab does have a very complex, and well thought out simulator built in, along with many other great tools (are you getting the picture? MPlab is Great!)
Another very good, and very cheap simulator I have found is Virtual Breadboard which can be found at http://www.virtualbreadboard.com/. Its uses are almost endless…
That about wraps up my section on PIC development, but there is still a little more to come… general electronics development is a has a lot of room for diversity such as choice of components, wiring schemes, labeling and much more…
Software that will make electronics design much easier for you.
http://www.cadsoft.de – Eagle Layout editor, a free (limited to dual layer) schematic and PCB layout program, with a growing user base, lots of sample projects and an absolutely huge abundance of libraries…
LTSpice, a SPICE modeling and simulating package from linear technologies…
Virtual Breadboard – Did I mention this already?
FilterLab from Microchip.com is great for active & passive filter design
555 Timer Pro is great for calculating your 555 values and variables (restricted)http://www.schematica.com/555_Timer_design/555_Timer_PRO.htm
CalCoil is great for rolling your own inductors, however I can’t find my old link, so you’re going to have to Google it.
Open Office from http://www.openoffice.org is great, although not specifically for use in electronics, it does everything MS office can do, and it’s free…
Well, that’s the end of my little info-snippet, I hope you enjoyed reading it and learned a little something new, if not a lot :p
 Some software is restricted or is only for non commercial use
 An IDE is not strictly required, but makes life much easier
 A simulator is not strictly required, but makes life much easier