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Al Williams

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YACDB (Yet Another Cheap Development Board)

June 26, 2010

Last month I wrote about the STM8S Discovery Kit -- a $7 development board from ST. Texas Instruments seems to be following suite with the MSP430 LaunchPad. For US$4.30 you get two MSP430 CPUs (but only 2K of flash in them), a mini USB cable, and a little break away board -- one side with the target and one side with the USB programmer/debugger.

TI has always offered low cost and interesting development boards. I've written before about the Chronos board which is really a wrist watch and the eZ430-F2013 for about $20 (which may be a better value if you don't mind spending the extra $16).

Why the sudden interest in cheap development hardware? I can't imagine these companies really care about the hobby market (e.g., Arduino-style devices). However, perhaps they think it is a trickle down effect. Consider the PIC. How many PICs are in devices because there are hundreds of hobby projects on the Web for it? You decide to learn about microcontrollers, you start with the PIC because you see some project you want to try. Then you go to work and use the PIC because you are comfortable with it. I'm sure that happens all the time. Maybe TI and ST think that by selling into the hobby market they will win designs when those hobby developers go to work?

If you are a software guy and you've always wanted to play with hardware, you are running out of excuses. Either of these boards will let you get started for less than $10. Both come with C compilers. Instead of hello world, you write a program to blink an LED. Then you learn how to interface to the outside world and you are all set. I've written in this blog before about using MOSFETs to drive loads, motor control, and similar topics. A quick Google on "physical computing", for example, will turn up a lot of interesting pages including this one which is a pretty good introduction to "real world" I/O.

What will you do with these boards? Or what other low cost development system do you like? Leave a comment and let me know.

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