"To do good work, one must first have good tools."
Some tools and equipment are required in order to put PIC chips to use.
At the very least, a computer is required to write and edit programs,
assemble the code and simulate the results. A means of programming real
chips and a circuit in which to operate the programmed chip is needed
to let the microcontroller interact with the real world. Test equipment
becomes very useful when things don't work as intended and troubleshooting
and debugging is required.
- Development Environment
The Microchip Integrated Development Environment is as good a place to
start as any, and the price is right - free! There is lots of support
and an active forum filled with answers to many questions.
I use two different programming tools.
I have an old PICStart Plus that I bought eons ago when I first learned
about PIC microcontrollers and started using them. I still use this
device for programming DIP devices that get plugged into sockets. Mine is the
old-fashioned kind with the beige plastic case, not one of them thar new fangled
I also use an MPLAB ICD 2. This device allows the target microcontroller
to be worked with while it is in its circuit, allowing for quick program-and-test
cycles and real time debugging. In circuit programming, and debugging when needed, is
the way to go.
(The MPLAB ICD 2 is now obsolete so an MPLAB ICD 3 should
be considered instead.)
Now a days, a PICkit 2 is probably a better choice for programming and debugging.
I also have an original MPLAB® In-Circuit Debugger (ICD) but that is such an ancient
abandoned piece of equipment no longer supported by Microchip that it just collects
dust on a shelf somewhere.
- Circuit Board
For very simple circuits, I either etch or mill my own. However, I usually have
local circuit board shops print prototypes up for me. I try to lay out boards as
general purpose as possible, even when they have very specific purposes. This way,
blank boards can offen be reused for new applications. Sprint Layout generally gives me acceptable output files for
PCB production. Eagle has a steep
learning curve but is well worth the effort. GCPrevue is a very useful utility for inspecting Gerber files
and some PCB printing houses can work directly from the resulting GCPrevue project
- Power Supply
An adjustable bench top power supply, such as this relative cheapy I bought from a local electronics shop, is fine
for powering assorted projects. The adjustable controls are handy for testing things
and the current limiting function is useful for preventing the loss of that magic smoke.
Wall warts also work for some tasks although linear types can have very poor
regulation without a decent load. It's also a good idea to include a diode on the
power input line to prevent catastrophies if the input voltage is ever reversed.
- Volt Meter
At the very least, a volt meter lets you check that the right number of volts are
where you think they should be.
Hardware debugging can be close to impossible without a 'sillyscope. If you plan on
doing much electronics work, a scope is pretty much a must have tool. Beg, borrow, steal,
ask Santa - whatever it takes. Then learn to use it. A modern digital scope can be
had for not too many dollars and is well worth it. I own an Instek GDS-820S which didn't cost me much but can save a bucket
load of time when something isn't working right. In fact, for some timing jobs, it's
easier to throw any old program code together, measure the results and adjust the
timing in the program rather than actually pre-calculate what the timing constants
should be. Flickering debug LEDs can also be much easier to monitor on an oscilloscope.
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