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A 32-bit Development System For $2 138

An anonymous reader writes "If you are too cheap to buy a $20 Arduino or too elitist to not have at least a 32-bit processor, Dr. Dobb's shows you how to take a $2 chip, put it on a breadboard with a TTL serial (or USB) cable, and be up and running with a 32-bit C/C++ system. Even if you have to buy the breadboard and the cable, it is comparable in price to an Arduino and much more capable. The Mbed libraries (optional) make it as easy to use a 'duino, too."
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A 32-bit Development System For $2

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'll betcha I can 3D print the same CPU for 1.50$ It's the future!

    • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:56PM (#46961117) Journal

      Imagine a beowulf cluster of... oh, forget it.

    • That would be absolutely awesome - microchip traces are probably ~200nm, and your 3D printer nozzle might be capable of 1mm thick traces... imagine the barn you'd need to protect the finished product from the weather!

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      But seriously, no A/D? And who cannot pay the $18 or so a decent Arduino clone costs?

      • by wd5gnr ( 1682238 )
        The chip has a quite capable A/D. And why spend $18 for an 8 bit system? Granted, I could go get an Atmel CPU (and I have) but this a 32-bit processor running at 48MHz is going to be more capable. Not sure where you got the idea there is no A/D.
        • by harrkev ( 623093 )

          FYI: Atmel does have ARM processors too, along with all the usual goodies (ADC, DAC, timers, UARTs, etc.). Prices for their ARM stuff starts below $2.00 also.

          However, the one thing that Atmel does *NOT* have is a DIP package, which, IMHO, is kind of a big deal. A dip package is probably one of the best things that you can do to be hobbyist-friendly. The other things that hobbyists like are a free tool chain and a low-cost programmer. Atmel does those OK.

          Disclaimer: I work for Atmel.

  • Not news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:52PM (#46961081)

    So you can take a $2 microcontroller, put it on your $10 breadbord, power it with your $100 variable power supply, wire it up with your $5 eBay wires, and talk to it with your $12 FTDI adapter. SO WHAT? This isn't news. This is what ARM developers have been doing since the damn chips came out.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You've got it! There are numerous tiny 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 based boards out there for less than $20, which are virtually always more practical. It's not like you can't use them with a breadboard for prototyping. Teensy version 3.0 comes to mind.

      • Re:This (Score:5, Informative)

        by Klivian ( 850755 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:14PM (#46961307)
        Or the TI LAUNCHPAD boards, they are Cortex-M4Fs and quite capable.
      • I believe there are PIC32 MCUs that are DIP-packaged (mostly DIP-28) and cheap (a few $) at the same time. It's MIPS, not ARM, but hell, some of us like MIPS anyway.
        • by Durrik ( 80651 )
          The PIC32 MCUs are a bit more expensive. Around $4.20 for single orders. But they're also clocked higher. The PIC32MX is an 80Mhz part. The one in the ARM in the article is 48 Mhz. There is also a big difference in RAM and FLASH. The arm has 4k and 32k. The PIC32MX has 64k and 512k.

          Of course if you're really wanting to play with the MCHP parts its best to go with the starter kits, which makes them much more expensive than the $3 in the article. But then you get a USB debug port, a USB port to play w
    • by jythie ( 914043 )
      I am also confused as to how this is news . It can be a cool project, but as you point out, it is something that people have been doing for quite some time. It is a nice little tutorial, but bringing making a story out of it feels a bit like someone jumping onto slashdot and going 'hey! Did you people know there is porn on the internet! I found an article about it!'
    • No, no, NO! You power it with a $5 piece of crap power supply that you got at an outlet sale - then watch as the power supply fries everything in sight the first time you look at it crosseyed....

      I did this in college with my "free" evaluation DSP (that cost $200 in reality...) took me a month to get another sample out of the sales rep.

      • what the hell? I made my own 5V power supply when I was twelve with a bridge rectifier, a couple big-ass capacitors and a voltage regulator. it never fried anything for the next two decades.

    • by k31 ( 98145 )

      Yeah, it isn't news, but it is a very cleverly disguised advertisement. I bet they got a lot of impulse buys from this article, and that is basically what slashdot is for mostly.

    • Ah... but were they able to do it with a chip that was available in DIP form, with useful amounts of flash & ram, and relatively relaxed power & I/O design on a breadboard?

      We've gotten spoiled by $7 Arduino knock-off boards from China, and a lot of us have forgotten that just 5 years ago, Atmel literally couldn't make the ATmega644p fast enough for stores like DigiKey and Mouser to reliably keep it in stock. For those who weren't into AVR microcontrollers a few years ago, the 644p was Atmel's beefie

    • why you wouldn't make your own power supply?
  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:57PM (#46961131) Homepage

    Digi-Key $3.48 and Mouser $3.49

    Still could be something you can have a lot of fun with!


    • Digi-Key $3.48 and Mouser $3.49

      Digikey and Mouser are about the most expensive places to go. They have everything and usually don't have minimum buys but the markups are huge. Arrow Electronics has them for $1.70. My company buys a lot of stuff through Heilind.

      If you want to find out who has parts and how much, stocknet [] is a good resource.

      • by janoc ( 699997 )

        Good luck trying to get these in Europe. They are pretty much unobtanium, because nobody stocks them or they sell these only to companies (Farnell), with a huge shipping and handling markup (Digikey, Mouser, Farnell) or they simply don't carry the DIP version at all (RadioSpares).

        It is way easier to buy one of the QFP packages - they are both cheaper, more available and with more pins. And either get it pre-soldered on a breakout board or buy a simple QFP to DIP adapter on eBay (or make your own).

        • Good luck trying to get these in Europe.

          It is really too bad that governments don't get together and set up an international small parcel delivery service that anyone can use easily and conveniently by applying a small adhesive sticker (or "stamp") as their proof of payment.

          • Before making snide comments, you should try to get those items in Europe. I have. By the time you have them in your hands, you can rest assured that the price is closer to 200-250% of what the parts originally costed. Provided your time is free, of course. Else it gets a tad bit expensive.

      • by Kazymyr ( 190114 )
        Arrow Electronics kills you with shipping charges. Least expensive option is $15 for a small order.
      • LOL, if you think Digikey and Mouser are expensive, check the prices (including shipping) from Newark or Farnell. Jesus God naked on a Harley, Newark absolutely *rapes* you on the shipping charges. I can't even count the number of times I *almost* bought something from Newark, then called it off once they revealed their criminally-expensive shipping charges at checkout time.

        DigiKey's shipping is expensive, but they have a huge advantage -- if you absolutely MUST have something tomorrow, their cutoff time fo

        • by sjbe ( 173966 )

          LOL, if you think Digikey and Mouser are expensive, check the prices (including shipping) from Newark or Farnell.

          We order the majority of the small parts we buy through Heilind. They have a warehouse close to us which allows us to get stuff delivered next day using Fedex Ground. (We use a lot of Tyco and Molex stuff) You can cut the freight charges down a bit by having them ship on your Fedex/UPS account. Makes it harder for them to artificially jack up the freight. That's what most companies that buy electronic components do including mine. Also if you buy a fair bit of stuff and need just one or two pieces man

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Even the website says $3 for the chip. It's £1.50 from avnet. Extremely optimistic summary. To quote TFA...

      Assuming you already have a breadboard and a few simple items, you can start using these CPUs with very little effort. Even if you have to buy everything, you could spend as little as $20 — perhaps $40 if you buy the Link board for debugging. The result, though, is an easy to work with 32-bit development system that can create systems that are very inexpensive to deploy.

      Perhaps a zero slipped? You need to buy the carrier PCB (probably $3-5 from Oshpark), breadboard ($1-2 on eBay), wires and a USB-Serial cable. I don't know anyone who just has a serial converter just lying around unless they're an engineer - nobody except electrical engineers and instrument scientists use serial ports any more.!?q=LPC1114FN28

      • by JanneM ( 7445 )

        "I don't know anyone who just has a serial converter just lying around unless they're an engineer"

        This is not a first project for anybody. Chances are high that you've already played with Arduino a fair bit, and built your own on breadboard as well. In which case you most likely have a USB-serial cable or board already, in order to program them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:58PM (#46961135)
    If you are going to go with an individual chip to be put on a breadboard or a breakout board, there have been a wide variety of chips in the $2-5 range for years. And like every other step of the price ladder, there are newer, better ones each year. The chips on a lot of the dev boards, even some $100+ ones are quite cheap. What you are paying for is the convenience of someone setting up a communication layer for you and having it all soldered together in a compact design. If you are trying to save money, you always have the option of using the chip directly, although some faster, smaller ones might be more difficult to setup depending on your soldering and PCB making skills. Although some of the cheap dev boards come out to about the same cost as buying a USB communication chip and socket anyway because they are selling at a loss or using volume discounts, so it is difficult to get the exact same prices of less. But if you already have a USB to TTL cable of some sorts, you just need the main processor chip in a lot of cases. Then it is about making sure you can initially program the chip, and it is useful to have good instructions (like this article) or tutorial instead of working that out from the datasheet.
  • Dr Dobbs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:59PM (#46961155)

    I used to love Dr Dobbs. But unfortunately had to give up my expensive Dr Dobb's habit, when it went online-only, and turned into a cheesy website peddling little but warmed-over stuff from elsewhere, and paid puffery. Too bad.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:18PM (#46961355)

      Huh? Have you actually looked at it in the last few years?

      This quarter, Walter Bright on writing languages, Dave Thomas (the Ruby guy) on why he regrets being one of the original signers of the the Agile Manifesto, Cay Horstmann's lengthy tutorial on Java 8 lambdas, Microsoft's compiler team on the most underused compiler switches for Visual C++. In addition, Jolt Awards, salary survey, and editorials that aren't shy, like this week's on companies using OSS without buying licenses. I read and love Dr. Dobb's and don't in anyway recognize what you're talking about.

  • Micromite (Score:4, Informative)

    by psergiu ( 67614 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:05PM (#46961215)

    Here's a better one-chip sollution:

    MicroMite [].

    PIC32 running a full BASIC interperter [] (ANSI X3.113-1987, with optional line numbers, structured programming features like do loops, multiline if statements, user defined subroutines and functions. )

    You don't even need to install Arduino or another IDE to use-it - you just need a VT100 terminal emulator and use the built-in editor.

  • ... can anyone elaborate as to why this would be a better road than just springing for a Raspberry Pi?
    • ... can anyone elaborate as to why this would be a better road than just springing for a Raspberry Pi?

      I have some old systems in the closet running as headless Linux boxes. I recently realized some of those were about the same CPU and RAM -wise as a Raspberry Pi B I had on my desk for a current project. The Pi was about US$45 with case and power. I'm thinking of attaching an external USB HD and mounting a NAS HD for some comparison test to these old systems. Don't need blazing performance for the local subversion or media wiki server in the closet, might save space and watts and decibels with the Pi. Shoul

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I have a Pi running raspbian playing NAS.
        Works pretty well, not exactly a speed demon, about 10MB/s read and 8MB/s write for NFS.

        For comparison, my "big" NAS here:
        Xeon E3-1220Lv2 on a Supermicro X9SCM-iiF board, IBM M1015 SAS HBA flashed to LSI 9211-8i, Mellanox MHGH29-XTC Infiniband HCA, 10 3TB 7.2k SATA HDs, linux md raid6, 65W at the wall.
        113MB/s read 110MB/s write for NFS over the onboard GbE.
        1200MB/s read 850MB/s write for NFSv3 over IPoIB. NFSoRDMA would have been even faster but had weird issues with

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Cheaper. Better for driving devices (Pi is greatas a mini Unix but if you are serious about using the GPIO you want to be careful not to fry it).

      Honestly though, see this for a homebrew Arduino compatible solution at a fraction on the price: []

      Buy the bits from wherever and follow the plans or they will sell you a kit.

      • Add shipping cost, power supply, breadboard, interface cables, and the difference in price is negligible.
    • by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @03:33PM (#46961943) Homepage

      Google the difference between a microcontroller (this, Arduinos, etc) and microprocessor (RaspberryPi). They both have their advantages and disadvantages and areas that they are designed for.

  • Teensy 3.1 is cooler (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I dig that the chip in TFA is DIP...but soldering TQFP isn't that tough... same cost, much more power in the Teensy 3.1. Also less of a hack than what's described in the article.

    • It's not so much "tough" as "the goddamn solder paste has to be kept refrigerated until you're ready to use it, then goes bad within a few days of warming it up to room temperature". Throwing away mostly-full syringe after syringe of solder paste after you used maybe 0.5mL of it to solder one chip gets expensive after a while.

      • I use my solder paste straight out of the refrigerator. I actually prefer the firmer consistency that way. It easily lasts 6 months in there.
      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        Heck, I don't even know who would need solder paste without actually using a laser-cut stencil and, you know, actually printing the paste like it was meant to be - in quantity? What's the point? You don't even need or want a fine-tipped soldering iron. For reflowing anything with leads, you in fact want a nice 3mm-5mm wide, short tip with good thermal conductivity. You don't need solder paste, you do need a flux pen [] .

  • I for one (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    look forward to buying one, playing with it for a day, then throwing it in a drawer, never to be seen until I move.

  • by paulpach ( 798828 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:24PM (#46961389)

    The cheapest breadboard I could find was $30.

    In other news, I also figured out how to get a great ride for $1. All you need to do is add a $1 car freshener to your existing BMW.

    • by Anonymous Coward
    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      How hard did you look? I just typed "breadboard" into google and found several under $10 on the first page. Also found some great surfaces for cutting bread at a similar affordable price.
      • Not hard at all, as the price was irrelevant.

        My point was that it is only $2 if you _only_ focus on the chip which is absurd.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is a site for nerds. You are expected to already own several breadboards.

  • by bhlowe ( 1803290 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:27PM (#46961407)
    Spending a little more money up front often pays off with a better product, bigger user community, more sample code, more documentation... and no breadboarding!
  • by Richy_T ( 111409 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:48PM (#46961589) Homepage

    If you sign up with Microchip as a dev, they'll send you small numbers of their chips for free. These can be set up to work with next to zero external components. You will need some kind of programmer though.

    • by n1ywb ( 555767 )
      Yeah you could shoot yourself in the foot and use PICs or you could come to the light of AVR with it's higher speed and full support for doing dev with the GNU toolchain on Linux from 8 to 32 bits.
      • And what about file system crashes (ie from power being pulled) in an embedded environment?

      • Higher speed? The max speed on a 32 bit AVR is 66MHz, with 1.5 DMIP/MHz, the max speed on a PIC32MX is 80MHz at 1.65 DMIP/MHz. You can do development on Windows, Mac or Linux with MPLABX for every 8, 16, and 32MHz PIC in Microchip's stable. Microchip's 16 and 32 bit compilers are GCC based (but free versions are limited to -O1 optimization). The newest PIC32, the MZ, will do up to 200MHz.

        If you prefer using AVR, great, but at least make your comparisons based on reality. The hard part of doing any developme

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Seems pretty obvious he was talking about 8 bit AVR & PIC.

          All these outfits can take their free, but limited compilers and shove them so deep up their ass it hurts.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          The 32 bit PIC architecture isn't bad at all, but it is badly let down by the development tools. MPLAB X is okay, but really nothing special. Microchip's ICD hardware is awful, and rather expensive.

          • Microchip's ICD is awful? Well, it isn't JTAG (for most chips, but the PIC32 does support JTAG debugging), but the ICD hardware supports all PICs (8, 16, 32 bit) and is available at what appears to be competitive to Atmel's tools (Atmel as an example- their low-end programmer the AVRISP is about the same price at Digikey as the PICKIT3) You can spend more and get more capability no matter what. It seems to me that the debugger that people complain about the most is the one they use the most, no matter the

            • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

              I got to play with the ICE. It didn't offer a huge benefit over the development model we were using and it had timing issues that messed with our very timing sensitive application. Nice idea though.

          • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

            There was something weird about mplab X which made me download the previous version. I can't remember what it was now but I seem to recall it was a "hell no" moment during installation.

      • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

        Meh, if the speed is fast enough (sometimes it's more about the timing) and I'm hitting assembly anyway and I'm not religious about the toolchain I use, who cares?

    • I've been tinkering with the PICs since 2002 before that it was the ELF2 Cosmac 1802 and the intel 8085 explorer 85.
      Yes the PICs are my chip of choice and can get them for a buck or s free sample from Microchip when I feel the need to get something freshly minted. I just finished a scrumptious salad grown in a hydroponics system run by a PIC 16F629 and a few components. Olimex programer works great except when you put the chip in backwards. (Guess what it still works after that torture test, I don't know i
  • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Friday May 09, 2014 @04:54PM (#46962547) Homepage

    $2 is only 16 bits, since a quarter is 2 bits...

  • Assuming you already have a breadboard and a few simple items, you can start using these CPUs with very little effort. Even if you have to buy everything, you could spend as little as $20 — perhaps $40 if you buy the Link board for debugging.

    An arduino has many more connectors and is easier to use and therefore justifies a higher cost.

  • One Microcontroller Per Child. At $2 a pop they could give one to every kid in the world.
  • Neat!. like 8b days with 32. some old ARM BBC BASIC interpreter and push code trough serial line?
    • This is exactly what I do with with an Olimex PIC32 T-795H. It breaks the PIC32 IO out to breadboard compatible pins, and comes with an open source version of MMBASIC installed. It is easy to upgrade it to one of the later closed versions of MMBASIC that is more VB-like, and has better performance. Performance is not too bad, it processes about 1 BASIC token per microsecond. MMBASIC even supports treating the unused portion (192K) of FLASH as a file system, and can do autostart to a BASIC app, and it su

      • Nice.... That way you can push external "live code" to the controller. I guess the speed issue can be optimized at parts needed if your BASIC interpreter allows assembly embbeding. Given this thing. Ideal programming machine would be a Raspberry Pi. :-) Vt100 compatible. And cheaper than Apple Machines. On Raspberry Pi do love Real Time Basic-Assembler integration of RISCOS Operative System, that is a very efficent colaborative multitasking ARM ASM + BASIC environment for the ARM Systems, back from the A
        • RPi is an excellent machine, but the GPIO cannot handle realtime apps. What it really needs is a realtime I/O controller. Maybe something like an XMOS controller and an FPGA.

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