Friday, October 31, 2008

Atmel STK-500 Starter Kit for AVR: Now with Death-bots

I've been programming the Atmel AVR microcontrollers for some time, I got started with the old AT90S1200 a long time ago, and I've been enjoying programming them ever since. Shortly after I started using them, new chips came out that I couldn't program with my Xeltek SuperPro/L programmer. So I picked up an STK-500 starter kit to use as a programmer and for light prototyping of AVR circuits.

My old STK-500 has gotten quite a workout. I've used it with a lot of different AVRs and built a bunch of other prototyping hardware around it. Unfortunately, I usually have more than one project going at a time and often I'd like to use the STK-500 for more than one. It's also a pain to change the configuration of the board to and from some chips, like the ATTiny26, one of my favorites.

When I ordered some of a new model of AVR the other day (ATTiny13A, a big upgrade from another of my favorites, the ATTiny12), I decided to pick up two more STK-500s (I wish I'd decided to get them back when they were only $50, but oh well.)

The STK-500 itself is pretty much the same, except that it's lost the serial memory IC that they had on-board (which I never use.) But the packaging has changed significantly:

STK-500, Now with spear-throwing cybernetic Odin kill-bot.

STK-500 boxes. Old on right, bigger new box on the left.

The old box is nice enough. It's got that "Wonders of Science" look to the art that reminds you of the stuff they tried to dress up at school to make it seem interesting when in fact it was a drab treatment of something that could have been interesting before the educational system sucked all the life out of it.

The new box is something else again. When I got it, I wondered if the increased size and the new art meant something. Like maybe a spear-throwing one-eyed Odin kill-bot inside? With cyborg Hugin and Munin?

Unfortunately, no. If I want an AVR-powered kill-bot I'll still have to build it myself. The increased size of the box just provides more room for the STK and its cables inside. The preprogrammed board demo still just uses switches to make an ATMega8515 flash LEDs. No Doom-Spears or all-seeing crows to report back to you what you've been missing in the neighbor's yard.

I was a little disappointed that they didn't throw in an extra IC this time. My first set included a sample ATMega163 as well as the AT90S8515 that ran the demo program. It also had a hardcopy parametric list of AVR devices that were available at the time. The set still includes a fairly current CD with software and family data on it, but no additional chip samples. A free ATMega644P would have been really nice. ;)

Still, I got the main thing I wanted. New STK-500s. Now I can work on three things at once without having one project wait on another to finish. And I've got cool pictures of a Norse microcontroller robo-dude. I think I'll take one into my classroom to hang up on the wall.

Edit: One thing the new STK500 comes with that the old one didn't is a handy little JTAG adapter. That's got more long term utility than a hardcopy user's guide, I guess, but I still miss getting the guide with its listing of the LED blinker demo program in the back.