Thursday, July 19, 2007

From PICAXE to Arduino

I´m done with PICAXE for several reasons:

  • I´ve purchased a new laptop to replace my old computer and I realized that it has no serial ports, so I lost the way to program my PICAXE microcontrollers. (Yeap I can buy the USB cable, but that means to invert more money).
  • There is no way to reuse the programming cable of the PICAXE to send/receive data from the PC. I usually need this feature when I play with microcontrollers and if I need two cables, one for programming and another to communicate, it sucks.
  • Serial communication routines are pretty slow on PICAXE microcontrollers and the speeds supported aren´t too high.
  • You need batteries to provide power to the PICAXE board, that sucks. I´m usually going to use the microcontroller as an interface to the world for my PC, so I would rather the PC to provide the power to the PICAXE board.

This issues forced me to find another framework, and I found it: Arduino. This is an open source project implemented over an Atmel microcontroller and that supplies almost the same tools as the PICAXE and even more because Arduino address all the PICAXE issues perfectly:
  • It has an USB board
  • The USB connection can provide power to the board
  • The USB cable can be used to serial transmission and reception between the PC and the microcontroller
Another great advantage of Arduinio is that there is an Spanish provider placed in Zaragoza, Libelium. And the price is definitely a good one bearing in mind all the features supported by the USB board.

As all open source projects, it takes some time to configure the software, and even more time if you are trying to set everything up on Windows Vista. The main issue I faced was:
  • After installing Arduinio Development Environment 0008, you need to download the last version of WinAVR (20070525), install it, and copy the the installation content on \tools\avr
Result: After two nights working on Arduino, I´ve already have the code with the same features of the one I used to have with PICAXE and with better performance. Currently I´m very satisfied with this new option.

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