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The Amazing $1 microcontroller – a treasure chest for building modern electronic devices

The Amazing $1 microcontroller by Jay Carlson — “A new series that explores 21 different microcontrollers — all less than $1 — to help familiarize you with all the major ecosystems out there.” It is a good overview of what is out there for the electronics guiding much modern equipment as well as a guide to what counts and what doesn’t for these components. 

It’s time for a good ol’ microcontroller shoot-out. …

I wanted to explore the $1 pricing zone specifically because it’s the least amount of money you can spend on an MCU that’s still general-purpose enough to be widely useful in a diverse array of projects. …

Arm started out as a personal computer microprocessor when Advanced RISC Machines formed a joint venture between Acorn, Apple, and VLSI Technology to manufacture 32-bit processors for the Acorn computer. While Arm cores have grown in popularity as microprocessors for battery-powered systems (they are almost certainly powering your smartphone), Arm moved into the microcontroller sphere as well — the ARM7TDMI-S was probably the first Arm core that was used in microcontrollers — i.e., processors with completely self-contained RAM, flash, and peripherals. The Atmel AT91 and ST STR7 were probably the first microcontroller parts designed with an Arm core.

It’s important to understand the history of Arm because it explains a serious feature of Arm microcontrollers that differs substantially from the 8051 (the other multi-vendor architecture that dominates the field): Unlike the 8051, Arm is just a core, not a complete microcontroller. …

And that’s what I want people to think about as they walk away from this. If you’re an Arduino hobbyist looking where to go next, I hope you realize there are a ton of great, easy-to-use choices. And for professional developers and hardcore hackers, perhaps there’s an odd-ball architecture you’ve noticed before, but never quite felt like plunging into — now’s the time.

It’s an exciting time to be involved with electronics — whatever parts you choose to pick up, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about what’s out there, and can get inspired to go build something great. Definitely leave a note in the comments below if you’ve got something to contribute to the discussion!

It’s rather in the TL; DR camp but that D in this case should be a “Do” rather than a “Don’t.” Carlson covers many aspects of microcontroller choice including part specifications to development environments and boards to debugging to compilers. Do explore this corner of low cost, general purpose, electronics development with Jay.