I got my Adafruit USBTinyISP AVR programmer/SPI Interface/USB Bitbang Device kit today, and was compelled to immediately assemble and test it. The USBTinyISP is an excellent product; it is considerably cheaper than the official Atmel AVR programmer, just as functional, and supports a fellow qualified hobbyist. I’ve been meaning to pick up my own AVR programmer for a while, as having a programmer and a stock of cheap microcontrollers (I also recently picked up half a dozen adorable ATTiny13 chips to use with it to give my SmartLEDs idea a shot) enables all kinds of cool projects, that do not involve “find one of the programmers on campus” or “Use the department’s Arduino Dieciemilia that I haven’t returned.”
The USBTinyISP comes as a very nice kit, which includes all the component parts including a nice case and well-made PCB.
In the picture, in addition to the included parts, you can see my trusty Xytronic 379 Soldering Station, for which I have nothing but praise (if you think you need one of those classic blue Weller WES51 stations, you really need one of these, its a better station and costs half as much). In the left of the frame you can see my Leatherman Wave, which I cooed about a few days ago. It just happened to be in the picture, I use an ancient pair of thin-profile pliers (now sold as the Xcelite 378, highly, highly recommended) I inherited from my mother when I am working on electronics at home.
I consider myself reasonably competent with a soldering iron, and it took me a little under an hour to go from holding a mailer pouch to programming a chip, with no fuckups in between, which speaks well for the quality of the instructions, the kit, and the thinking that went into them. There are a few interesting quirks in the design; several resistors mount vertically to the PCB, the large electrolytic capacitor is intentionally mounted so it rests on top of the TTL buffer. These are both space-saving measures, and anyone who has ever seen most of the things I throw together on perfboard knows I have a high esteem for nifty tight designs.
Using the completed programmer is just the same as all the other models of AVR programmer. For software I use AVRDude, since it is well-supported on all common platforms. Below is a shot of my first successful program (or actually, readout) of a chip.
That tiny black thing on the breadboard surrounded by the brightly colored wires is one of the aforementioned ATTiny13 chips; I paid $1.95ea for those, and it really is an entirely capable little microcontroller. The incessant march of technological progress never ceases to amaze me. Sometime soon I’ll need to make a little target board that can socket the ATTiny13s and has a plug for the 6-pin connector so I don’t have to muck about with loose wires every time.
Your knife is necessary, but not sufficient. Always collect what’s useful. Reject only your ignorance, and you might survive.— The Cheshire Cat, from American McGee’s Alice
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