To get a nice playground to get into the programming of Atmel AVR microcontrollers, I ordered an EasyAVR5 Dev Kit from MicroElektronika .
The EasyAVR5 Dev Kit includes all kind of stuff to get into micro controller programming without having days of soldering and being unsure if there is a hardware or programming issue.
For 130 US$ (which is a bargain when converted to Euros) you get a integrated programmer, many LEDs and switches, 4× 7LED-display, rs232 serial port and a sdcard connection slot.
Optional you can get an dot matrix 2×16 chars LCD display and a graphic-LCD display. The right 10 pin extensions can be used to connect several other addons or development boards, so you can advance the whole board to you own needs.
Even when you see a power connection in the upper left ? the whole board is fully USB
MikroE offers two compilers for the programming languages BASIC and Pascal. Both are available free of charge as Demo versions, which can only create small program codes. This is nice to test the board when it arrives and you can get a feeling if you like their compilers.
In July 2008 they want to offer a C-compiler too, but today you have to find other solutions to program in C.
Free of charge is the USB programmer, which is integrated in the development kit. So if you have your very own compiler for the Atmel AVR micro controller, you can use them of course and use the MikroE flasher to write the binary into the MCU.
Little downside and solutions
The programmer is more or less the only handicap, when you want to use a third party development kit. If you are not using the MikroE Basic, Pascal, (or soon C) system, you can still use their programmer, but you can’t debug.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel: MikroE had included the JTAG connection, which can be used for programming and ICE debugging when you get an JTAG/ICE adapter.
These JTAG/ICE adapters are available from several third party companies for around 50-150 US$ (based on the features) or from Atmel direct (up to 300 US$). If you buy one of theses, be sure to buy a JTAG/ICE connector, not an ISP programmer.
However there is a sweet open source alternative at the horizon called USBProg. If you are fit in building your own electronics, you can build this adapter on your own or you buy a nearly complete kit from the initiator of that USBProg device.
Using one of these JTAG/ICE devices give you the whole freedom of choosing the right development kit you like to use, but if you want to start can live without a debugging interface, everything what MikroE offers to this development kit will allow you to get into micro controller programming.
I am very pleased with the overall details and functions of the Dev kit. If you want to get into MCU programming, try the MikroE EasyAVR board because its a great package of features for a more than fair price. The easy to access extensions brings you right into programming the stuff you like to do.
If you want to program with a third party development IDE or other operation systems like Linux or Mac OS, you should consider to buy a jtag/ice programmer and you have the fully freedom in your programming tools.