When Are 8 Bits More Than 32?

Whenever we write up a feature on a microcontroller or microcontroller project here on Hackaday, we inevitably get two diametrically opposed opinions in the comments. If the article featured an 8-bit microcontroller, an army of ARMies post that they would do it better, faster, stronger, and using less power on a 32-bit platform. They’re usually right. On the other hand, if the article involved a 32-bit processor or a single-board computer, the 8-bitters come out of the woodwork telling you that they could get the job done with an overclocked ATtiny85 running cycle-counted assembly. And some of you probably can. (We love you all!)

redblue_pillWhen beginners walk into this briar-patch by asking where to get started, it can be a little bewildering. The Arduino recommendation is pretty easy to make, because there’s a tremendous amount of newbie-friendly material available. And Arduino doesn’t necessarily mean AVR, but when it does, that’s not a bad choice due to the relatively flexible current sourcing and sinking of the part. You’re not going to lose your job by recommending Arduino, and it’s pretty hard to get the smoke out of one.

But these days when someone new to microcontrollers asks what path they should take, I’ve started to answer back with a question: how interested are you in learning about microcontrollers themselves versus learning about making projects that happen to use them? It’s like “blue pill or red pill”: the answer to this question sets a path, and I wouldn’t recommend the same thing to people who answered differently.

For people who just want to get stuff done, a library of easy-to-use firmware and a bunch of examples to crib learn from are paramount. My guess is that people who answer “get stuff done” are the 90%. And for these folks, I wouldn’t hesitate at all to recommend an Arduino variant — because the community support is excellent, and someone has written an add-on library for nearly every gizmo you’d want to attach. This is well-trodden ground, and it’s very often plug-and-play.

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64bits Of Development Board

Whether we need them or not, we don’t usually shy away from a development board. [Keith] sent us a tip on the DragonBoard 410c after reading our recent coverage of the latest Beagleboard release. Arrow Electronics is manufacturing (and distributing, not surprisingly) the first Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 series based development board. At the time of writing there are two boot images on the 96boards.org site available for download Android 5.1 and an Ubuntu based version of Linux.

The DragonBoard 410c is stuffed with an Arm Cortex-A53 (Arm block diagram after the break) with max speed of 1.2GHz and support for 32bit and 64bit code. It also has on-board GPS, 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, full size HDMI connector, a micro USB port that operates in only device mode, two full size USB 2.0 ports for host mode, a micro SD card slot. In the way of GPIO it has a 40 pin low speed connector and a 60 pin high speed connector, there is also an additional 16 pin breakout for analog audio, and the list goes on (follow links above for more info).

For those of you playing buzzword drinking games not to worry, the board can be made Arduino compatible by using the mezzanine connector and there is a plan for the board to be Windows 10 compatible. Better make that a double!

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chipKIT Uno32: first impressions and benchmarks

Following Maker Faire, we’ve had a few days to poke around with Digilent’s 32-bit Arduino-compatible chipKIT boards and compiler. We have some initial performance figures to report, along with impressions of the hardware and software.

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