You don’t need an Arduino for everything! Or do you? This is an argument that plays out here quite often. Whatever the outcome, most folks agree that once you’ve dipped your feet in the shallow end of the pool, the real fun is when you dive into the deep end.
[Mahesh Venkitachalam] designed tinyDriver, an experimental Open Source breakout board for the Atmel ATtiny84 chip. His idea was to create a convenient platform which can be used to understand microcontrollers in-depth, by letting users dive under the hood and make use of the various features of the chip such as timers, PWM, interrupts, ADC, and digital I/O. The ATtiny84 is cheap and simple enough for starters. Add a low-cost AVR programmer, install the free and cross-platform avr-gcc and avrdude tool chain, read up the data sheet, learn some C programming and start experimenting. Rinse and repeat and you’ll be a pro at it soon. He’s got a few starter projects documented on his website to get you going.
The hardware is open source, and the Git repository contains the hardware source and example code. If you’re a hardware noob, he’s thoughtfully added a PTC resettable fuse and reverse polarity protection on the board to make sure you don’t release the magic blue smoke prematurely. All of the I/O’s are broken out on a header, and the motor driver and RGB LED can be disabled when not needed. The board isn’t hand-assembly friendly, but he plans to crowd fund it shortly. If you want to move beyond the Arduino platform, projects like the tinyDriver are the way to go.