Sep 15, 2011

Atmel STK600 Unboxing

In an effort to keep things fresh here on To the Rails, I wanted to shoot an unboxing video of my new STK600 AVR development kit from Atmel. Unfortunately, I have neither the voice nor the patience to pull it off. At some point I will post the outtakes video so we can all celebrate my ineptitude, because, unlike the bum over at Sculptor by Day (see link below), I believe failure is worth showing off. I will be incorporating more video demonstrations into posts as time goes on so look for those in the future – though I probably won’t be saying anything.

Let me also take this time to give a shout out to Amelia Dalton over at EEJournal (see my Electronics Links tab). I was lucky enough to win this kit as part of her “Nerdy giveaway” that she does each week on her Fish Fry podcast. I highly recommend tuning in if you are interested in the latest and greatest electronics news. She also does interviews with the higher ups of various electronics companies, often discussing their latest technology and where the company is headed. So thanks Amelia for giving me the chance to hack around with this kit for free (Retail: $200).

The AVR architecture was developed by two students in Norway, and the first AVR microcontroller was manufactured in a Norwegian ASIC house in 1996. I know I haven’t talked about microcontrollers in this blog before, but believe me there will be an in depth discussion coming at some point. For now, just know that a microcontroller is essentially a chip that is capable of being programmed to perform various I/O functions (i.e. read signals, output signals, perform mathematical operations, etc.). AVR is Atmel’s family of microcontrollers that competes with the MSP430 series from TI and the PIC line from Microchip, among several others.

Anyway, back to the board. The STK600 is an 8-bit and 32-bit development board and starter kit for the entire line of AVR microcontrollers. Near as I can tell it came out some time back in late 2007 as a replacement to the STK500. Notable upgrades include a 20MHz system clock, USB connectivity for programming, and more I/O functionality. It was actually released simultaneously with several other development boards, all of which were codenamed after Norse mythology. The STK600 is codenamed Odin.

I have embedded the YouTube video above where Atmel introduces the line of AVR development tools that includes the STK600, and I think it’s worth checking out if for no other reason than the concept art they use for the first two minutes or so of the video.

What makes this board unique is the routing system Atmel has implemented to make it compatible with their entire line of 8-bit and 32-bit micros. It works using a sort of programming sandwich. The top layer consists of a microcontroller loaded onto a “socket card”, which is a card that holds certain packages (shapes) of microcontrollers. The middle layer is called a “routing card”, which takes the pins of the microcontroller you are trying to program from the socket card and routes them to the correct places on the main board. This is often necessary because not all chips use the same programming or I/O pins. The bottom layer is the main board, where all the hardware for interfacing with the microcontroller resides. You can secure the sandwich together using plastic screws that are provided in the kit (pictured).

The STK600 kit also includes a USB 2.0 A/B cable, two 10-wire cables for programming with the JTAG header, one 2-wire cable for shorting jumpers, and an ATmega2560 microcontroller (8 bits, 40 pins) pre-soldered onto a board for testing/introduction purposes. You can see a picture of what comes in the kit above.

While the sandwich system makes this board very versatile, it also creates a huge burden on developers because you need to purchase a new routing card and possibly a new socket card each time you have to program a different type of microcontroller. In the hobbyist realm where I operate, Dual-Inline Packages, or DIPs, are the most popular because you don’t have to deal with getting a custom PCB for surface mounting. The DIP socket card is $49 and the subsequent routing cards for various micros go for $17 on Atmel's online store. While I am not particularly happy about having to drop $66 plus shipping on this board just to make it useful, I look at this as an opportunity to experiment with AVRs so I am willing to make the investment. Actually, I have found kits that sell the DIP socket card with 7 routing cards for around $110, so I may go that route.

One of the links below will take you to the technical specs for the STK600 on Atmel’s website if you are interested in taking a look. I will be sure to update on my progress working with this unit in the future.

Routing Cards on Atmel’s Store:


Joel Ryan said...

Wow, I was mentioned on the prestigious "To the Rails" blog. I am honored. In less than 10 hours, it looks like it has increased my page-views by an unprecedented 1 view. Which was probably Chris checking to make sure that the link worked.

Seriously though, good post, and thanks for the shout-out.

Alexandre Souza - PU1BZZ said...

Chris, where did you found this kit with 7 routing cards and base? I'm willing to buy it. Thanks!

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