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I am currently getting interested in starting experimenting with Electronics, and am searching for some sort of electronics starter kit to get me started.

I have look at Arduino's Starter Kit and also BASIC Stamp, but I was wondering if there where any other interesting (or even better) Starter Kits than the ones I mentioned above ?

PS From the above two, I would personally go for the Arduino one because it uses C, whereas Basic Stamp uses BASIC

[Update]
The currently most voted answer from X-Istence says that Parallax is the way to go, yet the accepted answer (and even the second one) from Daok's question disagrees strongly with that, saying that it is overpriced and not worth it if you're already into programming.

Anyone care to elaborate a bit more on this please?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by slhck Feb 20 at 19:07

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
The thing that impresses me about Parallax products, esp. the BASIC Stamp, is that they are mature and well polished and have fantastic documentation that assumes little electronics knowledge on the part of the reader. I built a single-key MIDI piano using a BS2 a touch sensor, and some wires/connector in about 3 hours with their documentation. If your'e already familiar with electronics and stuff, the Arduino is great because its cheaper, has more features (interrupts, more I/O, etc) but assumes more knowledge on the part of the developer. –  J. Polfer Aug 24 '09 at 18:58
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7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted
+75

I find that for a starter you are quick to dismiss the BASIC Stamp because it uses a variant of BASIC developed by Parallax known as PBASIC.

Having used both the BASIC Stamp and the Arduino, I still have my BASIC Stamp kit, along with the Stampworks book that is freely available from Parallax's website. I don't own my Arduino anymore having sold it to another student who ALSO felt that he wanted to write in C and not in BASIC.

The BASIC stamp is a milspec chip, and has been used on hundreds of amateur projects, and also in household appliances.

For example, the BASIC Stamp has been incorporated within a device that schedules the times a sprinkler system is to be turned on, it has also been used on various different Near Space balloons (very much like the near space project I worked on nearspace.0x58.com for more info).

Dismissing this versatile and useful chip because it does not have a C compiler is a mistake. It will be easier to prototype with, easier to quickly build various projects, and does not require the extensive knowledge of writing C code to run on an embedded platform.

Once you are done with the BASIC Stamp, you can move up to Parallax's SX28. This is a chip that can be programmed in SX/B (The SX version of BASIC, using those same skills and almost the same code you learned for the BASIC Stamp). C compilers do exist for the SX, as well as allowing you to program it entirely in assembly (good platform to learn assembly on).

Then the next step up is another Parallax device called the Propeller. This gives you 8 different cores to run code on, all in an embedded device allowing you to multi-task. It has to be written in an entirely new programming language called Spin, but by the time that you have taught yourself BASIC and SX/B you will have come to understand Parallax's awesome resources, awesome manuals and guides, and Spin will be nothing.

I have worked with Parallax's products for a long time, Just recently have I started moving to the Ti MSP430 for a new project I am working on, mainly for a new challenge as well as it having everything I needed on a single chip.

My outright suggestion, if you had not guessed it yet, go with the Parallax BASIC stamp. The ease with which you can the things you want to do, especially as a beginner make it a great starter set.

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the reason I said I'd prefer C is because I am a lot more versed in C than in Basic; infact I haven't used Basic in years –  Andreas Grech Jul 18 '09 at 18:16
    
Picking basic back up, even after having used it in years is extremely easy. When I first started playing with electronics and microprocessors I shunned the BASIC Stamp for using BASIC as the programming language, but ultimately fell in love with it for its simplicity and the amount of power it gives the user. Easier prototyping, faster code/test cycles and in general a lot less worry. BASIC is named so because it is basic, it is easy to learn, and re-learn. Especially with your first entry into electronics the BASIC stamp will be better, it is built to be used in the classroom, it can handle –  X-Istence Jul 19 '09 at 0:34
    
much more abuse than any other micro I have had the pleasure of working with. It is meant to be used as an educational tool to then go on and move up from once you have the basics down for electronics. –  X-Istence Jul 19 '09 at 0:34
    
+1. Hands down. A great way to get into electronics. If you have any affinity for Java, Parallax also has a Java-based chip. Gratuitous link: parallax.com –  akf Jul 29 '09 at 16:39
    
@akf: Would like to point out that the chip has no garbage collection what so ever, and is one of the worst products I have ever used in my life. I would definitely not suggest the Javalin for any serious embedded work. –  X-Istence Aug 4 '09 at 4:42
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Here are a couple of articles you might find useful:

Migration Issues (Basic Serial Communication)

Resources for getting started with AVRs

They sell breakout boards for Atmel ATtiny2313 and ATmegaXX8 AVR controllers, plus some kits that use those chips (at least one of those features Arduino compatibility).

Information on avr-gcc can be found here for Linux, OS X, FreeBSD and Windows.

An environment you might want to take a look at is Processing.

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I'd also check out Maker shed from make magazine. They have a number of interesting kits that cover a variety of things including robotics and electronics.

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I have asked almost the same question on StackOverFlow about MicroController some months ago. You can get a lot of good answer there : http://stackoverflow.com/questions/78744/how-to-start-programming-microcontroller

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There have been many good suggestions in the previous answers, but I'd like to present you a different approach.

You wrote:

I am currently getting interested in starting experimenting with Electronics

That sounds to me that you are not solely interested in microcontroller programming, but also in electronics.

The best way for getting started with electronics is to build (simple) circuits yourself. In my opinion, making your own starter board is ideal because starter boards are

  • simple, only a few components needed
  • modular (power supply, LEDs, buttons, interfaces)
  • cheap
  • freely available as schematic diagram

I'd not start with a full blown starter board, but for example with

  • power supply and a few LEDs or
  • power supply and a few buttons.

Later on you can add RS232 etc.

For a start you can build everything on a pinboard, no need to solder. Just be sure to get a microcontroller in DIL housing, no SMD stuff.


For me this approach worked very well: I did some stuff with AVRs and PICs and I never had a starter kit.

Buying a starter kit is good if you are interested in microcontroller programming. If you are more interested in electronics instead, it will be best to do without.

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Good grief what's all this newfangled talk of microcontrollers ?

"Electronics" used to mean getting a breadboard and a bunch of discrete components (resistors, transistors, capacitors, diodes, 74-series logic chips, photcells, LEDs...) and having some fun building... er, I can't remember but oscillators and radios used to be staples. Learning electronics used to mean understanding things like Ohm's law and then moving onto RLC impedance and filter theory, which are beautiful practical applications of complex numbers and Fourier analysis; I doubt learning to program a microcontroller is going to help you with that.

Mind you a fellow old fogey recently told me they could get a PIC microcontroller cheaper than they could get a 555-timer so maybe it's a dying art.

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+1 Thanks for all the references –  Andreas Grech Aug 2 '09 at 13:21
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Find out what you are interested in, electrical engineering is an extremely broad field. The most basic question is analog or digital. I'm more interested in digital, so here are a few of your options:

  • Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) design. These are very interesting chips, you learn an Hardware Description Language (HDL), like Verilog or VHDL. From there, you use the language to describe the hardware you want. FPGAs are very versitile, if you want hardware that does something specific and very fast (compared to x86) maybe this is for you. I recommend the Digilent Nexsys 2 board, about $100
  • Wireless Communications. Maybe you're interested in HAM radio, or even Software Defined Radio. There are many aspect of wireless digital communications, the learning curve is quite high. You might want to look at GNU Radio
  • Like you said, there are also Microcontrollers. Don't worry about having to learn C by the way, the C knowledge you need to do interesting things with a micro isn't that much. I took a microcontroller class without any knowledge of data structures or pointers. There's a large range difficulty with micros as well. The TI MSP430 is probably the most complicated to use, followed by the ATMEL chips, then PIC, then Arduino. Also, if you are interested in micros and FPGAs get the FPGA. You can configure the FPGA hardware to be a microntroller. Look into microblaze and picoblaze for this.
  • You can also look into Digital Signal Processors, but this requires quite a bit of theoretical background. If you don't know about Fourier Transforms, digital filters, etc wait on these.

On the analog side I have much less knowledge. Two of the most popular fields in analog are op-amps and Analog to Digital Converters. I don't know too much about either. But if you are interested in analog electronics, try some of the kits from make.

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