ChipKIT – PIC32 with Arduino taste

Arduino has strong positions in hobby market. Their strategy is really simple – everything works out of a box. Speaking of development boards – they are open source with unified pin layout that allow plugging multiple extension (shield) boards. Development software is also open, works on major platforms including Windows, Linux and MacOSX. But probably the winning factor is that arduino is rich in libraries allowing easy code writing without knowing whats going on inside chip.

Original Arduino boards are based on Atmel AVR 8-bit microcontrollers that are limited in processing power and even more in Flash and SRAM . Additionally Arduino libraries are written to be easy usable with sacrifice of performance. If you tried to develop more time critical apps then you know that Arduino’s don’t shine in this position. You can work around by writing your own libraries or simply go non Arduino way – writing your own C code. But why loose ability to use libraries and rich community resoures only because hardware can’t ensure desired performance.

This is where chipKIT comes in. Thanks to Newark we are able to take a closer look at chipKIT Uno32 which promises Arduino like experience with higher performance.

ChipKIT is developed by Digilent which offers two types of boards – Uno32 and Max32. So lets see whats inside Uno32 board. It is based on Microchip PIC32MX320F128 microcontroller featuring 128K flash and 16K SRAM memory. It can be clocked at 80MHz giving up to 32-bit MIPS performance. There are 42 available I/Os that are arranged to be arduino compatible and still give access to remaining pins. There are two user programmable LEDs on board for quick playing around. ChipKIT-Uno32 can run externally or USB powered. For USB connectivity there is an USB to UART interface chip (FT232RQ) used – same as in arduino.

Speaking of software – chipKIT-Uno32 can be programmed with modified Arduino IDE (so called Mpide) environment that must be downloaded separately. It still supports AVR based Arduino but additionally there is PIC32 compiler and libraries added. So existing Arduino code can be also successfully compiled for chipKIT. Uploading compiled code is also easy using avrdude. ChipKIT utilizes STK500V2 bootloader so uploading hex is easy as you would do with any arduino.There is no noticeable change form software perspective. If you can program Arduino then you can do same with chipKIT. All Arduino tutorials and community resources work for both fine. It’s a great choice for those who seek Arduino experience with higher performance. [Read more about Uno32]

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