El Cheapo, the cheap way to program a PIC microcontroller

If you ever wanted to do a project involving microcontrollers, the first thing you need is a microcontroller, and programmer. Many commercial PIC programmers exist. These programmers cost anywhere from 25 to 250 dollars depending on how many different PICs are supported and how greedy the manufacturer is. In my other article, I gave a great review for the Microchip PIC32 starter kit, which includes the chip, programmer, and debugger. Best of all, it connects to your computer via a USB port, which is excellent since all modern computer have USB. The PIC32 starter kit only costs 50 dollars, which is more than reasonable.

However, there is a cheaper alternative if you are truly trying to save money on your hobby project. The cheapest way to get a PIC programmer is to make one yourself! The design is called El Cheapo, mainly because all the components together cost less than 10 dollars. Luckily, El Cheapo is extremely easy to make. Schematics of the programmer may be found by their original creator here.

What does this programmer look like? Here are some pictures I’ve taken of my El Cheapo programmer which I built.

Unfortunately, the El Cheapo programmer connects to your computer via an LP-25 printer port, which many computers do not have because it is now obsolete. If you’re thinking about building a PIC programmer yourself, be sure that you have a printer port on your computer. Otherwise, it’s best just to get a starter kit from Microchip which has a USB connection.

Posted under Saving Money

This post was written by admin on September 13, 2008

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