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SparkFun Electronics will be closed on July 3rd, 2015 in observance of Independence Day. Any orders placed after 2:00pm MT on July 2nd will be shipped out after the weekend. Thanks!

What is this place?


A short discourse on microprocessor theory.


No! It's not that bad! SparkFun Electronics is a supplier of prototyping supplies. What this means is we provide the tools needed to get started working with

  • AVR by Atmel

  • PIC by Microchip

  • MSP by Texas Instruments

What are these?

Very small integrated circuits that are computers in a nutshell. They have memory inside that contain the program instructions. So when you apply power and a clock signal - your program starts executing!

What's the catch?

Getting the code onto the chip can be cumbersome. Many times an expensive programmer is needed in order to transfer the code from your computer to your microprocessor.

Who wants to pay big bucks to make a light blink?

We are starving students and we hear your plea. That's why we started this company, in order to provide extremely cost-effect tools to get you up and running with microprocessors. Oh, and the blinking light thing - it will probably be the first program you ever write for a microprocessor. Silly, but it proves you've got the thing working.

What are the different types of microprocessors?

PIC is the original flash 8-bit MCU (microcontroller unit). Flash means you can re-program the chip up to 10,000 times. This was a huge breakthrough - back in the bad old days of OTP (one time programmable) you made very sure your code worked. Once you programmed the chip, that was it.

Atmel was quick to follow with their version (AVR) of an 8-bit RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processor. Equal and greater to the PIC in many cases.

Recently - the big boys at Texas Instruments have started turning out their line of Mixed Signal Processors (MSP). These MSP processors are astonishingly fast, powerful, small, and cheap! They have 16-bit instructions and many more input/output pins than the PIC or AVR groups. Best of all they are Low Voltage (LV)! Low voltage? Who cares? Well when you decide to develop a mobile device that requires all sorts of functionality but no room for big heavy batteries, you will understand what it means to run a processor at 2.5V compared to 5V!

So why do I need SparkFun stuff?

Because some of these processors only come in extremely small Surface Mount Device packaging (SMD) there is no way a home hobbyist could experiment with these devices (believe us, we've tried!) We provide these devices on header boards that breakout the very tightly placed pins to much more useable .1" standard pin dimensions.

You may have looked far and wide for programmers for AVR and PIC (and possibly MSP). No doubt you've visited sites half way around the world looking for what you needed. Look no farther. We have a large selection of programmers and fun development boards that will entertain and educate you or whomever you buy it for, (makes a great gift! No really!) for months to come.

Why all the hand tools?

You've got to have the right tool for the job. Once you get into bread boarding and then prototyping your creation (monster), you are going to need the right tools. We assume that you've got some or most of the tools you need already. SparkFun Electronics is happy to provide you with those common, but surprisingly hard to find items (wire wrapping, voltage regulators, temperature sensors) at hobby budget prices.

And the audio/computer/video cables?

We may be out on a limb, but most microprocessor people use computers. We like hooking up odd things together. So SparkFun Electronics has the audio/video cables that will aid you in any project you may endeavor - hooking your mp3 player to your stereo, DivX Box design, USB controlled laser light show, whatever! We want you hooked up.

I've got this cool AVR powered toaster! Wanna see?

Heck yea! Email us everything you've got (sparky@sparkfun.com) and we will throw it onto our Projects page. We can't believe what has already been done in past microcontroller contests (see Links) - we are sure you will surprise us again.

Comments 1 comment

  • Imagine an Arduino that you can only load a cade once. I sulute the inventors of the Flash Microcontroller!