PIC Elmer 160

Frequently Asked Questions


Helpful information about course lessons and the PIC-EL project board

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Intro PIC-EL Kit Tools Software Lessons FAQ QRP-L Discussion

Course Instructor:
John McDonough, WB8RCR

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I buy xxx programmer?
The answer depends on what you have available.  If your PC has an available serial port, then you should be able to use the PIC-EL board and you will need no other programmer.

If you have a parallel port available, there are a number of simple programmers on the web you can build for around $10.

If you have neither a serial nor a parallel port available, you will likely need to purchase a USB programmer.  Note that the programming software we are using will not work with a USB programmer so you will need to use the software provided with the programmer.  Students attempting to use a USB programmer on Windows NT (including Windows 2000 and XP) based machines may have some challenges.  Be sure the manufacturer can support your configuration.

Is the class open to non-hams?
The class is open to anyone who wishes to participate.  Notice, however, that many of the projects are amateur radio related.

What version of MPLAB are we using?
We plan to use MPLAB 6.30.  At the time this course is being developed, Microchip is testing a new version of MPLAB which will likely become available during the course.  We will stick with 6.30 for consistency throughout the course.

Why do I need Internet Explorer?  Won't Mosaic (or whatever) do?
MPLAB 6.30 will not install unless Internet Explorer 5.5 or later is installed.

What if I am using Windows 95?
Earlier versions of MPLAB can be used on versions of Windows prior to Windows 98 SE.  The Tools link at the top of the page includes a link to older versions of MPLAB.  Recognize that all of the steps for other versions might not exactly follow the course documentation, but versions that are quite a bit older include all the important capabilities.  At least one student has had good success with 5.31.

What if I am using Linux?
MPLAB is not available for Linux.  However, there is an assembler and simulator that fit quite nicely with other development tools.  Lessons 2 and 3 will be largely irrelevant, and other lessons may make specific references to steps in MPLAB, but the bulk of the course will be unchanged.

The folks on the QRPLINUX-L reflector have been working on identifying this software.  See https://lists.lehigh.edu/mailman/listinfo/qrplinux-l  for information on this reflector, including the archives.

What if I am using a Mac?
Your instructor is unaware of any development software for the Mac.  However, it is possible that the Linux software (see above) may be made to work with OS-X.  It is likely this will require recompiling the software.

What PIC are we using?
We have based the class on the PIC16F84A, which is included on the PIC-EL board.  Toward the end of the class, we will discuss some of the advantages of other PICs for different applications.

Why aren't we using the PIC16F628?
For many applications the PIC16F628 is indeed a better part, as it costs less than the 16F84A and has much more capability -- however, it is a very complex part.  We felt it was better to start people out on the simpler 16F84A.  By the end of the class students will have developed the skills required to program and use the 16F628 by using the pin-for-pin compatible 16F84A.  All the functions of the lesser device, including the programming method  and circuitry, are applicable to the 16F628, so sudents can later substitue the more capable and modern microcontroller for future custom applications, if desired.  In fact, we have some advanced lessons planned downstream for students wishing to upgrade the microcontroller in this way.

Do I need to have a DDS Daughtercard?
The last lesson will deal with programming the AD9850 synthesizer chip on the DDS Daughtercard.  If you have the daughtercard, the PIC-EL board makes a nice little signal generator or VFO.  Since you will be a proficient PIC developer, you will even be able to make the changes needed to use the daughtercard as a VFO with whatever IF you happen to fancy.  However, you will have learned enough by that time that you may choose to use some other scheme for synthesis.

Are we going to learn how to program a liquid crystal display?

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Page last updated:  Dec 12, 2003