Here is a scenario that will be familiar to anyone who has built a few projects based on microcontrollers…
You have selected a chip (probably one that you are familiar with) and as you add more and more features, you realise that it will not have enough capacity for what you want to do.
This is the official diagram for the PIC32 chip and if it looks complex, that is because it is! There is a lot packed away inside the chip which means that you can reduce the number of support chips to a minimum. (Courtesy Microchip)
So, it is out with the catalog to find another chip that is a few rungs up on the capacity ladder and redesign the project to use that. Then later, possibly on a new project, you would find yourself running out of capacity again… and it would be back to the catalog again.
After a few cycles of this, the idea occurred to me, why not just pick the biggest, meanest and fastest chip that I could find and never again worry about running out of capacity? How hard could it be to use one of these things anyway?
Well, the answer turns out to be – not very hard at all! In fact, using one of these high powered chips is just as easy as using the simple 8-bit chips that most of us are used to.
So, this is what this article is about: to introduce you to the most powerful chip that Microchip makes and show how easy it is to use this monster, for even the simplest of tasks.
Just to set the scene, the chip that we are talking about costs only US$8.75 in one-off quantities and contains the same 32-bit central processor design that powered huge business minicomputers just 15 to 20 years ago.
The current top of the range microcontroller from Microchip is the PIC32MX795F512H-80I/PT (I will call it the PIC32 for short). It has a 32-bit processing core running at 80MHz, 512KB of flash memory and 128KB of RAM with built in USB, Ethernet and CAN networking.