MOST EMBEDDED developers program their microcontrollers using an In-Circuit Serial Programmer such as the Microchip PICkit3 or the Atmel AVRISP MkII. These plug into the USB port on your PC and a header on the development board. The PC software (eg, Microchip MPLAB or Atmel AVR Studio) is then used to program or re-program the microcontroller.
This is handy while developing the project but you won’t always have a complete circuit with a programming header when you need to program a micro.
It may be that the circuit operates at 230VAC mains potential and so you can’t safely plug a programmer in. Or perhaps the circuit connects the micro’s programming pins to other components which interfere with on-board programming. Maybe there just isn’t room for the programming header on the board because it wouldn’t fit or there is one but you can’t get to it once the board is mounted in its case.
So often, it’s just more convenient to pop the micro out and take it to a computer for programming.
In short, there are lots of reasons why you might want to program a micro but an in-circuit programmer alone won’t do the job. That’s where this board comes in. It forms a circuit for the microcontroller to operate in and provides the programming header connection and power supply. Once it’s set up and the micro is locked into the ZIF socket, you fire up the serial programmer and program the chip as per usual.
At SILICON CHIP we used to wire up a socket on Veroboard every time we wanted to program a new chip but this is a pain. There are so many different pin configurations and power supply requirements that you end up with dozens of the things floating around. You also have to bend the IC pins to get it into a standard socket and then it can be difficult to pull out without mangling them.
Some programming adaptor boards available on the internet use multiple ZIF sockets to suit different micros. Unfortunately, good ZIF sockets are quite expensive so these boards usually use cheap ones which don’t last very long. And you’d need an awful lot of them to support a large portion of the PIC range.
Main Features & Supported Microcontrollers
• Runs off a 9-12V DC plugpack or USB 5V power
• Programs most Microchip PICs and Atmel AVR microcontrollers in DIP
• Selectable 3.3V or 5V micro power supply
• Easy configuration – chip type selected with 8-way DIP switch
• Electronic fuse protects micro
• Uses high-quality, reliable 40-pin universal ZIF socket
• Compatible with PICkit3 and AVRISP MkII
• Virtually all PIC12s, PIC16s and PIC18s
• Most PIC24s and dsPIC33s
• Most ATtinys and ATmegas
• Over 450 different microcontrollers supported – see panel on page 34