My couch programmer

April 11, 2009

in Tinkering

Some days ago I searched for an small USB-based AVR programmer. After some research I stumbled over an new old friend. The AvrUsb500 SMD from tuxgraphics.org:

To make it short: It is a bit pricey but exactly what I was looking for. But read the full review after the click.

I must confess I got a soft spot for the guys a tuxgraphics.org. I already got the AvrUsb500 from them, which was my first and only AVR programmer. And they include some sweets with any of their shipment (OK, at least I ordered twice at them and got sweets both times). The AvrUsb500 SMD is a directly (diminutive) descendant of their first version. Both share their compatibility with the stk500 V2. The stk500 are ‘official’ programmers from Atmel – since you never got an compatibility issue. Both AvrUsb500 programmers are an combination of an FTDI USB to serial chip and an ATmega168. The design and source code of the AvrUsb500 is open source. So – if you think you can do it smaller – go ahead. But it is allready extremely small (e.g. in comparision to an 1€ coin):

The USB feature is very convenient. Plug it in, perhaps install the FTDI driver and you are done. For me it worked like a charm. And on the back it got an small label with all necessary info: The stk500 v2 compatibility, the baud rate and so on. Very nice!

It comes in a very well done clear heat shrink tubing and all cable connections are enforced with hot glue – actually the guys at tuxgraphics are masters of hot glue. It seems very durable. If you don’t bend the wires too hard it can be an very handy on-the-go programmer.

The guys at tuxgraphics use their own form factor of an ISP header.

They see a number of advantages:

  • The same pinout as on the AVR micrcontrollers – reducing the number of cross wires
  • It got just the minimal number of pins . So no unnecessary pins. It even lacks a power supply- which is OK, since you already got it on the target board in the most cases.
  • Standard SIL header are usable
  • It is breadboard compatible

I am completely convinced to use sockets on the target board and pins on the programmer (as you can see in my projects). But still I am not really convinced to completely migrate to their header. So I personally use an adapter. But to try it the next time I have built an ‘Tuxgraphics.org ISP HeaderEagle library. Having just a row of 5 sockets is a bit smaller than the standard 2*3 socket (or pins). Lets see what is more convenient.

In the end it is a very small programmer, which works without any fuss. It is very fast (It programs some KBytes of flash in virtually no time). It is very well built and looks cool. Is there any more to ask?

The only drawback is, that it is a bit pricey. Perhaps it will go down in the future.

Update: Guido from tuxgraphics informed me why it is so expensive. Basically the tiny size needs special (expensive, probably 4 layer) PCBs and they have a number of rejected units. I can understand this.

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