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Learn how to program the $1 chip

With the entry-level boards in Raspberry Pi family costing less than $5, we’re fully conversant with the low cost of computing power. Yet if you’ve not encountered them before, the price of chips in the PIC microcontroller range from Microchip Technology might still be surprising. The fact is that an entry-level PIC chip can be bought for about 80 cents. Remarkable!

Needless to say, these chips don’t offer a lot of processing power – in fact many of them wouldn’t even be able to support an operating system. Yet in many embedded applications – that’s where the processor works invisibly in the background – the requirement for number crunching is minimal, and an operating system is unnecessary. What’s more, as we’re about to see, those cheap chips contain a lot of circuitry that you might expect to be external to the processor.

Here we introduce you to PIC microcontroller chips and show you how to program them using the MPLAB Xpress IDE and a Curiosity development board. Although real-world applications of PIC devices involve using just the chip, which you’d incorporate into your own circuit board, using a ready-made board for learning to develop code offers a simple, ready-to-go solution at low-cost.

A key thing to bear in mind about PIC chips is that they’re microcontrollers, not microprocessors. This means that they’re effectively microprocessors with the addition of on-chip RAM, flash storage, non-volatile program memory, and input/output circuitry for interfacing to real-world devices. For this reason they can be used in embedded applications with a minimum of external circuitry.

Daddy or chips?

According to manufacturer Microchip Technology, there are several official families of PIC, but to cut a long story short, eight-, 16-

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