I got my hands on a Microchip Technology PIC32 Ethernet Starter Kit (DM320004, $US 72) and I ran some of the exercises that come on a CD-ROM included with the kit. Microchip includes its free MPLAB integrated development environment (IDE) and a 60-day version of its C compiler (Lite version), so engineers and programmers can start at a high level. In contrast to many kits, this one includes complete and well-thought-out documents and User’s Guides that simplify setup and use of the kit. You can read my complete hands-on review in the “Lab Rat” section of the July 2010 issue of Design News magazine (www.designnews.com).
The kit includes an Ethernet port, and one lab exercise–out of the 15 included with the kit–involves building demonstration code and downloading it to the kit’s board. Then, the board should communicate with a router and a PC, or directly with a PC via a cross-over cable. I ran into difficulties with the Ethernet connection due to settings in my Linksys wireless router. I used a wired connection with the router and had to change some settings in the router and one in the code to get the two to “discover” each other. I describe this exercise in my review. The problem arose on the router side, and NOT from a problem with the kit or its software.
You can’t learn everything about Ethernet or TCP/IP communications by running through a canned demo program, but you can get a head start. Microchip provides a free TCP/IP stack for engineers and the 94-page application note AN833, “The Microchip TCP/IP Stack,” provides more information about how to use it. Find the application note at: ww1.microchip.com/downloads/en/AppNotes/00833c.pdf.
A ready-to-use stack gives you a head start with projects and designs that require a non-proprietary network connection. Microchip also gives engineers and programmers access to a variety of libraries and programs that can speed other portions of a project, too.
So, if you’re interested in using an Ethernet connection to communicate with other equipment, I recommend this kit highly. The demo program used the TCP/IP stack with BSD sockets. Microchip also provides a TCP/IP stack with SSL.
I also recommend the book, “The TCP/IP Guide,” by Charles M. Kozierok, (ISBN: 978-1593270476) which provided more details that you’ll need, but can serve as a helpful guide if you need to get into the “guts” of TCP/IP. If you’re more interested in a roll-your-own Web server for embedded systems, consider Jeremy Bentham’s “TCP/IP Lean,” in which the author develops his own approach to Ethernet communications. (ISBN: 978-1578201082).
See also Jan Axelson’s book, “Embedded Ethernet and Internet Complete,” (ISBN: 9781931448000).
You can take other approaches to Ethernet communications–wired or wireless. I’l write more about them in other columns. –Jon Titus