Many designs start with a development kit. That's one of the places I advise engineers to begin. The processor vendors usually offer them at very reasonable prices, or free in many cases. These kits are usually built with an architecture that really lets the designer understand all the inner workings of the microcontroller/microprocessor that it's based on. In addition, there's usually a fair amount of code already written to provide a jumpstart.
If your question is which of the kits is best suited for your application and/or your level of design expertise, we have just the answer for you. Design News' Continuing Education Center, sponsored by DigiKey, is running a class next week that walks the designers through a series of development kits. Taught by expert Jon Titus, the five-day class will go into detail on a different kit each day. Participants will learn about the various development kits' capabilities, software tools, and what they offer, including kit quirks and problems, sources of information, and each kit's pluses or minuses. The final session of the week reviews things people should think about when they look for a kit, how to avoid pitfalls, and some debugging and testing tips.
On day one, Titus will focus on the expandable SiM3U1xx Precision32 Development Kit that provides an ARM Cortex-M3 MCU and headers for five I/O ports. Silicon Labs offers its own integrated development environment and AppBuilder software for a quick start with peripheral control. That's followed on day two with the EFM32 Tiny Gecko Starter Kit (EFM32TG-STK3300), a board that lets users measure power consumption and correlate power use with code. Users will learn how that capability helps fine-tune programs for battery-powered and energy-harvesting applications.
Atmel provides the small XMEGA-A3BU Xplained board and software that's the subject of the day three lecture. The class is aimed at introducing engineers to this MCU architecture and to the company's software tools. Those tools include easy ways to work with sample code and find documents. Participants will learn about the tutor's experience using the board and how well the software works. The fourth kit, the DM182015-1, lets engineers and programmers test wireless communications between two transceivers that use the Microchip MiWi protocol. Users will learn how a wireless connection operates and sees sample code for such a connection. An API simplifies wireless-communication software. Also covered is the use of a packet "sniffer" to observe wireless traffic.
Day five involves an autonomous FSLBOT robot that uses four servo motors to amble about a lab. Freescale's TWR-MECH board provides the needed driver electronics, and a small operating system and programs users write in BASIC or C/C++ to control robot actions. Onboard sensors can keep the robot on track or serve other purposes. The stacking TWR family of boards can increase the robot's capabilities as users learn programming and about hardware. Or users can work with a TWR system alone.