Cheaper ISP Programming with a USBTiny
When I first started with Atmel Studio, I was a little taken aback at the cost of the programmers needed to flash my programs onto the microcontroller. After a fair bit of research I came across a great project – the USBTinyISP. This ticked a few boxes for me: it was open-source, it was easy to build yourself (if you prefer that), and it was cheap to buy (if you didn’t want to build one). I use my USBTiny all the time to program my Toadstool Boards.
Find me a USBTiny
The USBTinyISP is a collaborative effort, in the spirit of open source hardware development. Learn more about the project, how to build your own, or buy a kit over at Adafruit.
If you want to get up and running even faster, then Sparkfun sell a Pocket AVR Programmer, based on Adafruit’s USBTinyISP and Dick Streefland’s USBTiny. I went this route as I had an Atmel microcontroller that I needed to program fast.
Using the USBTiny – AVRDude
The USBTiny has its own USB drivers, and therefore differs from other programmers like the FTDI ones you’ve probably used. FTDI appears as a virtual COM port, whereas the USBTiny has native USB drivers. This makes it easier to use, as you don’t need to hunt around looking for which COM port it has attached itself to.
The upside with the USBTiny is that it works with AVRDude – a cool program with a cool name (well, not as cool as it sounds… it’s derived from “AVR Downloader/UploaDEr”). This program allows you to flash your hex program files onto a defined set of AVR microcontrollers, and is what the Arduino IDE uses in the background. Lady Ada has another useful tutorial on using AVRDude. I recommend that you download the latest version of AVRDude before continuing.
The downside of the USBTiny is that it isn’t supported by Atmel Studio.
Get the USBTiny Working with Atmel STudio
Don’t panic! Luckily Atmel Studio allows you to configure other programming tools. In this case we’re going to configure it to use AVRDude from a command-line call.
Expand each step by clicking on the heading
|Configure Atmel Studio|
|Program the AVR Microcontroller|
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Challenge yourself and learn how to gain the flexibility and additional control that the AVR microcontroller offers.