EEVblog #39 – PICkit 3 Programmer/Debugger Review

Dave compares the new PICkit 3 to the old PICkit 2, and, well, he starts to rant uncontrollably about how Microchip may have screwed this up…
And what do MBA managers and dickheads have in common?

Since this blog has gone to air and made it’s way all around the Microchip HQ, I have received a phone call from none other than the Microchip CEO Steve Sanghi. In a totally unexpected and rare show of honesty from any corporate person, let alone the CEO, he thanked me for the blog and for raising the issues, and appologised for the poor implementation and release of the PICkit3. They took it as serious constructive criticism (as it was intended). He pointed out a few factual errors on my part which was fair enough, but admitted they could have done the PICkit 3 better and most importantly are working to fix the issues (and the bugs) and give customers what they expect of such an upgrade.

Check out their video response below!

Any other huge multi-billion dollar corporation probably would have got their lawyers to give me a dressing down, if they cared at all, but Microchip really do care about their products and will happily take constructive criticism seriously at the top level. Such a thing has to be unprecedented surely?
I am absolutely blown away by Microchip’s honesty, and it starts from their CEO down.
Two thumbs up to Steve Sanghi and Microchip!

Issues in my blog pointed out by Microchip are:
1) The auto VDD voltage was removed deliberately due to potential damage to chips if applied incorrectly. (Fair call, but I still don’t like it)
2) The VDD range is not 3V-5.5V, it’s actually 2V-5.5V and range changes with the chip selected. (Yep, I didn’t see this, it is different to the PK2 and buried away)
3) The PK3 is only slower for the chip type I selected (Murphy’s Law), for all others it’s actually faster than the PK2. They are working on speed optimisation for the other ones.
4) Debugging is faster than the PK2 which I didn’t mention at all.
5) Programming to Go feature is now supported (only a week or so before I filmed the blog)
6) They plan on releasing the separate programmer software again (open source)

Microchips response!

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  1. This is a perfect example of how new versions of things are sometimes inferior to old versions.

    An analogy I can think of is the ASUS WL-500GP router, version 1 vs version 2. The former is more hackable (upgradable RAM, changeable Mini PCI wifi card) while both has equally powerful CPUs.

    I wish I knew that before buying two V2’s.

  2. Hey thanks for the review on the pickit 3, i might go out and buy a pickit2 while there still around, the thing thats been stopping me programming has been this dodgey ass programmer i have, any ideas on where to buy them in australia/adelaide?

  3. Wow Dave , you made me want to stock-up on pickit2 too, in case mine breaks. I guess after pickit2s are gone this will give a lot of market to the pickit2 knockoffs. I think I saw some on Ebay. Very sorry to see such a gaffe coming from such a great company as Microchip.

  4. I totally agree with you Dave, I had the exact same problems and thinkings as your review.

    Too sad they will force to use it and discontinue the PicKit 3.

    But is a good opportunity for a hack right there.

  5. Sorry: To sad they will force to use the version 3 and discontinue the 2.

  6. LOL Dave, this video blog is so funny, best one yet. Nice rant and honest review. 🙂

  7. You missed one potential reason for that bad software:
    Outsourcing to the lowest bidder.

    And the outsourcing company in Ebonia might have told the MBA guys that this is the way one does software these days. Because the outsourcing company subcontracted the software piecemeal to five student “HTML programmers” and a flying pig.

  8. Just lovely.

    I’m sure the missing features will be available at some time as an upgrade of some sort. Maybe they’ll even come up with a 4pin logic analyzer, too.

    At times like this I’m glad there’s open source software for AVR chips 😉

  9. Use Atmel AVRs instead!

  10. One of the strengths of the PICkit 2 was its open-source firmware and application code. I have used mine as an ad-hoc protocol analyzer a couple times. I wrote new firmware to do bidirectional serial or SPI analysis, solved my problem, and moved on.

    I don’t see any firmware source available for the 3. Not sure if this is symptom, cause, or result of the poor product design.

    If anyone is interested in helping port the PICkit 2 firmware to the 3, please join us at

  11. Right on the spot, and exactly what I find about PicKit3. (Well, I just bought one because I had to for programming of new devices…)
    You forgot to mention the annoying blue led they added. The middle led is blue, and so bright, that it also illuminates the both other led lenses so it’s difficult to see them.
    Why does every new product has to have a blue led on it? We have red, green, yellow, or even white that’s a lot nicer to look at…

  12. I second that too.

    This episode is the best one yet, i was ticked off too about the PK3. Watching Dave getting ticked off is priceless…

  13. I wanted to start learning micro-controller. I heard a lot of contradicting opinion and no one in the Microchip forum willing to advice me in this. Hence I got my PICKit 3. Now I kinda regret.
    Since this PICKit 3 just came out recently, I can’t find any reference book for me. I only had those lessons user guide that came together with the device.
    Should I go back and purchase the PICKit 2? Please advice me in this.

    • @ Timothy
      A agree, just stick with the PICkit3, unless you specifically like some of the other features of the PICkit2
      The PK3 does the same basic program/debug job as the PK2, just more annoyingly.
      Guides to the PK2 will be similar for the PK3, they have just changed the option menu in MPLAB a bit, but otherwise works basically identically.

  14. Great episode, although it was difficult to watch with the thing waving around the whole time. What was especially painful was the punching toward the camera repeatedly.

  15. @ Timothy Tee
    If you are just starting and PicKit 2 will be discontinued, you should just stick with the PicKit 3 or search for other usb programmer that is in active developement

  16. Another excellent blog. Funny but true.

    I guess other analogies would be Microsoft bringing out versions of Windows which are always slower and harder to use thatn the last version. Some committee in Microsoft obviously thinks they are have an improved interface but all they do is lead to frustration as you have to drill down a few more layers to find the function you want. How does that make it easier to use? And what’s worse is that if you want to use Windows (why would you?) you essentially have to use the new version packaged with your new PC or pay twice for the license.

    And why did Linksys change their highly popular WRT54G router from linux to VMware? the reason they were so popular was because they were hackable. Why kill your market? Admittedly they did backtrack and bring out a GL version which had linux once more but only after an outcry from customers.

    It just goes to show that companies don’t understand their customers and don’t engage with them to find out what they want. Surely that’s in their interests? You’d think.

    Anyway, glad I have my PICkit2, I think I’ll maybe hold off upgrading

    • Guys I thinks you are being very bad with them. I’am not saying what your are saying is not true but I’m only saying that they have made very good products so far so lets not kill em that fast. Just the fact that they took some time to respond means that they care about our and specially this web site comments. Moreover, – negative – criticizing will not get us any further. On the other hand, what we can do, like any regular professional open source community, is to gather every good suggestions and send it to them. As we can see they probably follow our comments and consider them with professionalism. So why not use this opportunity that we have to boost or improve the products that we so dearly like by giving them constructing suggestion.

      BTW sorry if I made some mistake as english is not my first language.

      And at last but not least, awesome job guys for this blog. It gives chance to people like me to be a better designer and a chance to speak out loud.

  17. I get on well with the PICkit 3. I use MPLAB all the time anyway, so the lack of separate programming program doesn’t bother me.

    The biggest improvement for me is the ICD2 to ICD3. It’s almost as quick as my RealICE.

  18. The PICkit 3 DOES support PTG btw. You should check the latest release of MPLAB.

  19. I have an ICD2 Clone, that does everything I ask of it. Dirt cheap to 45 USD.

  20. You know I come for the outstanding blogging and humorous and informative style, but I stay for the flying pig.

  21. Dave you did mention one good thing the PICkit 3 has over the 2 – the case is “funky”.

  22. Dave, proper terms, they didn’t screw the PICkit 3, rather, they emasculated it. The first term might mean something was added in a bad manner, the proper second one means it’s incapable due to a major loss. Like rubber banding a lamb.

    And MBA as defined by one of your Aussie financial experts, means “Mostly Bloody Aweful”. Best article ever, explains why stuff over here is rotting on the vine.

  23. I’m totally new to microcontrollers, but after endless searching and comparing I decided that Microchip Pics and Pickit 3 were the ideal solution. Then I saw your excellent blog and it stopped me in my tracks.
    I feel your anger. I can see management screwing this up just like you said.
    Now I’m back at square one. I don’t want Pickit 2 if it’s not supported and I’ve lost my confidence in Pickit 3.
    Is there a better solution out there? – maybe not using Microchip products at all?

    • @ Trevarrick
      There is nothing inherently wrong with the PICkit3 or PICs, it’s just Microchips attitude to it and implementation of it compared to the PICkit2.
      If you are not used to the PICkit2 and its nice external programmer software, then you probably won’t notice any issues with the PICkit3 at all, and it’ll probably seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread.
      My blog was in no way meant to turn anyway away from the PICkit3 or PIC’s, it was meant to put some fire up Microchips bum for making silly changes to a winning product.
      So buy the PICkit3 and enjoy your PICs. Other brands have just as many issues.

  24. No stand alone UI?

    I love my PICkit2! Mine has seen better days so I’d better go and order another one if they are going to discontinue.

    After the first time I used it, I designed all my micro-based projects to connect the PICkit2 as an in circuit programmer and UART for debuging. LOVE IT! LOVE IT! LOVE IT!

  25. I’ve gotta say, this is probably the most entertaining blog yet. I’ve never used PICs (more of an Atmel guy..) but it looks like they’ve headed in very much the wrong direction with the PICkit 3.
    Was this something that they sent you to review or did you buy it yourself?

  26. I’m not totally surprised that you just heard from Sanghi. You might even want to read his book, which I’d highly recommend. Just do your absolute best to make sure you don’t give up after just the first two chapters, because they’re eye-rollers, and it’s really a shame.

    It give you hope that perhaps not *all* managers are good arguments for birth control… 🙂

    However, you’re probably the 1000th person to complain about this thing. It’s been a huge disappointment, known by many, for well over a year. It’s been a real fart on the head of an otherwise pretty decent product track record.

  27. “The auto VDD voltage was removed deliberately due to potential damage to chips if applied incorrectly.”

    Horse apples! I’ve never heard of this being a problem with pk2. If it really was, you’d think they’d have taken it out of pk2.

    They could at least disable auto voltage by default but let the user enable it if they want. GIVE YOUR CUSTOMERS SOME CREDIT FOR NOT BEING TOTALLY INEPT!

    This probably came from the other corporate bane… lawyers.

    I see they’ve completely failed to mention anything about one of the biggest issues (IMO) – having to constantly change out the firmware.

    Their response video also left me unimpressed. They basically only said they’d look at the light pipes (whoop) and that the standalone was coming (some day). Otherwise the attitude was like “marketing isn’t doing enough to shove it down their throats.”

    And I’ve noticed its slower on 16-bit parts too.

    • @ ss13901
      “They could at least disable auto voltage by default but let the user enable it if they want. GIVE YOUR CUSTOMERS SOME CREDIT FOR NOT BEING TOTALLY INEPT!”

      I agree, the option should be there.
      I did discuss this with Steve Sanghi and he said they’ll look into it, but would leave it up to the developers and others to decide. Based on the video, I’d say they won’t ever put the option in.

      Yeah, they did make a big deal over the light pipes, mostly in jest I’m sure, but really, the LEDs are hardly worth worrying about, I just like to nit-pick!

  28. hahaha…that was a god one !
    retarded product of the week 🙂

    two things:
    do you have fluorescent lights in your lab ?
    sometimes the white balance or something elses in your camcorder pulses and makes the image changing brightness and colour !

    is there one of these aussie bugs somewhere around ? these were driving us nuts when travelling australia…
    if you are interested…it’s all in german, but you may like it

    cheers mate,

    keep up the good work !

    may i pay you a visit if i come to australia next year ?

  29. Nice review!

    Does anyone know if these problems are already solved?

    Thanks a lot,


  30. So, 9 months later, has anything changed? A follow-up – even as a text comment – would be useful.


    • @ Dave
      They have FINALLY released the standalone programming software to Beta just the other week, but I haven’t tried it myself. Been off the forums and the PICkit3 for a while, so I don’t know the latest, sorry. I believe it’s now much more stable. Some thing they refused to “fix” because they did them deliberately in what they thought was the best interest of the user. e.g. the auto supply voltage thing.

      • Thanks for the original video post, BTW. Wy wife wandered by as I was watching it and she watched it with me. She said “That guy sounds just like you” – meaning the words/terms you use and the complete disdain for idiotic products 🙂
        I’ve been using an ICD2 for many years, and it’s started flaking out on me (well, more than usual 🙂 so I’m geting ready to buy a replacement. I’m considering the Pickit3 as I don’t think the additional $140 for an ICD3 gets me anything that I’d really use.

  31. Too bad you didn’t cover the fact it doesn’t work as advertised with win7 64bit. Never even connects. Have to boot to XP on the same machine to get it to go. Microchip is unresponsive and so far unhelpful.

  32. A year and three months after this blog post, they have now come out with a PICKIT3 programmer application release. Still no autodetection of micros which was the best feature of PICKIT2.

    I am thinking of buying a PICKIT 2 again and filing for petty cash at my company. It is only $28 after a 20% discount for our company. I could keep it for regular use, and use the PICKIT 3 if I had to for any device the PICKIT2 does not support.

  33. PICkit 3 Programmer application v1.0 has been released.It allows you to program all supported devices listed in the PICkit 3 Readme file without using the MPLAB IDE. You can get it at

  34. I think something that should have been mentioned in this is that the breakout board on the PICkit 2 uses non-standard (.1″) spacings, so none of my spare headers fit!

    I couldn’t think of why they did that, and hope they fixed that in PICkit 3

  35. ** on the development board that it comes with that is. I suppose that isn’t as big of a deal. But I enjoy the dev board; it’s useful for trying stuff out.

  36. I really liked that they took it seriously, really good.

    The best thing that happened to PIC was PICkit2 and it’s open source release.

    I hope that PIC will free more to the open!

  37. Dave,almost 2 years have passed after you published this post and microchip tried hard to cover it up through a nice video. Can I ask you what happened to logic analyser tool is it now available in pickit3?

    I want to buy one programmer. Thinking about buying pickit2 as I really need a logic analyser tool. Buying logic analyzer form market is very costly. Pickit2 combo seems a good choice.

    Thanks for this post as I am new to pic, and I didn’t know about this cool feature in pickit2.

  38. Hey Dave! I am new to your blog and this post with microchips great attitude reply made my day! Great job there! Could be interesting with a quick update from you, reviewing the updated pickit3. Anyhow, keep up the great work!

  39. I love that Microchip actually listened to you!

  40. Apparently, this fictitious (?) marketing twit, D. Head, is used as a scapegoat for a lot of Microchip stuff-ups! I recently raised an issue related to a problem I was having with MPLAB-X (don’t get me started), and the local rep blamed it on Mr D. Head, but implied the guy was for real! If so, why do they keep re-hiring the moron after sacking him?!

    I have experienced a lot of frustration with Microchip development tools, esp. MPLAB-X with ICD-3 debugger. All going OK now, except I still can’t get Progammer-To-Go mode working reliably with some target MCUs using PICkit3 (4 years after its release!).

    Nevertheless, I think their chips are great, especially the PIC24F and PIC32MX families. And their PIC32 Software Solutions Library is exemplary.

  41. Microchip has created so much confusion! Had no limit of problems while trying to use the new PicKit 3, most stemming from the fact it gets bricked 80% of the time (onto my third PicKit 3) when trying to download the Standalone App OS onto it.

    Have you guys noticed there are two similarly named programs, PicKit 3 and PicKit 3 v3.01 (one of these un-bricked one of the devices)? Not to mention one of them installs an icon on your desktop saying PicKit 3 v3.10. And one of them is downloaded with the “Scripting” app available on the Microchip website.

    • don’t know the problem but i solve the 3 similarly of this chips and i backup the rebot turn of my audio and mono turn on sterio i volume the sound. its sound like static and then i know place a bulding somewhere washington DC its time operation counter attack 12 and 8 bullseye target eleminate!!!!!16&26

  42. check it out the bulding that is the problem of all cause they hold the micro chip they control everything, even my computer i try to find the chips 8 and then 3 was found but other 5 only one was found i think they whan’t to play chess game 2 knights 1bishop king and queen!16&26

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