Electronics > Microcontrollers

ATmega8 vs MSP430 LaunchPad

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Hello all,

So, I've been reading a bit up on ATmega8 and seems like a very good MCU and I tried comparing it to the MSP430. Googled this for a bit and I was wondering what you guys think (for those of you who actually used both)? My new project at my university's robotics club will be using the ATmega8 (I believe for sumo bots and soccer bots and such). I kind of find this funny (but I might be wrong) but it seems like the MSP430 LaunchPad will use less power than ATmega8 (even though ATmega8 uses the modified Harvard structure for efficiency) because of the low power feature of the MSP430.

Yeah; the MSP430 is specifically aimed at being a low-power device family, and the ATmega8 isn't.
On the other hand, the chip included with the launchpad has 1/4 the ram, 1/4 the flash, and half as many IO pins as an ATmega8, and the MCU power is not a major consideration for most robotics projects (seriously rendered irrelevant as soon as you turn on a motor.)

There really aren't that much differences between low-end microcontrollers, so it doesn't really matter what you use. I do like the MSP430's nice and pretty well thought-out set of peripherals and the somewhat elegant architecture. The latter doesn't matter at all, while the former depends on what you're going to do. One thing that really annoys me in the MSP430 value line is the lack of a suitable nuber timers. There's just one pretty flexible and nice timer/counter and that's pretty much it; you can misuse the WDT as a timer of sorts, but it's unsuitable for many applications due to lack of configurability.

The chips that come with the launchpad are best used as support chips of some sort and not as the "brains" of a project. The small amount of Flash and RAM paired with the very limited featureset don't make them really suitable for demanding applications. The low-power modes are really nice, but I don't think you'd care when you're running motors. The ATMega is much more expensive than the MSP430G chips, but far more capable. AtMegas get lots of MIPS for their clock frequency, and the fast hardware multiplication will speed up pretty much everything as far as calculations are concerned. The AtMega is a good decision as a controller MCU because it's reasonably inexpensive, quite powerful and has a bunch of timers.

If you go for Atmel then the ATmega8 is old and outdated. Use an ATmega48, ATmega48A, ATmega88, or ATmega88A. They almost provide all ATmega8 features (ADC reference voltage can be an issues) and more, e.g. they have a debug interface.

These days they can often be had cheaper than the ATmega8 or its successor, the ATmega8A. And with the ATmega168/ATmega168A you still have an upgrade path if you manage to waste all the memory in a 48/48A/88/88A.

But think twice if you really want to got with Atmel. Atmel has become a very disgusting company in recent years, full of arrogance. They treat their customers badly. They provides no service at all, unless you are one of the customers buying for millions of $$$. Original Atmel programming and debugging hardware is ridiculous expensive, breaks easy and won't be serviced by Atmel. The latest Atmel IDE (Studio 5) is so severely broken that it makes you vomit. But Atmel claims they know what is good for you and you should just go with the program. Atmel loves to announce stuff for immediate availability when having only slideware and only two years later the first parts show up, but then really broken.

The MSP430 is long in the tooth.  There are newer designs with more memory and capabilities that use less power.  Atmel has PicoPower, Microchip has XLP, Renesas has the RL78, and even EnergyMicro makes an ARM chip that uses a fraction of the power the MSP430 does and has better tools.

If your doing an education based project Microchip is really hard to beat.  An .edu email will get you a big discount on dev tools at Microchip Direct and you can use it to order samples of chips you want to try out.

I'll second that Atmel customer service is nonexistent if you're a low volume customer and forget even trying if you're a student as they'll only deal with large universities.


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