A PICAXE microcontroller is designed to be the brain of your electronic project. Originally designed as an educational system for schools, the PICAXE system has now also been widely adopted by hundreds of thousands of 'hobbyists' due to its ease of use. Each year thousands of high school students are also introduced to electronics and microcontrollers via building a PICAXE project.
To get started with the PICAXE system you need four main items:
- A computer running the free PICAXE software
- A download cable, to transfer your programs onto the PICAXE chip, we have both a RS232 and a USB lead available
- A PICAXE chip on a project board or a starter pack
- A power supply, often a 3xAA battery pack
Most new users purchase a starter pack, although you may also purchase individual items if you prefer. Each starter pack contains:
- a PICAXE microcontroller and project board
- a battery box
- a CD containing the free software and extensive manuals.
Simply add to the starter pack a programming lead suitable for your computer, most laptops only have USB available where as many desktops still have a RS232 port so can you the much cheaper RS232 lead.
PICAXE chips can be programmed in a very simple to learn BASIC language or via graphical flowcharts. The programming language is designed to give you all the powerful features of the microcontroller without any complicated programming language to learn.
PICAXE BASIC is much simpler to learn (and to 'debug') than traditional microcontroller languages such as assembler code or 'C'. The BASIC programming software is completely free, and also includes a powerful on-screen simulation for testing your program.
A PICAXE chip is a standard Microchip PIC microcontroller that has been pre-programmed with the PICAXE bootstrap firmware code. The bootstrap code enables the PICAXE microcontroller to be re-programmed 'in position' directly via a simple 'three wire' download cable connection. This eliminates the need for an (expensive) conventional PIC programmer, making the whole download programming system a low-cost USB cable. The same software and download cable is used for all PICAXE chip sizes and project boards.
If you purchase 'blank' PIC chips they will not work in the PICAXE system, as they do not contain the PICAXE firmware. Therefore always buy pre-programmed 'PICAXE chips'.
The difference between the following starter packs is therefore purely the style of project board and size of PICAXE chip (8pin, 14pin etc). Also note that some project boards are provided pre-assembled whilst others are kits that require soldering together.