Roundup of cheap microcontrollers

Originally published at:


One thing about PICs is that they are so simple and low frequency that it is possible easily to make simple applications with grindstone reliability. I have a little PIC that controls my greenhouse watering based on temperature, humidity and water pressure. There is a small bug in the program which causes an error in the diagnostic output when the temperature goes over 16 degrees but I can’t be bothered to fix it because the uptime is just coming up for the first year. (It has a UPS consisting of a golf cart battery).
I like PICs because they originate from an era when you could understand the logic diagram of a microcontroller at the gate level.


I think they prefer to be called “micromanagers.”


For fast prototyping of simple stuff I prefer ATmega8 in DIP package, it’s very simple to program, and requires only one external component - a capacitor.

For more complex stuff I use NXP LPC series. These are fast ARM microcontrollers with peripherals perfectly suitable for motion control (I’ve used LPC1766 in large, 6kW servodrives). Some of them are even dual core (ARM Cortex M0+M4).
They also have possibly the smallest usable microcontroller, LPC1104. It’s 2x2mm:

I’ve made one design with it, and it requires really high quality PCB.
Having said that it’s probably a bad idea to use NXP parts in new designs, they got bought by Qualcomm, so probably the documentation will be only available to large companies after signing the NDA, and parts will become unpurchasable.

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