Twenty years ago life was easy. Nobody really used the term embedded yet and there were only a few microprocessors to choose from. The choice was roughly limited to Intel’s 8051, the 6809 from Motorola, MOS Technology’s 6502, the Z80 by Zilog and maybe the H8 from Hitachi. These were all 8 bit processors. Personally I was a fan of the 6502 and I did not like the 8051. As a hobbyist building a computer system was rather a challenge because of the complicated board design due to the external memory and peripherals, but soldering was easy.
The integration of memory and peripherals into the chip turned the microprocessor into a microcontroller and made board design much simpler. The PIC that was introduced by Microchip somewhere in the early nineties was simple, some had EPROM on-board, and was cheap and easy to come by, which made it a good choice for hobbyists. The AVR introduced by Atmel a bit later was one of the first to include flash program memory which made it a good choice for hobbyists too.
Nowadays embedded has become a buzz word thanks to the thousands of different microcontrollers on the market. 8 bit, 16 bit, 24 bit, 32 bit, you name it, and it can be had. Some of the oldies are still around, like the 8051 in many incarnations, or the Z80 (by Rabbit Semiconductor). They are now faster of course and come with more options, but they are essentially the same as 20 years ago. Today building a microcontroller system is easy and within reach of most hobbyists, although the soldering has become somewhat more difficult.
Choosing a microcontroller on the other hand has become complicated. If we stick to the hobbyists we see two large user groups: PIC users and AVR users. Of course lots of hobbyists use other controllers, but these two families are probably the most popular. Now which family do you use? Are you a PIC fanatic or an AVR lover? Both families have flash memory and free development tools, both are cheap and easy to get. So how did you get into AVR or PIC? I have not been able to choose between the two, maybe you can help me? You can post your comments on this blog.