Assuming you now have an Arduino or compatible microcontroller board, now what do you do with it? The first step is to install the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment) on your PC.
In this tutorial, we’ll assume you have a Windows-based PC, but the procedures are similar for Mac and Linux. The Arduino application installation is not a typical “Run the installer and follow the prompts…” process. You simply download the ZIP package, unzip it to any drive/directory you choose, and run the “arduino.exe” application in the folder! A shortcut to the application on your desktop or taskbar is handy since there is no install process to make one!
You can find the Arduino 1.0 ZIP file(s) here: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Software
The other potential installation requirement is drivers for the microcontroller programming hardware, which is usually some kind of USB to serial translation IC or emulation, commonly known as a VCP, or “Virtual COM Port”.
Typically, official Arduino boards, and a lot of compatible designs, have used the common FTDI USB-serial driver IC (as do some Cal-Eng boards). There are other custom devices used on the Arduino UNO, Leonardo, Mega256 and others.
The drivers for all the official Arduino boards are located in the “\arduino-1.0\drivers\” install directory. If and when you are prompted for a driver install after plugging in an Arduino-compatible board, point the driver installer to this directory. Typically, Mac and Linux do not need a driver install, but if they do, the process is similar.
A couple of Cal-Eng boards use unique VCP driver IC’s, and may need separate drivers, but that process will be explained in the individual product page.
If you’ve unzipped Arduino and loaded the VCP drivers, lets do a quick test! Launch Arduino and look for your board (or compatible equivalent). This example shows the common Arduino “Duemilanove” being selected:
Next, we need to pick which COM port your USB VCP is listed as. The actual COM port number (COM1, etc) will vary with each system, and with most modern PC’s and laptops there will probably only be one! The easiest way to tell the COM port number is to remove the USB device, check the list, plug it back in and re-check to see what was added. Here’s an example of a COM port list:
Now we can load the classic “Blink” program, which is the absolute simplest test to see if your board is working! This program does nothing but blink the D13 LED once a second (forever!)
This is the moment of truth! Double-checking that your board is properly connected, press the second button (with the right arrow) labelled “Upload”. You should see some red text and other messages in and above black window at the bottom, and after a few seconds your board should be happily blinking away!
Welcome to the brave new world of Arduino, and microcontrollers!