Christmas Star with LEDs

Posted on Jul 2, 2012

Using a PC parallel port to control external devices is a popular approach these days but I certainly couldn’t afford to tie up a PC for the few weeks leading up to Christmas just to flash a few LEDs! Not to mention the power bill! So, why not use a small microcontroller? They are cheap and easy to use and if the design doesn’t work first time (when does it?), you simple re-program it. Also, you can easily create something using a micro that is the equivalent of many discrete logic chips. In this case, the circuit is simple enough to lash up on VeroBoard though it is much easier to use a printed circuit board. To do the star in discrete logic would be a nightmare! Given a few inexpensive software tools, a microcontroller such as the Atmel AT89C2051 should be just as easy to use as a handful of 4000-series CMOS chips.

Christmas Star with LEDs
Click here to download the full size of the above Circuit.

In my experience, the micro is usually easier! Another reason for using a micro is that micros are the future of electronics. While it is useful to know how to design with 4000-series logic, most new products require more than can be easily done in discrete logic. I believe there is actually a commercially available toaster that uses a micro! While some would say that this is an extreme example, it does indicate how far micros have entered our lives. The Atmel AT89C2051 is a relatively recent derivative of the venerable 8051. It comes in a diminutive 20 pin skinny-DIP plastic package and contains 2k bytes of program memory, 128 bytes of RAM, 15 programmable I/O lines, on-chip oscillator, two 16 bit counter/timers, six interrupt sources and a full duplex serial port (UART). This all sounds very much like a small 8051 until we add that the program memory is re-programmable Flash with 1000 erase/write cycles, the oscillator runs to 24MHz (double that of the original 8051), the I/O pins can sink 20mA for directly driving LEDs and two I/O pins are connected to an on-chip analogue comparator! The Hardware The heart of the hardware is, of course, the Atmel ‘2051 micro. To make it start thinking, we need a reset circuit consisting of C7. D2 forces C7 to discharge quickly when power is removed. To set how fast it thinks, we need an external crystal X1 and associated capacitors C1 and C2. Note that the crystal could be...

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