Silicon Labs has been doing ToolSticks for ages (check out Silicon Labs Does It Again With New ToolStick). It was one of the first to deliver a low cost, compact, USB-based solution. It is also the only vendor that really has a range of solutions using this form factor (Fig. 1).
Silicon Laboratories’ TookSticks highlight 8051 product line that is extensive. The main ToolStick USB base adapter can be used with any of the target/daughter cards or programming cards. The former runs just under $10, and the latter under $70. The ToolStick base adapter is $17.50 or you can get a starter kit with one daughter card for under $25. Most of the 8051 chips are available in this fashion. There is also a debug adapter that works with Silicon Lab’s development boards.
The ToolSticks come with Silicon Labs IDE and a Keil 8051 Evaluation kit. There is now a production programmer that can be used with the programming cards once you have an application ready to ship.
The IDE runs on Windows and is a relatively straight forward, Windows-based development and debugging environment. It is a free download. Assembler support is included but C support relies on the Keil compiler or demo version. The latter is limited to a 2 Kbyte program. Samples are written in C and assembler. Most developers tend to upgrade to the full version, PK51 that also adds Linker for Code Banking, Library Manager, and RTX51 Tiny RTOS.
Demo applications tend to be limited but they are enough to get you up and running in an afternoon. The daughter cards usually have holes for soldering in headers allowing the card to be plugged into a carrier board and run in a standalone mode without the base adapter. Most of the daughter cards have status LEDs and a potentiometer to highlight the chip’s analog support.
Getting up and running was simple after installing the IDE and then plugging in the base adapter. The Silicon Labs and Keil IDE are probably more than sufficient for most 8-bit projects but you can use the compiler and linker with something like Eclipse. It just takes a bit of configuring to do so.
A few more demos/app notes on the base install would be nice so if you are looking at this from a novice’s point of view then a good 8051 development book will be handy because most of the samples are not full applications. There are examples support routines for all devices written in C and assembler though.
For those with an application in mind you can start working immediately. The 2 Kbyte C compiler limitation will be what you hit first but that is more than enough to exercise most of the platforms.