I finally bought myself an Arduino Uno this week.
“Wait a minute… then what have you been using?” I hear you ask. Previously I had access to an Arduino Duemilanove, and used it to burn the Optiboot bootloader onto an ATmega168 that I had. The Duemilanove board used an FTDI chip which had additional pins brought out to an unsoldered header marked as X3. Following this guide by Kimio Kosaka, I downloaded the precompiled avrdude for Windows and used it to program the ATmega168 via the X3 header.
The end result was a bare-bones Arduino that ran on a 12MHz crystal. The reason for 12MHz was because that was the maximum “safe” clock speed at 3.3V, which I used for a university project and have been using ever since. You can see it below, driving a HD47780 parallel LCD.
However, it’s a real chore to hook this up, especially since everything on the breadboard like the crystal, FTDI header and reset button and pullup resistor are all inserted like any other component. It is more convenient to have a ready-built board for prototyping, where you don’t have to worry about the Arduino components.
If you haven’t gotten an Arduino board yet, I highly suggest you get one. If you would like to hook it up on the breadboard similar to what I did, at least get the Really Bare Bones Board (RBBB) Kit.