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What does something like MSP430F1121 mean?
The letter indicates the type of ROM on board:
C - Mask ROM. This is programmed at manufacturing time.
E - UV-EPROM. This comes in a windowed package and is erasable with UV. This requires a special high voltage supply to program.
F - Flash ROM. This is electrically erasable, and can be programmed with normal operating voltages.
P - One-time programmable. This is an E part in a cheaper windowless package. Once programmed, it cannot be erased.
Note that only the original 3xx series parts use UV-EPROM. Everything after that uses Flash ROM. Programming the EPROM parts is done over the JTAG port.
The first digit after the letter is the overall family: 1, 3 or 4. They are roughly in increasing order of capability, but there's a lot of range. Parts are generally upward-compatible within a family.
Basically, 1xx parts don't have an LCD controller, while all the 3xx parts do. Both families have models with ADCs; the 11x2 parts have a 10-bit ADC, while others have a 12-bit ADC. Some parts have hardware UARTS, although any of them can bit-bang it.
Initially, the 1xx parts were small 20- and 28-pin parts, and the 3xx parts were 56 or 64 pins. However, the 1xx parts have grown up and the 13x and higher packages come in 64-pin packages, while the 3xx parts range from a 48-pin 31xS subset to 100 pins.
The second digit is the device within a family. Again, generally higher numbers are more capable, but it varies a lot. As a general overview:
11x: 20-pin parts. 11x1 adds comparator, 11x2 adds ADC10.
12x: 28-pin parts, like 11x1 but with more I/O and USART.
13x: 64-pin parts, adding lots more I/O, another timer, USART, and ADC12.
14x: 64-pin parts, like 13x but with a hardware multiplier and a second USART.
15x: Like 13x, but adding 2xDAC12, 3xDMA, brownout reset and I2C.
16x: Like 14x, but adding 2xDAC12, 3xDMA, brownout reset and I2C.
31x: 56 pins, basic device with I/O, timers, comparator/timer, LCD driver.
32x: 64 pins, like 31x but with ADC12+2 (can be kludged to do 14 bits).
33x: 100 pins, like 31x with more I/O and LCD, multiplier, and USART.
41x: 64 pins, basic device with I/O, timers, comparator, LCD driver.
43x: 80 or 100 pins, more LCD, ADC12, second timer, USART, second crystal oscillator.
44x: 100 pins, like 43x but with a hardware multiplier, second USART and expanded timer.
The third digit encodes the amount of memory on the chip:
xx0: 1K ROM, 128 RAM
xx1: 2K ROM, 128 RAM
xx2: 4K ROM, 256 RAM
xx3: 8K ROM, 256 RAM
xx4: 12K ROM, 512 RAM
xx5: 16K ROM, 512 RAM
xx6: 24K ROM, 1024 RAM
xx7: 32K ROM, 1024 RAM
xx8: 48K ROM, 2048 RAM
xx9: 60K ROM, 2048 RAM
xx10: 32K ROM, 5K RAM
xx11: 48K ROM, 10K RAM