Stepper motor basics
A Stepper motor is an electromechanical device which converts electrical pulses into discrete mechanical movements.The shaft or spindle of a Stepper motor rotates in discrete step increments when electrical command pulses are applied to it in the proper sequence. The motors rotation has several direct relationships to these applied input pulses. The sequence of the applied pulses is directly related to the direction of motor shafts rotation. The speed of the motor shafts rotation is directly related to the frequency of the input pulses and the length of rotation is directly related to the number of input pulses applied.
Unipolar vs Bipolar Stepper Motor
Unipolar stepper motors
A unipolar stepper motor has two windings per phase, one for each direction of magnetic field. Since in this arrangement a magnetic pole can be reversed without switching the direction of current, the commutation circuit can be made very simple (eg. a single transistor) for each winding. Typically, given a phase, one end of each winding is made common: giving three leads per phase and six leads for a typical two phase motor. Often, these two phase commons are internally joined, so the motor has only five leads.
A microcontroller or stepper motor controller can be used to activate the drive transistors in the right order, and this ease of operation makes unipolar motors popular with hobbyists; they are probably the cheapest way to get precise angular movements.
(For the experimenter, one way to distinguish common wire from a coil-end wire is by measuring the resistance. Resistance between common wire and coil-end wire is always half of what it is between coil-end and coil-end wires. This is due to the fact that there is actually twice the length of coil between the ends and only half from center (common wire) to the end.) A quick way to determine if the stepper motor is working is to short circuit every two pairs and try turning the shaft, whenever a higher than normal resistance is felt, it indicates that the circuit to the particular winding is closed and that the phase is working.
Bipolar stepper motors
Bipolar motors have a single winding per phase. The current in a winding needs to be reversed in order to reverse a magnetic pole, so the driving circuit must be more complicated, typically with an H-bridge arrangement (however there are several off the shelf driver chips available to make this a simple affair). There are two leads per phase, none are common.
Because windings are better utilized, they are more powerful than a unipolar motor of the same weight. This is due to the physical space occupied by the windings. A unipolar motor has twice the amount of wire in the same space, but only half used at any point in time, hence is 50% efficient (or approximately 70% of the torque output available). Though bipolar is more complicated to drive, the abundance of driver chip means this is much less difficult to achieve. An 8-lead stepper is wound like a unipolar stepper, but the leads are not joined to common internally to the motor. This kind of motor can be wired in several configurations.