Low-cost ARM7 prototyping

blueboard_arm7_prototyping.jpg

Do you find that the capabilities of your current microcontrollers are holding you back when you try to take over the world? Moving up to ARM7 architecture will put your projects in the same arena with the iPod and the Nintendo DS.

The BlueBoard-lpc214x is a prototyping board with a lot to offer. It incorporates two RS232 connections, USB, VGA, SD card slot, piezo buzzer, JTAG, audio out, PS2 keyboard connector, and a 2-line character LCD. The processor is an NXP Semiconductor LPC2148 with 512KB of programming space and 32+8KB of ram. The board also includes a 256KB i2c eeprom. This is a lot of prototyping power, but the low purchase price knocks our socks off: $40.90! Sadly, shipping would cost us another $20.43 but that’s still a lot of functionality for around $60.

Sample code and schematic are available for download. All of the pins for the microcontroller have jumpers and there are rows for pin headers around the processors if you want to patch in your own hardware. We’ve seen other ARM boards that make use of pre-existing shields. We would love to see someone remove the processor and implement Arduino-like shields for different processors outside of the LPC214x series. Promo video after the break.

[via ScienceProg]

[Thanks CH]

27 thoughts on “Low-cost ARM7 prototyping

  1. arm7 based routers (i’m thinking about avm fritzbox models, but i’m sure there are many more) can be had very cheap and they offer ethernet, spi, preinstalled bootloader and often also an unpopulated programming header. tinkering with those is even cheaper than these development boards :)

  2. I just received one of these boards today. The quality appears to be pretty good, although I’ll go over it tonight with the microscope.

    I’m planning on porting my LPC2148 demo code (http://jcwren.com/arm) to it sometime in the next couple weeks. The demo code includes FreeRTOS, FatFS, a USB stack, and a bunch of other goodies.

    We’ll see how well a software VGA implementation works on an ARM7 :)

  3. Luminary have some pretty inexpensive Cortex-M3 evaluation boards, and they usually have some pretty nice features like graphical displays. Their software support is also awesome.

  4. it’s even worse for european customers: 30€ for the board, and 20€ for shipping! it better arrive within 24hrs then… (and really, india? that’s quite ridiculous when shipping from china is like 5€…

  5. Isn’t the real draw of Arduino and it’s ilk the development environment? That is to say, that the dev-env is built by hobbyists, for hobbyists, with a simple to write code base?

    The dev-env wasn’t mentioned in the article, beyond sample code. I’d be curious to see what thoughts are in this realm.

  6. @DarkKobold: If you want advanced functionality, you’re going to have to venture outside the comfort zone of ‘simple-to-write-code’ eventually..

    The dev environments for these are about as user friendly as you can get..

  7. @notb4dinner:
    Are you sure? I thought the ARM9 controlled both screens and the ARM7 was used for sound, IO, and GBA emulation.

  8. @TheDon125
    its not altera and its not an fpga, but digilent sells a smallish xilinx cpld designed for breadboards for $18.
    Seems like that would suit many an arduino user looking to make some more complex circuits but without the hassle of tracking down loads of random 7400 series chips.

  9. That VGA interface is totally bogus. This is why they don’t even try to demonstrate it, they just say something like “we already saw the VGA interface”. Sure we did. I hate this kind of advertising.

  10. Don’t forget SparkFun’s tutorial on their USB bootloader for the LPC2148! This and WinAVR are a winning combination. Loading new code is as simple as dragging and dropping to the external USB drive that the bootloader emulates, and it’s a _lot_ faster than using a serial port to load code.

  11. Seems like arm’s are starting to enter the hobby world with more frequency; hopefully that will spawn more work on the development ide front. Imo one of the biggest hurdles in starting out with arm is that the free open source ide’s like winarm are a bit clumsy imo.

    I got the arm bug and bought the ~$150 EasyArm board from MikroElektronika. It comes with an evaluation version of the Keil C compiler which although size limited is good enough to get started.

    If you are going dirt cheap, it’s worth taking a look at the arm stamp modules from Futurelec as well.

  12. Agreed on the VGA interface – bogus. While you can obviously do video on low-power devices (think UzeBox), it actually takes a lot of design considerations to make it work.

  13. That is actually pretty cheap. The next best thing I can think of is the beagleboard. $150, but is a lot more hardware than this board. 128MB ram, 256MB Nand, DVI, MMC, USB 2.0, onboard powervr 3d processor, 600mhz arm, and dsp

    http://beagleboard.org/

  14. How exactly do you program these devices? I have only programmed PIC devices before but I have used external programmers and programmer interfaces build into dev boards.

    Does a board like this have a built in programmer so that it can be directly program the flash or does it have to be programmed with an addition device via jtag?

  15. @Christoph
    These type boards have jtag interfaces. Sometimes they ship with a bootloader which allows you to connect via serial or usb and upload your code. If the board doesn’t ship with programmed code then you would need a jtag interface to upload your own bootloader or code. There are plenty of free bootloaders out there and jtag interfaces are cheap as well.

  16. All the LPC parts contain bootloaders that allow them to be programmed over a serial port. While JTAG can be useful, I’ve found it to be more trouble than it’s worth. And unless you use an IDE like Eclipse or somesuch, it’s pretty painful to use a debugger directly under GDB.

    My feeling is that once you can blink an LED, you can debug. I’ve done 3 major ARM7 based projects without JTAG, so unless you feel the need to step through each and every line of code and look at variables, a JTAG pod is completely optional.

  17. Chris im with you on the chinese boards. the prices are stunning. The cost of the touch lcd etc + arm chip alone is more than these boards cost and theyre loaded with goodies.. Think ill wait til i hear from someone who’s tried one out though. chinas electronic innovation is stunning (they’re going to blow the west away) but i dont want to be a guinea pig.

    @medix i program in 9+ languages last i counted. Been doing it for almost 30 (GEEZ im gettin old) years.. Pure C has my heart. Guess what i actually USE mostly now? Vbasic. Its simple, easy and fast to throw stuff together. I could break out a c compiler and spend 3 days writing an app that does something fairly simple.. or toss it together in vb in a few hours. Of course Anyone will wish eventually for more power. But lets be honest here at the avr/pic level the reason you’re really going ot all that effort is you’re trying to shoehorn WAY too much into too ‘small’ an mcu. Luckily this wont be a problem for long. In a couple years im thinking we’ll all be toying with 2000 mips mcu’s and complaining the new 5Gmips chips and dev boards cost so much.

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