TI makes a big bid for the hobby market

This morning Texas Instruments unveiled Launchpad, a development platform for their low-cost MSP430 line of microcontrollers. We’ve seen these chips before, most notably in the ez430 Chronos sports watch. We see this as a bid for the hobby market currently enjoyed by Arduino, PIC, AVR, and others. TI’s biggest selling point is price, but we’re going to wait to share that with you. Join us after the break to see what the package offers, then decide if the price is right.

What is it?

We received a contact request on our tip line from a public relations firm on behalf of Texas Instruments. The video conference paired us with one of their engineers who took us through the details of the package, mentioning the low price tag every minute or so. Launchpad is a programming and development board for the TI MSP430. It has a machined DIP socket that can accept chips with up to 20 pins. All of these pins are broken out to the header ports on either side of the board, which resemble the Arduino layout to us. Good news, unlike the Arduino the header spacing falls into the 0.1″ divisions necessary to interface with common protoboard. TI is also looking for community involvement, pushing thier Lunchapad Wiki to help you get stated and asking that you add you knowledge as you find success with the 16-bit platform.

What’s inside?

Each Launchpad device comes with a whole lot of goodness. In addition to the board itself you get a 0.5 meter USB cable, two pin headers and two pin sockets for the pin breakout pads, two different MSP430 microprocessors (MSP430G2211 and MSP430G2231), and two free IDEs; Code Composer Studio 4 and IAR Embedded Workbench Kickstart (note that the latter has a 4K or 8K code limitation depending on the processor used).

Price

Hands down TI is trying to make price the biggest issue with this release. The presentation we were given included the price in large red numbers on seven of the thirteen slides. So here it is: Launchpad will set you back four dollars and thirty cents. And for now shipping is included.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that we haven’t had the board in hand yet. That being said, for $4.30 it’s worth the risk just to get the USB cable and a couple of processors. We’re amazed that they’ve beaten back the price to this point and delighted that you get the programmer and two microcontrollers, not to mention the other components. We like the fact that they didn’t develop an alternative language like Arduino did for the AVR controllers. This makes it easy to clear the hurdle of setting up a programmer, IDE and toolchain, and get right down to developing in C. After all, the chips are dirt cheap and quite powerful. You may remember 3000 of them from a project we saw over the weekend.

We’d imagine the initial demand will be quite high and hope they have the stock to keep up.

Update:

Unboxing Video

Demo Application Video


Comments

  1. UltraMagnus says:

    TI still don’t get it, what attracts people to arduino is that the programming environment is completely free, not crippleware like both of environments are for this chip

  2. Cynic says:

    Good lord.
    I know nothing of TI micros, but after pulling out some hair over the weekend trying to get a PIC to do what it’s told, this sounds interesting.

  3. Sprite)tm says:

    ” pushing thier Lunchapad Wiki to help you ”

    Anyone at HaD hungry? :)

    Anyway, if I can get them here in Europe for that price, I’ll look into it. Seems the devices have gcc-support, so getting them to work on Linux shouldn’t be that much of a hassle.

  4. Sprite_tm says:

    ” pushing thier Lunchapad Wiki to help you ”

    Anyone at HaD hungry? :)

    Anyway, if I can get them here in Europe for that price, I’ll look into it. Seems the devices have gcc-support, so getting them to work on Linux shouldn’t be that much of a hassle.

  5. Brennan says:

    $4.30???? You’ve gotta be kidding me. That’s INSANE. I’d be crazy NOT to buy of these just to fool around with it at the very least. Good job, TI!

  6. mfsamuel says:

    @UltraMagnus

    i would say the price and easy of use are what attract people to the arduino, not some abstract intellectual property concept.

  7. JonnieCache says:

    Two please!

  8. Raton says:

    I just ordered mine, it was either that or 2 bags of chips

  9. Cynic says:

    Wow, compared to all the other ‘low cost’ boards listed on their website (average price, over $100), this really seems like a new direction for them.

    Unfortunately their site’s throwing an error when it comes to check-out, so none for me today.

  10. JonnieCache says:

    oh and btw the shipping is free worldwide for anyone who was wondering.

    well its free to the UK anyway. I haven’t actually tried every country in the world.

  11. UltraMagnus says:

    @mfsamuel I would say it is less to do with intellectual property concepts and more to do with being able to use whatever processor you want in the range, and knowing that if the is a problem, it is a problem with your hardware/software and not some arbitrary code size or feature limits.

  12. Chris W says:

    Cost versus :

    Linux and Mac compatible software
    Open Source
    wide user base

    … hmmm no, I will stick with arduino thanks

  13. Colecoman1982 says:

    @mfsamuel: I think the key word in UltraMagnus’ post was “crippleware”. You’re right that most people don’t care if the software is open source of not. They care about price. The problem is that, while the TI hardware is much cheaper ($4.30 per board vs. ~$30.00 per board) the software for the Arduino is free while the TI software costs a minimum of $445.00 if you don’t want a limited copy.

  14. @UltraMagnus && @mfsamuel

    I’d say it’s healthy mix of the two. Cheap and Free is always better than Cheap and Proprietary.

  15. Raton says:

    @Colecoman1982 Quot from TI Website
    Free downloadable versions of IAR Kickstart and Code Composer Studio Ver 4 integrated development environments are available and include an assembler, linker, simulator, source-level debugger, and C-compiler. These free IDEs are unrestricted on MSP430 Value Line devices.
    So should stay free for the supported MP

  16. Bogdan says:

    I’ve played a little with the MPS430. It’s not in any way more difficult than other controllers, but TI always seemed to aim companies not hobbyists for them. Maybe now they are going to change this.
    MSP430 gcc could have a chance now, too bad where I live prices for this family are really high.

  17. jcg says:

    Sounds interresting, hope they will be easy to get from europe with to much shipping cost.
    It’s always fun to toy with new microcontrollers.
    Anybody know if there at any advantages or disadvantages to these compared to PICs or AVRs?

  18. steaky says:

    for hobbyists I cant imagine the “crippleware” is that much of an issue – at least it wont be for me.
    especially as the two devices that come shipped with it only have 2k program size anyway.

  19. slab says:

    There does exist a GCC port: http://mspgcc4.sourceforge.net/

  20. Ian says:

    @UltraMagnus – I agree, I did a lot of work with the msp430 usb key, it was nice but only had 2K flash. When I did something on a bigger chip I hit the 4K or 8K limit right away. I’ve only used the tiny 2K ones since, where something ultra low-power is cool.

    The current arduino has 32K of flash (?). Granted it’s not 1:2 comparison to the 16bit MSP430, but I think the arduino can hold a lot more than 4 or 8K of code [citation needed]. The MSP also has 16bit instructions, so some code will take more space than the same code in the arduino.

  21. Alchemyguy says:

    @Colecoman: The real question is whether the free version of the TI environment does what the users want/need it to do. If it does, then it’s a moot point and we’re back to abstract ideals about who owns what, right?

  22. pelrun says:

    The crippleware dev environment is a valid issue for the MSP430 range as a whole, but not for this specific board. Since the two uC’s on the launchpad only have 2k flash each, you aren’t going to hit the limits in the dev tools.

    That said, we just need to lift the msp-gcc project out of the bog it’s currently in and set up an Arduino-ish dev environment that uses it instead of avr-gcc.

  23. Ben Combee says:

    While the free Code Composer may be code-size limited, the 16K code-gen limit is far more than the storage space on either of the two chips on this board. Both the MSP430G2211 and MSP430G2231 have only 2K of flash and 128 bytes of RAM. This is pretty limiting compared to the standard Arduino with an ATMega328 that has 32K of flash and 2K of RAM.

  24. jc says:

    While I don’t like either of those packages, there is a GCC port for the MSP430 that works well.

  25. pelrun says:

    Oh, and I was just today bitching about the stupid custom pinout on the arduino (vendor lockin for an open hardware project? WHY?) so good on TI for not pulling a similar stunt.

  26. The Cageybee says:

    Meh. Less RAM than ATMega328, less flash, just one timer, no hardware PWM. Think I’ll stick with Arduino.
    One thing I like about the Arduino is how easy it is to migrate from development to stand alone devices, as the ATMega only needs very few supporting components. Look at this thing. Two supporting IC’s. Sure, ones for USB so could be gotten rid of, but what’s the larger one for? Anyone know?

    Just my two pence worth,
    The Cageybee

  27. Joe says:

    I have used one of the Ti DSP boards, it was very nice. Of course it cost me 400 bucks, still I won’t hesitate to pickup a few of these boards to play with. They got me at 4 dollars.
    Low cost eval boards I feel are all due to arduino taking over the low end of the hobby boards. If you want more from arudino its only logical you would try another atmel product. Its the perfect marketing tool to draw nerds to your door.

    For anyone having errors while trying to order, I created an account and was able to order board. Trying to order with creating an account gave me errors.

  28. jeff-o says:

    $4.30, eh? At that price, these are cheap enough to permanently integrate into just about any project. I’m ordering myself a few of ‘em.

  29. Bogdan says:

    The crippleware is still crippleware because it limits you tu a little size, wether that is larger than the two chips or not.
    Are you planing on sticking to <2K flash projects or moving on?

  30. macpod says:

    Good luck ordering the thing, seems their store is having some troubles right now.

  31. Liam says:

    TI store is very slow… guess these are popular

  32. JonnieCache says:

    who cares about the ‘crippleware?’ there is a gcc port, therefore you can build scripts and bind them to menu options/hotkeys in your text editor of choice. It’s just C ffs!

    if you are not up to the task of building your own IDE out of gcc and a text editor, then you surely won’t have much success with stuff like microprocessor hacking at all!

  33. AtkinsSJ says:

    Looks like shipping is free internationally. Brilliant! I’ve been wanting to muck about with a microcontroller for a while now.

  34. rac says:

    Just as Information, Launchpad is targeted at the G Series of their chip called the value line and this is targeting hobby use.
    A gcc compiler is on the net, you don’t really need the IDE but for the value line you wont hit the restriction.

  35. Mike says:

    > TI store is very slow… guess these are popular

    Well, they are now!

    Site’s about as slow as the SparkFun giveaway…

    Mike Y
    Dallas, Texas

  36. Peter somewhere in cleveland says:

    It looks good; but, after looking thru their site, skimming the wiki, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are incomplete.

    While I love the aggressive pricing, they are incomplete: No linux/OSX alternative to their Win only software.

    I’m sure if they OPEN up their programming software to the wilds, some linux/OSX group will bang out an equivalent set of tools.

    I can see the TI committee on this one. Someone want to “give away” LaunchPad. Someone refuse to “give it away”. Someone want to skimp on their effort. The system is tempting to buy in hopes for future software but I got too much stuff that I sit on until I can put to use.

    Wonderful, they saved a few hundred dollars by forgoing alternatives to Win software. Or, they could “loose control” of their software by making it OPEN. (that’s a thought: some elite coder making an alternative programmer for the LaunchPad, which won’t be me, a nonprogrammer)

    To Hackaday people,

    Since you lot have their ears (TI’s PR people), can you let them know about their incomplete programming environment? I tried to leave feedback on TI’s site but they want me to register for that. Let them know how Arduino, at 24.00, has Linux/Mac/Win tools.

    Thanks! Love your site! XD

    • John says:

      Peter,
      They have already made the software for Linux and OSX. Was a little hard to find on their website. It’s called “energia”. It’s the same program open source program arduino has on their website modified for the launch pad.

  37. steeve says:

    Awesome! 4:30$ Nuts! That is so great, finally a platform which can really run on batteries. AVRs (Arduino) do have much worse power characteristics then 430, and 430 is 16 bit. I will definetly order them.

  38. beretta says:

    The description says it’s ‘compatible’ with the value line series, but TI offers some of the F2xx family in 14 pin PDIP– I would think these should be useable on this board as well, unless there’s something in the FET firmware preventing it.

  39. IsotopeJ says:

    @UltraMagnus, actually on TI’s site they claim:
    “These free IDEs are unrestricted on MSP430 Value Line devices.”

    I say kudos to TI for jumping into this market. The more competition the better! As a hobbyist developing a battery-powered 802.15 device, I’m intrigued by this chip’s low power consumption. Put me down for 5!

  40. rac says:

    @IsotopeJ its the same ide like for their other lines but with the value line you cant exceed the limits because of the chips ;-)

    @steeve see their presentation video a couple months / years ago where the showed how you could run a msp430 and a led (just as indicator) from a 3 lemon battery

  41. Graham says:

    Either TI is just normally an ultra-slow site, or HaD’s coverage of them might have sent them way more traffic than they can handle. Good job throwing this out there guys, I’ll be picking up one or two to play around with.

  42. UltraMagnus says:

    @IsotopeJ yes, but they are restricted to those devices. Once you learn how to use their micro’s and want to progress onto more complex projects with more powerful devices, you have to cough up (a lot of) dough.

  43. Awesomenesser says:

    I really like the price but I don’t think 2K is enough for me to really do anything.

    Do you think if the board was cut along the first dotted line (under the jumpers) it could act as a $4 usb to serial???

  44. David says:

    Well they look great on paper, until you try to order one. The store appears to be down and their register system isn’t exactly hobbyist friendly.

  45. David S says:

    So can someone state – for us arduino nubs – If you’re comfortable programming an arduino, can you program one of these?

    Is 2k memory and 128 bytes of ram enough to do anything cool?

  46. steeve says:

    2K can get you a long way. Almost anything you would want a low power device to do. If you want more power, go for ARM, dsPIC, PIC32 etc. There is no single answer for all questions.

  47. jc says:

    Comparing this to an Arduino isn’t really appropriate. They’re two difference classes of processors, targeted at generally mutually exclusive application spaces. This particular MSP430 family member is for applications requiring a very small foot-print. If you need more resources, then you need to upscale your processor, regardless if you stay in the MSP430 family, or switch to an AVR family.

    PIC, Atmel and MSP430 all have processors than span a wide range of resources. These particular ones are more in line with the ATTiny2313 or the PIC16F84’s. The larger MSP430’s like the MSP430F123 is more like the ATMega323.

    Make sure your family comparisons are valid before you go claiming one is “better” than the other.

  48. Mike says:

    Well, dang; now the store is just timing out now…

    Certainly $4.30 is promotional pricing (MSP430… heh, clever).

    Years ago, TI used a ‘pricing down the curve’ strategy, where they priced early versions of products LOWER than cost, because as they ramped up volume, the cost actually did go down – way down. I also noticed they’re not shipping these immediately. I’m guessing this is an attempt to gauge demand before preparing a production run…

    *sigh* well, maybe later this afternoon….

    Mike Y
    Dallas, Texas

  49. Awesomenesser says:

    Why does this board have the capabilities for a PDIP 20, I couldn’t even find a MSP430 that 20 pins? And 2K is the largest chip you can get with 14 pins.

  50. JonnieCache says:

    @Awesomenesser
    >I really like the price but I don’t think 2K is enough for me to really do anything.

    try harder ;)

    http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/code-golf

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