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).


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.


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.


Unboxing Video

Demo Application Video

246 thoughts on “TI makes a big bid for the hobby market

  1. If anyone from TI is reading, you could make a long-term investment to eventually create a huge hobbist community around your MSP430 parts if you were to release the full JTAG debug specs. It won’t happen overnight, over time open source tools will develop for your MSP430 parts with amazing capabilities. Long term, ARM (not MSP430) is going to win everyone hearts and minds because of projects like OpenOCD. Today the widely used projects like Arduino don’t make use of such things (Atmel hasn’t release JTAG debug specs either), but these tools mature slowly when there isn’t a single company with competitive pressures and customer relationships. In time, tools like Arduino (likely new projects) will eventually become much more sophisticated. ARM is the only platform worth considering. MSP430 could be, but the lack of documentation, over the long term, is going to limit what 3rd party tools will ever be able to deliver for your products.

  2. @Paul, what’s interesting is the pointlessness of their not releasing the information. They’re like video card corporation, where they think that revealing the JTAG interface will reveal “sekret inner workings” of the MSP430. Yet, there’s already a couple VHDL projects that run MSP430 code.

    Although I will concede there is another possibility, and that is by protecting it, they’re free to change it at will. If they decide on a new piece of silicon to slightly change how it works, they only need to update the DLLs or inform a couple manufacturers. By making it public, they increase their support efforts when some companies design doesn’t work, and the FAE working the case discovers that the user is using a FOSS package that hasn’t been updated.

  3. Personally I think this is great for TI. First off, they’re cheap boards which is always a bonus, and second off, if there is a gcc port for the chips then all the better. Just because they (TI) provides two IDE’s that are only windows doesn’t mean that those are the IDE’s you must use. But hopefully TI does get some feed back about possible things to change, and as a result change future versions of their chips, or add a new family for use with this board, who knows.
    No matter what, the price is great and evidentially the platform is popular for this because I can’t even get to TI’s site to order one for my self.

  4. Oh, great. Another TI product. Sure, go ahead an order it, and wait 6months for delivery. Again. TI doesn’t appologise, TI doesn’t refund, they just keep on lying.

    Now that’s how you capture the hobby market.

  5. @Peter somewhere in cleveland
    No linux/OSX alternative to THEIR win only software?

    IAR Embedded Workbench is made by IAR systems not TI.

    Code Composer Studio THEIR Win only software is already OPEN.
    CCS is based on the Eclipse open source software framework.

    That’s why I like Copyleft software.

  6. @Alchemyguy: There’s nothing really abstract about it. Whether it’s TIs system, or Arduinos, your commiting yourself to spend the time and effort to learn the API/tools for that, specific, vendor. When you make a decision about which vendor to choose, you need to look beyond the, specific, project you happen to be working on at the moment and decide whether, or not, the vendor’s solution is best for future project you may work on.

    In this case, at the very minimum, is you are comparing these boards to Arduinos (which is the specific, premise of the HAD post) then you, immediately, realize that if you want to program anything even close to the limit of a standard Arduino board (32K of Flash) then it will cost you, at least, the $455 from TI.

  7. @pelrun – everyone does realize the odd header spacing on the Arduino was merely an accident right? By the time they realized it was messed up it was too late… And the rest is history.

  8. This is a poison pill. This is meant to do one thing – get embedded hobbyists hooked on hardware so that when they need more power, they will have to cough up the big bucks for the compiler. If we can get around this with a free compiler, then it’s a win/win, otherwise, this is very much a “first one’s free” sort of thing. Hobbyists who learn on a platform will want to extend their knowledge on the same platform, and that’s what TI is banking on. Don’t think for a moment they’re being altruistic here.

  9. TI’s store is still down, so it must be popular enough.

    $4.30 for another tool in my tool bag? Absolutely worth it. There is no one MCU line for everything so having access to another option this cheap is worthwhile for me.

    My Arduino is not going anywhere. Having MSPGCC for the MSP430 keeps some options open, but I don’t see myself using this for big projects, however, it has some potential for specific low-power applications. More tools equals more options and that makes you a more versatile engineer or hobbyist or tinkerer.

  10. I will order one as soon as I am able to, but its an awefully tiny chip memory wise, which is going to limit its application in my shop

    for the price though you cant help but want to tinker with it, and its always good to learn new things

  11. Hey! We use an MSP430 at work for a product, but our programmer insists on using FOURTH to program the thing. I’ve been trying to get the thing upgraded to something like an AVR or low cost ARM… but what about running GCC on it? Is the MSPGCC code similar to AVRGCC code? Obviously some low level stuff would be different… but how different?

  12. Well, I’ve been looking for a way to start with these chips for a while now (I’ve dabbled with the goodfet programmers which are, don’t get me wrong, great (and a good learning platform for SMD soldering)… but it’s difficult to hook up a ‘raw’ chip and start flashing it.

    As for FOSS alternatives to the TI offerings, you can look at my page I wrote on getting MSPGCC up and running under linux (it’s a PITA).


  13. @Haflelf, you’re smoking crack. There are too many alternative options for the compilers (GCC, ImageCraft and a few others) that are low-cost options. Your opinion is un-informed.

  14. I FINALLY got through. 3 on backorder it looks like (been trying to order since 10am)
    Well, I’ve been looking for a way to start with these chips for a while now (I’ve dabbled with the goodfet programmers which are, don’t get me wrong, great (and a good learning platform for SMD soldering)… but it’s difficult to hook up a ‘raw’ chip and start flashing it.

    As for FOSS alternatives to the TI offerings, you can look at my page I wrote on getting MSPGCC up and running under linux (it’s a PITA).


  15. Well, no success here with ordering any. I had three in by shopping cart, but I didn’t have my credit card handy. When I came back an hour later, I got a message saying that the contents of my shopping cart had changed, that the cart was emptied, and I was being returned to the storefront.

    I guess they sold out!

  16. @jc

    Uninformed option on the internet? Someone document this quick, it has to be a first!

    In order to keep this post relevant, I was able to place my order around 14:30 EST.

  17. So, after several hours of trying on the website, I eventually called in and ordered 2 kits. When calling in, you apparently get charged $25 shipping, which will be removed afterwards, but the credit card authorization was for $33.60 for me.

    I also put a pending order on Mouser for 2, but I will probably end up canceling that one.

    The guy at TI told me that they have about 200 units on backorder at this time, I am not sure if that was just from phone sales or total.

  18. “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.”

    you have this _completely_ _backwards_! Arduino eliminated all the IDE, programmer, and microcontroller overhead so you could get right down to developing in C (or C++ if that’s more your style).

    Oh, and the tools are free. And cross platform. And have no code size limits.

    The MSP430 is a fine device family, and TI makes good stuff, but this is not an arduino-killer, except maybe for people who don’t really need an arduino anyway.

  19. Its crazy stupid prices, I paid more than that for my lunch today, so in retrospect, the dump I am about to take cost the same as 2 of these.

    Who gives a shit, hack away…I’m getting 2 seeing as they ship everywhere.

  20. Mouser has already 10.000 pcs on backorder! This is totally crazy. Plus the ones they sold from the TI store (which by now is completely sold out), must be more units than Arduino has been sold yet at all. I ordered three for 4.20€ from Mouser, free shipping. One will be a present for my boss :-) He’ll like it.

  21. reminds me completely of when ST released the STM8S-Discovery: http://hackaday.com/2009/11/23/stm8s-discovery-microcontrollers-reach-a-new-low/

    Similar arguments on that side as well… whereas I am already up and running with AVRs, I am still tempted to pick up a few of these just for the heck of it. but then I can’t help but remember that I still have 3 of the STM8S’s, packed away, and cant help but assume this TI device would have the same fate.

  22. Going to buy some right now if the site is working. I like that there are OSS substitutes to TI’s “crippleware,” but I can also see TI’s IDEs now getting pirated a bunch.

  23. Mouser (the vendor TI points to from the wiki) is currently showing 9,848 have been pre-ordered and the first 398 will ship July 5th. I’m guessing an order now will take a while to ship.

  24. BTW, TI also usually has an “MCU Day” sort of seminar every year (used to be 4/30 day, but now they’re promoting all the MCUs at once and the date has slipped.) It’s usually pretty informative, as marketing presentations go, and typically free or cheap AND ends up giving you a discount on a large set of their development tools.

    TI is doing pretty good. EZ430, DSP sticks, Beagleboard, Hawkboard, LeopardBoard, and now this. I wish their development tools weren’t so windows-only, though. I couldn’t find a Mac or linux driver for their USB/Serial chip, which put a quick end to my attempts to get EZ430-F2013 development working on non-windows systems.

  25. The shame of it is, that QFP64 chip on the board is probably an MCU, and far more capable than the pitiful thing with 2K they actually break out for you to play with.

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