Developing with eBay-sourced ARM + LCD dev boards

eBay isn’t only about counterfeit designer handbags and boxes of all-marshmallow Lucky Charms, sometimes there’s actually something useful for sale. [Matt] found a bunch of Chinese-made ARM development boards with integrated LCD displays on the ‘bay, but without a reliable toolchain, these boards – as cool as they are – are nearly useless. Thankfully, he figured out how to do something with these boards, and neatly packaged everything into a VirtualBox image.

The boards in question usually include a 2.4″ or 3.2″ touch panel LCD, an STM32F103 ARM Cortex-M3 CPU, a microSD card connector, and sometimes a few other goodies like 16MB of Flash memory and an RS-232 port. An amazing amount of computational capability packaged into an easy-to-use form factor made even more awesome by their $40 price point.

Because these boards offer so much more than a common Arduino, a proper OS is in order. [Matt] looked over FreeRTOS and included a few demo programs for his Ubuntu-based VirtualBox image (available for download on [Matt]‘s site, it’s a dropbox, email us if you need some hosting, [Matt]) Never mind, see below.

Programming these boards can be done over a serial interface, but a JTAG programmer such as a Bus Blaster makes things very, very easy.

You can check out a few demos [Matt] put together after the break. It’s a very cool development that is much more suited for being integrated into an electronics project than a Raspberry Pi or other such high-power ARM board, and something we hope to see more of in the future.

EDIT: You know what’s really good for hosting Linux distros? Torrents. That’s [Matt]‘s distro and the HaD crew is seeding. Please seed.

34 thoughts on “Developing with eBay-sourced ARM + LCD dev boards

  1. I’ve seen these on eBay and wondered about the quality. Nice to see that they’re OK.

    If you’re happy with a Windows toolchain then another way to program them might be to grab a very cheap STM32VL Discovery board. It should work fine with the ST’s suppprted development toolchain and you get a programmer and another STM32F100 to play with.

  2. Somebody needs to turn one of these into a functional pip-boy already. Combine it with that leather sensor-bracer that was featured a while back. Would be made of awesome.

    1. @Ren: the page intermittently loads (plus {or minus} it is in Chinese)
      And wtf is with z7? Why not recognised compression that work for everyone (Free)?

  3. I have one of these, works great.
    A few comments:
    -> CooCox is a great IDE for it that comes without code limits but with strange bugs. Example: it deletes its own configuration file, so I wrote a script to restore it from a backup whenever it got deleted again.
    -> The “set jumper to BOOT0, reset, flash, set jumper to BOOT1, reset” cycle gets annoying very fast. I built a tiny circuit to do the job for me.
    -> The board managed to repeatedly crash my PC during upload+verification. Crash means instanly dead PC, requiring a hard reset before it boots again. Didn’t experience that in a few years… I turned off verification (which had never failed) and it works without crashes.
    -> The command-line uploader that comes with the STM Flash Uploader Demo crashes on my PC (Win 7 64). Unfortunately, that means that I cannot start the upload from the IDE. However, there is supposedly a python tool that manages uploading/downloading/stuff.
    -> My board came with a CD with a few examples from ADC reads and PWM to a USB mouse and USB SD card reader, as well as a crack(? or something similar) of µcOS II. You need to be prepared to copy non-rendering chinese code comments into google translate.

    That aside: really great value for your buck, if you can handle a few strange quirks. Drastically more powerful than any 8bit micro with loads of peripherals and onboard stuff. ARM is a bit more complicated, though there are plenty of good tutorials around.

    Also, check out the “insiders guide to the STM32″.

  4. If there is no code-signing it’s actually pretty easy run code on a board with no tool-chain.. unless you lack a flasher and ArmV* reference.

  5. you get stuff like this on ebay all the time. i bought an $18 10dof imu and managed to find an arduino library for every chip. so i got luckey there. sometimes you get ripped off, like i got a 3rd rate arduino ethernet shield that i still havent found a decent library for. so sometimes you win and sometimes you fail so hard.

  6. Such boards are either:

    1) Copies of something
    2) No name variant of something that is yet-to-be-released
    3) Original design that will be copied and branded 1000 times.

    I hope to see a branded variant soon either if it’s original or copying the chinese design,the expectations are best support so you can fully exploit the capabilities of these.

    My experience says that at least a few guys are wanting to put their names on these and start going up the stairs.

  7. downloading torrent now.

    Will seed with reasonable bandwidth.

    Hope others join in…….

    Great job, and thanks for the legwork…

  8. yes there are many nice kit boards. yet most ebay sellers don’t have enough support force. when you use some kit, you want to quick start, don’t want to research how to. better find a good seller then.
    We provide arm board R&D OEM/ODM service, get you a quick product prototype and demo sample, save you precious time and let you focus on application and market.
    http://www.quickembed.com
    Samsung ARM cortex A8 S5PV210 tiny210 board http://www.quickembed.com/Tools/Shop/A8/201202/245.html

  9. There are tons of similar boards on ebay.. some of them have bootleg jlink JTAG interfaces that’ll work just fine with OpenOCD.

    I’m not sure where the “Oh noes, no toolchainz!” comes from. These are standard ARM microcontrollers not strange undocumented Chinese clones.. get binutils, gcc and newlib and knock yourself out.. or use one of the prebuilt setups or builder scripts to do it for you. These boards aren’t miles away from the various board Olimex etc sell except that they are more likely to come with a cloned JTAG interface built in.

    Also.. why distribute a whole OS install with a prebuilt GCC setup? Just supply the steps to build the everything and your start-up and linker scripts.

    1. Haha i wondered what is this post about. These boards will work with any stm32 compatible debugger, like jlink, stlink, ulink2, etc. and with many freemium (code size limit) toolchains and IDEs, like keil uvision, atollic truestudio or just eclipse configured to work with arm toolchain + openocd.

  10. Isn’t the Maple from leaflabs.com compatible with these?

    I had a quick look at the schematic and with a little modification, it could probably run with Maple IDE. :\

    1. Because not everything on TPB is illegal? I fully support legal links on TPB because it legitimizes its existence. Also, they’re not a tracker, they’re just a searchable magnet link database.

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