Hackaday Prize Entry: Explore M3 ARM Cortex M3 Development Board

Even a cursory glance through a site such as this one will show you how many microcontroller boards there are on the market these days. It seems that every possible market segment has been covered, and then some, so why on earth would anyone want to bring another product into this crowded environment?

This is a question you might wish to ask of the team behind Explore M3, a new ARM Cortex M3 development board. It’s based around an LPC1768 ARM Cortex M3 with 64k of RAM and 512k of Flash running at 100MHz, and with the usual huge array of GPIOs and built-in peripherals.

The board’s designers originally aimed for it to be able to be used either as a bare-metal ARM or with the Arduino and Mbed tools. In the event the response to their enquiries with Mbed led them to abandon that support. They point to their comprehensive set of tutorials as what sets their board apart from its competition, and in turn they deny trying to produce merely another Arduino or Mbed. Their chosen physical format is a compact dual-in-line board for easy breadboarding, not unlike the Arduino Micro or the Teensy.

If you read the logs for the project, you’ll find a couple of videos explaining the project and taking you through a tutorial. They are however a little long to embed in a Hackaday piece, so we’ll leave you to head on over if you are interested.

We’ve covered a lot of microcontroller dev boards here in our time. If you want to see how far we’ve come over the years, take a look at our round up, and its second part, from back in 2011.

19 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Explore M3 ARM Cortex M3 Development Board

  1. First: mistake in the summary. The board has 64KB, not 64MB of RAM.

    As for the board itself… Sorry but I’m quite unimpressed. It seems like a fairly typical low end “minimal” ARM Cortex board. There’s VASTLY better boards out there that aren’t all that expensive (not on a arduino budget, but not $150+ either) Just one example: the $20 EK-TM4C1294XL board from TI. Arm Cortex M4F, 120MHz, 1MB flash, 256KB RAM, far more GPIOs (two sets of 40 pin expansion headers), and far more peripherals (everything this one has and plenty more — including ethernet and QEI), out-of-the-box support for a wide range of booster packs (including many very nice radio modules for WiFi, BLE, etc), support for “bare ARM” programming as well (register access or CMSIS-style), a very good vendor-provided RTOS that’s free, arduino-compatible if that’s your thing (energia), and so much more (of course, you also get floating point, and CMSIS DSP too). It even has a on-board JTAG adapter to program and debug it (there’s even a place where you can solder a header to connect your segger j-link, and that’s totally supported), a half-decent IDE, a good set of software drivers, lots of very good example and way more…

  2. The world of minimal system boards is exremely sensitive to two things: availability and price.
    There is not much room between low end ARM boards starting at 1,5EUR (delivered to my doorstep) and the 10EUR Orange Pi class of SBC. Even the well-known Teensy boards (with their good software support) have a weak position. I don’t see a chance for this.

    1. yeah. Why would I buy this thing instead of a Nucleo or some Chinese minimal-stm32 board? And even if it’s a good design and successful, it’ll be cloned in short order.

      I know I’m a stick in the mud here (I like my automation systems to have a physical-security layer, ergo avoiding the whole wifi thing), but I want to see a cheap/minimal ARM board with ethernet on it, using the cheapest micro with an integrated MAC. Or better yet, a Pi Zero-equivalent with ethernet thankyouverymuch.

      1. I was just thinking to myself that STM’s MCUs and even whole, ready-made boards can be had for chips and peanuts on eBay, including the much faster and more capable STM32F4-series.

      2. You can get USB to ethernet adaptors but they would coast as much as the pi zero. I am with you with the pi zero. I would love to see a PiZeroN with networking, and in my case audio in and out but no HDMI for headless operations.

  3. NXP made similar board already, compatible with mbed:
    I don’t really see the point of yet another dev-board that’s no different from many other boards. And there is no difference from one board to another, except for few minor details. And if you are going to use Arduino as your development tool, you obviously don’t give a flying duck about those details. The only reason they are keeping developing these boards is to get money from Kickstarter. And it’s also so easy: just route all pins to headers, add parts listed in “Minimum configuration” section of datasheet, and optionally start a git repository with *duino firmware and software ported from other, similar project. Someone else might even fix all the bugs for you for free.

  4. I spent 2 years of my career on the 1768/1769 and I have to say, is a surprisingly fast microprocessor. full of peripheral and with a really fast local bus, the 1769 still the fastest cortex m3 on the market , I totally love it, I was working in a robotic related company and I managed to push it on it’s limit only once , moving a crazy amount of data from the CAN Bus to the serial port (800khz/1.5 MBits) with protocol conversion and mathematical operations in the middle everything below 1 ms , with 2 massive interupt routines and two loops, the M series have a really fast context switching as well.

    I like this board, the mbed 1768 is really expensive and it does run at 80mhz (well, until you start to fiddle with the clock register, then is 120mhz XD ) , this looks like it does have the usb bootloader instead of the full ICSP and debugger, which is a nice feature of the mbed one (still, if you don’t want to go in production with it).

    For 19$ is still a better board than the arduino.

        1. 64kB and 512 of flash? There was some range according to spec.

          Also, when NXP don’t have a fab in China, I’d be suspicious of parts coming from there. Not sure where they do the packaging though, they have plants listed as “assembly” in Guangdong and Tianjin.

  5. “comprehensive set of tutorials”??? i found exactly one tutorial and it was how to set up arduino…hardly sets them apart. and their english is such i’ll assume they won’t be writing any more once they have cash in hand. i would love to see a little more detail about using the USB interface for programming — that’s the one thing i’m curious about in these new low-cost ARM boards. i’d rather chew off my own arm than use arduino tools.

  6. Why, Oh Why do developers of such things NOT keep their IO pins on a 0.1″ grid? Doing so allows hackers to use normal prototyping boards to make all the connections. The 8 pins along the short edge and the 2×5 just inboard from there could easily have been placed on the same grid as the side pins and everything would be great. Sad that there just isn’t enough thought put in for developers on a tight budget who want to use plain perf board for their projects.

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