Showing an AVR Programmer Who’s Boss

[Bogdan] makes a good point. When you use a dev board you get programming, debugging, power sourcing, and usually a UART. When you go to the trouble of hooking up a programmer why don’t you get the same thing? Astutely, he points out that all you usually get with programmers is programming. So he set out to add features to the hardware he uses to program XMEGA.

The first part of the trick hinges on his use of PDI programming. This is slightly different from ISP programming. Both use a six-pin connector cable but with PDI two of these pins are unused. He took this opportunity to reroute the chip’s TX and RX pins through the cable, which now gives him an avenue to use a UART-to-USB adapter without adding any cables to his target board. Rather than add a second USB cable he rolled a USB hub into the mix. An LM1117 regulates the 5V USB rail down to 3.3V as a source for the target board.

The programmer being used is an Atmel ICE. As you might imagine he didn’t want to make permanent alterations to it. His modifications are all handled externally, with one IDC cable connecting the programmer to his added circuitry and another headed off to the target board. For now he’s jumpering RX/TX to the programming header but plans to route the signals on future PCBs.

Even More Emulated Microcomputers: 8080 on a Stellaris Launchpad

[Steeeve] just sent us his work on emulating a handful of 8080-based microcomputers on a Stellaris Launchpad, including the bare-metal to run Space Invaders. We know what you’re thinking: Is that all you folks are doing these days?!?!? There must be something in the water.

[Steeeve]’s build is based on the Launchpad with an external 64kB of SPI RAM, a nice little TFT display, and a built-in SD card for all of your storage needs. Add in an 8080 emulator and a keyboard and you’ve got a tiny microcomputer. (Is that redundant?)

What’s really neat about [Steeeve]’s project is that he’s cloned not just one target computer, but a whole bunch of computers including (GitHub links follow) the 8080-based UK101/Superboard, the CPM/80, and the machine that ran Space Invaders, as well as the 6502-based Commodore PET and Apple-1.  And as a bonus, you can save the state onto the built-in SD card so that you can hibernate the microcomputer and pick up right back where you left off at a later date. Snazzy.

He’s also built a library which provides an emulation framework if you want to build on this work yourself. And did we mention he can play Space Invaders? Bravo [Steeeve]!

Building Super Small Linux Computers From Scratch

Conventional wisdom says small, powerful embedded Linux like the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, or the Intel Edison are inherently manufactured devices, and certainly not something the homebrew tinkerer can produce at home. [hak8or] is doing just that, producing not one, but two completely different tiny Linux computers at home.

The first is based on Atmel’s AT91SAM9N12 ARM processor, but the entire board is just about two inches square. On board is 64 MB of DDR2 DRAM, a USB host and OTG port, and not much else. Still, this chip runs a stripped down Linux off of a USB drive.

The second board is based on the Freescale i.MX233. This board is similar in size and capabilities, but it’s not exactly working right now. There’s an issue with the DRAM timings and a capacitor underneath the SD card is a bit too tall.

The real value of [hak8or]’s project is the incredible amount of resources he’s put into his readme.mds for these repos. If you’ve ever wanted to build an embedded Linux device, here’s your one-stop shop for information on booting Linux on these chips.

High Voltage AVR Programmer

The most common way of programming AVR microcontrollers is the In System Programming port. That little six-pin header with MOSIs and MISOs coming out of it will program every AVR you’ll ever come across. The ISP does have a downside – fuses. Set your fuses wrong, and without a High Voltage Serial Programmer, your chip is bricked. [Dilshan] designed his own HVSP that’s less expensive than the Atmel STK500 and has a nice GUI app.

Instead of following in the footsteps of the USBtinyISP, [Dilshan] is using a PIC18F as the main microcontroller in the programmer. This chip was chosen because of its built-in USB functionality. Because the High Voltage part of a HVSP operates at 12V, actually providing that voltage needed to be taken into consideration. For this, [Dilshan] is using standard 78xx regulators with an 18V input.

The app to control this programmer does everything you would expect, including all the usual AVRdude commands. A great build, and just what we need to reset the fuses on a few dozen chips we have sitting around.

Controlling a Color TFT Display with PIC32

Sometimes it feels like everyone out there is using Arduino. It’s easy to find tutorials and libraries to get things working with Arduino, but if you want to use another platform you might have more trouble. [Tahmid] ran into this problem when he decided to try using a PIC32 to control a 2.2″ color TFT display from Adafruit.

Adafruit is really good about providing tutorials and Arduino libraries for their products. It makes it really easy to get up and running… if you are using Arduino. All of their libraries are open source, which means that the community can take them and modify them as needed. [Tahmid] decided to do exactly this and fork the Adafruit libraries over to the PIC32 platform in C. It’s a great learning experience. You get to see how (good or bad) other people code, and it immerses you in the differences between two different chip families.

He’s released the libraries online for others to use. He says that he’s heavily commented the code to try to make as self-explanatory as possible. The display interfaces with the PIC32 using SPI. The demo video below shows the screen up and running and demonstrates the crisp color graphics. Continue reading “Controlling a Color TFT Display with PIC32″

An Introduction to Clock Dividers and Psychological Warfare

A while ago, [nsayer] was inspired by a Hackaday post to build one of the most insidious means of psychological warfare. I speak, of course, of the [Lord Vetinari] clock, a clock that ticks at random intervals, but still keeps accurate time. His build, the Crazy Clock, is a small controller board for off-the-shelf clock movements that adds the [Vetinari] feature to any clock by soldering only a few wires.

The Crazy Clock is a pretty simple device consisting of only a 32.768 kHz crystal, a microcontroller, and a few transistors to pulse the movement of a clock mechanism. While psyops is great, it recently occurred to [nsayer] that this device could be used for other build.

Since the output of the Crazy Clock doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to a clock movement, [nsayer] decided to connect a LED, generating a 60Hz flashing light for a phonograph strobe. This is easy with timer prescalers and clock dividers; the original 32.768 kHz signal is divided by 8 to produce a clock that ticks every 4.096 kHz.  Divide that again by 120, and you get 34 2/15. Yes, this is all stuff you learned in fourth grade, and if you’re smarter than a third grader you can eventually whittle a 32.768 kHz clock down to a nice, round, binary number – exactly what you need for computing time.

[nsayer] posted a 240 fps (vertical) video of his Crazy Clock blinking at 60 Hz. You can see that below.

Continue reading “An Introduction to Clock Dividers and Psychological Warfare”

A Stack Of Boards For An Edison Breadboard Adapter

The Intel Edison is a neat piece of hardware, but the connector for the Edison is extremely intimidating and the Mini breakout board is incompatible with breadboards. What’s [Federico], a builder of Internet of Things to do? Etch their own breakout board.

The Mini Breakout board for the Intel Edison is the official ‘minimal’ offering for getting the Edison up and running with a mess of jumper wires and LEDs. While this breakout board handles the USB to UART bridge, power regulation, and exposes all the pins on the Edison connector, it is terrible for prototyping. It’s a 4×14 array of holes on a 0.1″ grid that are hidden underneath the Edison.

[Federico] handled this problem with a copper clad board and a little bit of ferric chloride. He jumped into Eagle and created a breakout board to turn the 4×14 pin grid into a more sensible breadboard-friendly layout.

The breadboard-friendly adapter doesn’t have level shifters, but by using the mini-breakout board between the Edison and the breadboard adapter [Federico] still has the UART to USB hardware and a battery charging circuit. Still, there’s room for improvement and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.