Typically, you buy a single board Linux computer. [Henrik] had a better idea, build his own ARM based single board computer! How did he do it? By not being scared of ball grid array (BGA) ARM processors.
Everyone loves the Raspberry Pi and Beagle Board, but what is the fun in buying something that you can build? We have a hunch that most of our readers stay clear of BGA chips, and for good reason. Arguably, one of the most important aspects of [Henrik’s] post is that you can easily solder BGAs with cheaply available tools. OSH Park provides the inexpensive high-quality PCBs, OSH Stencils provides the inexpensive stencils, and any toaster oven allows you to solder even the most difficult of components. Not only does he go over the PCB build, he also discusses the bootloader, u-boot, and how to get Linux running.
Everything worked out very well for [Henrik]. It’s a good thing too, cause we sure wouldn’t want to debug a PCB as complicated as this one. What projects have you built that use a BGA? Let us know how it went!
Texas Instruments’ CC3000 WiFi chip is the darling of everyone producing the latest and greatest Internet of Thing, and it’s not much of a surprise: In quantity, these chips are only $10 a piece. That’s a lot less expensive than the WiFi options a year ago. Now, TI is coming out with a few new modules to their WiFi module family, including one that includes an ARM micro.
The newest chips add these features and a whole lot more. [Valkyrie] got his hands on a CC3100Boost board and was pleased to find all the files for the webserver can be completely replaced. Here’s your Internet of Things, people. The CC3200 is even better, with a built-in ARM Cortex M4 with ADCs, a ton of GPIOs, an SD card interface, and even a parallel port for a camera. If you’re looking to pull a hardware startup out of your hat, you might want to plan your Kickstarter around this chip.
It’s all very cool stuff, and although the bare chips aren’t available yet, you can get an eval module from TI, with an FCC certified module with the crystals and antenna coming later this year.
While the most common use for a Raspberry Pi is probably a media center PC or retro game emulator, the Pi was designed as an educational computer meant to be an easy-to-use system in the hands of millions of students. Team 28 at Imperial College London certainly living up to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s expectations with their bare metal assembly clone of Star Fox, aptly titled PiFox.
This isn’t the first time a college course has taken up the task of developing software for the Pi without an operating system; a few years ago, Cambridge University started that off with a series of bare metal tutorials for the Pi that included drawing graphics on the screen and playing around with USB keyboards. PiFox greatly expands on what those early tutorials could do, reading an NES joystick from the GPIO pins, sound with DMA, and rendering 3D objects.
With tiny Linux boards popping up like dandelions, it was only a matter of time before someone came out with a really tiny Linux board. This is it. It’s a tiny board less than an inch on each side with an 802.11n System on Chip running OpenWrt on Linux. The best part? You can pick one up for $20 USD.
The VoCore isn’t so much as a cut down ARM dev board as it is a cut down router capable of running OpenWrt. It’s not a power house by any means with 8MB of Flash, 32MB of SDRAM, and a 360MHz CPU, but if you ever need something that’s less than an inch square, you probably don’t need that much power.
The VoCore features interfaces for 100M Ethernet, USB host and device, UART, SPI, I2C, I2S, and 20 GPIOs for blinking LEDs and listening to sensors. There’s also a dock that breaks out the Ethernet and USB ports, available as a kit or already assembled.
It’s a pretty cool device, and with low current draw (about 200mA) and being able to accept +5V power, we can easily see this tiny board popping up in a few projects.
At home, [Daniel] has an extremely powerful dual quad-core Xeon system with ECC RAM that he uses for heavy lifting tasks – compiling, CUDA processing, and actual computing. Of course the electric bill for running this box all the time would be crazy, so Wake on LAN it is. There’s only one problem: for some reason, the BIOS doesn’t have Wake on LAN. The solution, of course, was a microcontroller system that would listen for the magic WoL packet and turn the computer on when it was received. This project eventually turned into a great case mod with an integrated LCD that powers the computer up over Ethernet, shows the current running processes, CPU and memory usage, and is an excellent use of a TI dev board.
The dev board in question is a TI Sitara AM355x starter kit that runs Linux, has two Ethernet ports and a touch sensitive LCD, and more than enough power to handle something as simple as a system monitor. To power on his monster computer from the dev board, [Daniel] is using a LED on the board, an inverter, a ULN2003 driver chip, and a relay connected to the computer’s power button. It’s not exactly a masterpiece of craftsmanship, but the dev board looks good mounted in the case, and from the videos below, it’s a great way to get system information embedded right into a computer case.
Now that [Bunnie]’s open hardware laptop – the Novena – is wrapping up its crowdfunding campaign, it only makes sense that development around the Novena project would move over to the more interesting aspects of a completely hackable laptop. The Novena has a huge FPGA on board, with 2 Gbit of very fast memory hanging off it. Also, every single signal pin of the FPGA is broken out on high-speed connectors, making for some very, very interesting possible add-on boards. [Bunnie] has always wanted a portable, high-end oscilloscope to carry with him, and with the new oscope module, he has something that blows out of the water every scope priced below a thousand dollars.
The oscilloscope module [Bunnie] is working on has either two 8-bit channels at 1 GSPS or one 8-bit channel at 2 GSPS with an analog bandwidth of up to 900MHz. The module also has 10 digital channels, so if you need a logic analyzer, there you go.
Being a fairly high-end scope, the hardest part of engineering this scope is the probes. The probes for fast, high-end scopes cost hundreds of dollars by themselves, so [Bunnie] looked for a clean-sheet redesign of the lowly oscope probe. To connect the probe to the module, [Bunnie] realized a SATA cable would be a great solution; they’re high bandwidth, support signals in the GHz range, and are rated for thousands of insertions. These active probes can be combined with a number of front ends for application specific probes – digital probes, ones for power signature analysis, and ones for capturing signals across small loops of wire.
The module itself isn’t quite ready for production yet, but by the time the Novena crowdfunding campaign starts shipping, [Bunnie] will probably be working on the next add-on module for his crazy awesome laptop.
Ever since I received my PSOC 4 Pioneer kit from Cypress I have wanted to play with this little mixed-signal Programmable System-on-Chip (PSOC) developer board. I love developer boards, providing that they are priced in a way to entice me to not only open my wallet but also make time in a busy schedule. I think my kit was free after winning a swag bag from Adafruit that they themselves obtained at the Open Hardware Summit and gave away on their weekly streamcast. Ultimately it was the invitation to beta test datasheet.net which also was included in that pile of swag that led to my getting involved with Hackaday.
What is Programmable System On Chip?
So what is a PSOC 4? A quick summary is that it’s based on an ARM Cortex reduced instruction set processor (RISC) and is somewhat capable of supporting shields based on the Arduino footprint, and it also uses a bright red PCB that I have come to associate with a Sparkfun PCB. What doesn’t show is the fact that this programmable system on chip has programmable analog function blocks in addition to programmable digital logic blocks. There is also some supporting input/output circuitry such as a multicolored LED and a capacitive touch sensor directly on the PCB.
This is an intriguing amount of programmability, so much so that Newark/Element 14 highlighted a “100 projects in 100 days” event on it.
Enter the IDE
Over the years I have had to create or install many Integrated Development Environments (IDE) that linked hardware to software. Knowing that you had to, and how to, implement an IDE was part of being an engineer. Nowadays with the Arduino type environment the user has an IDE pretty much as soon as they click on the executable which I find to be one of the best aspects of the genre. It was so quick in fact that I was able to get my teenaged son into writing his first program even before he remembered to do massive eye-rolls and make sounds of utter disdain. He did give up however, just shy of learning how to have the Arduino make sounds of disdain on his behalf.