Programming Pi Games With Bare Metal Assembly

pifoxWhile 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.

If you’d like to build PiFox for yourself, or better yet, expand on the existing build, all the code is up on Github. There’s also a Raspberry Pi emulator for Linux, just in case you have an ARM assembly bug you just can’t scratch with a Raspberry Pi.

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VoCore, The Tiny Internet Of Things Thing

vocoreWith 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.


Wake On LAN With A Dev Board


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.

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[Bunnie]’s Laptop Gets A 900MHz Scope Addon


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.


Video: Getting Your Feet Wet with Programmable System On Chip


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 which also was included in that pile of swag that led to my getting involved with Hackaday.

Pioneer 4 Development Kit
PSCO4 Development Board on 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.

PSCo4 Cypress Development Kit on Hackaday
Closeup of a Programmable System on Chip Development System

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HummingBoard, The Vastly More Powerful Raspi

The Raspberry Pi has been around for a while now, and while many boards that hope to take the Pi’s place at the top of the single board ARM Linux food chain, not one has yet succeeded. Finally, there may be a true contender to the throne. It’s called the HummingBoard, and packs a surprising amount of power and connectivity into the same size and shape as the venerable Raspberry Pi.

The HummingBoard uses a Freescale i.MX6 quad core processor running at 1GHz with a Vivante GC2000 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM, microSD card slot, mSATA connector, Gigabit Ethernet, a BCM4329 WiFi and Bluetooth module, a real-time clock, and IR receiver. There’s also all the usual Raspberry Pi flair, with a 26 pin GPIO connector, CSI camera connector, DSI LCD connector,  stereo out, as well as the usual HDMI and analog video.

The company behind the HummingBoard, SolidRun, hasn’t put a retail price on the board, nor have they set a launch date. You can, however, enter a contest to win a HummingBoard with the deadline this Friday. Winners will be announced in early May, so maybe the HummingBoard will be officially launched sometime around then.

It’s an amazing board with more than enough power to rival the extremely powerful BeagleBone Black, with the added bonus of being compatible with so many of those Raspberry Pi accessories we all love dearly.

[Bunnie] Launches the Novena Open Laptop

Today [Bunnie] is announcing the launch of the Novena Open Laptop. When we first heard he was developing an open source laptop as a hobby project, we hoped we’d see the day where we could have our own. Starting today, you can help crowdfund the project by pre-ordering a Novena.

The Novena is based on the i.MX6Q ARM processor from Freescale, coupled to a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA. Combined with the open nature of the project, this creates a lot of possibilities for using the laptop as a hacking tool. It has dual ethernet, for routing or sniffing purposes. USB OTG support lets the laptop act as a USB device, for USB fuzzing and spoofing. There’s even a high speed expansion bus to interface with whatever peripheral you’d like to design.

You can pre-order the Novena in four models. The $500 “just the board” release has no case, but includes all the hardware needed to get up and running. The $1,195 “All-in-One Desktop” model adds a case and screen, and hinges open to reveal the board for easy hacking. Next up is the $1,995 “Laptop” which includes a battery control board and a battery pack. Finally, there’s the $5000 “Heirloom Laptop” featuring a wood and aluminum case and a Thinkpad keyboard.

The hardware design files are already available, so you can drool over them. It will be interesting to see what people start doing with this powerful, open computer once it ships. After the break, check out the launch video.

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