Automated chip burning

[Alexsoulis] needed to burn the Arduino bootloader to a slew of ATmega328 chips. Instead of sitting there and plugged the chips into a programmer one at a time, he build a robotic microcontroller programmer.

It starts with the DIP package microcontrollers in a tube, with a servo motor to dispense them one-by-one. An arm swings over and picks up the chip with a fish pump powered vacuum tweezers similar to the pick-and-place head we saw recently. From there the chip is dropped into a ZIF socket and programmed by an Arduino. Once the process is complete it is moved to the side and the process repeats.

We’ve reported on using an Arduino as an AVR programmer but we’ve never actually done it ourselves (we use an AVR Dragon programmer). Take a look at the video after the break and let us know if you think the actual programming seems incredibly slow.

[Read more...]

Munchausen makes NES a cartridge programmer

What a beautiful image of NES cartridges showing their private parts. These are the raw materials for the Munchausen Flash Cartridge project. A combination of a modified game cartridge and special USB cable makes it possible to program NES cartridges while inside an unmodified console. The cartridge has an added flash chip that is running a bootloader. By connecting a USB-to-NES cable to the second controller port a game image (or custom code image) can be flashed to one of the three game slots on the writable cartridge. The bootloader provides a menu at power-up to select between the three stored images, or can go straight to the previously selected image by holding down A when the console is turned on. There’s even a recovery routine in case of problems. Check out the demo after the break.

One thing we find interesting from the forum thread is a mention that it is technically possible to run code on the NES directly from the PC. That would sure make it easy to perform live chiptunes on NES.

[Read more...]

Minimalist AVR programmer is just fab!

Whether you’re burning a new bootloader to an Arduino board, or doing away with a bootloader to flash Atmel chips directly, an in-system programmer (ISP) is an indispensable tool for working with AVR microcontrollers. If cost has held you back, it’s no longer an excuse: FabISP is a barebones USB-based AVR programmer that can be pieced together for about ten bucks.

FabISP was created by [David Mellis] as a product of MIT’s Fab Lab program, which provides schools with access to design and manufacturing tools based around a core set of fabrication capabilities, so labs around the world can share results. But the FabISP design is simple enough that you don’t need a whole fab lab. It’s a small, single-sided board with no drilling required; the parts are all surface-mounted, but not so fine-pitched as to require reflow soldering. Easy!

There’s still the bootstrap problem, of course: you need an AVR programmer to get the firmware onto the FabISP. This would be an excellent group project for a hackerspace, club or school: if one person can provide the initial programmer to flash several boards, each member could etch and assemble their own, have it programmed, then take these out into the world to help create more. We must repeat!

[Thanks Juan]

Optiboot makes your Arduino faster, sleeker

Tired of waiting for that Arduino sketch to upload? Find yourself limited by code space? Optiboot eases both of these problems. The package is an alternative bootloader that runs at a higher baud rate (115200 versus 57600) and it takes up 1.5 KB less space than the stock version. This means your sketches can be larger without upgrading to a beefier chip and they will take less time to upload, a lot less.

This fully compatible alternative to the Arduino bootloader requires an AVR ISP programmer to burn it to the chip on your Arduino. If you have an extra AVR lying around you could use the Arduino as a programmer and then physically swap the chips.

[Thanks Peter]

Dell Vostro A90 hackintosh


A friend recently commissioned us to install OSX on a netbook. We advised him to purchase the Dell Vostro A90. It’s essentially a rebadged Dell Mini 9, a model that has been discontinued, but is well suited for OSX. It’s only available with a 1.6GHz Atom processor, 1GB RAM, and 16GB SSD. Depending on what deals are available, it’s $250-$300. We also had him purchase a 2GB stick of RAM which is the upper limit supported by the BIOS. [Read more...]

Through-hole Bus Pirate kit from Fundamental Logic


Fundamental Logic is selling a Bus Pirate kit and bare PCB based on our universal serial interface tool. They started with our serial port-based v1a hardware, and modified it to use all through-hole parts.  8pin DIP LP2951ACN/-3.3 switchable voltage regulators replace the surface mount TPS79650/33 that we used. The PIC is pre-programmed with our latest firmware, version 0f, which includes a bootloader for easy firmware updates through the serial port. Documentation includes illustrated assembly instructions.

Speaking of Bus Pirate goodness, we’re busy working on hardware V2. As astute readers may have already noticed, the final version of the Bus Pirate incorporates an FTDI USB->serial chip, and draws its power from the USB port. We also tackled the software-controlled pull-up resistor feature, and reduced the overall part count and cost. Best of all, we’re working to make assembled PCBs available with world-wide shipping. The how-to should be ready in a few weeks.

Bounty on Bus Pirate features, get a free v2 PCB


We’re putting a bounty on two high-priority Bus Pirate features. You can get a free PCB for the upcoming Bus Pirate V2 by writing a bit of code. Hack a Day has a varied and talented group of readers, and we know someone out there has the experience to make these changes with minimal difficulty.

  • The latest code integrates the PIC24F bootloader for easy updates without a programmer. We’d like to add a protocol snooper, but that requires interrupts. With the bootloader, however, interrupts are relocated and we’ve yet to fully grasp how that works. We’ll send a PCB and PIC 24F to the first person who modifies the code to demonstrate UART, SPI, or change notification interrupts with the boot loader. Microchip’s 24F bootloader app note is available here. Complete.
  • The current frequency measurement feature is a hack that uses a counter and a timer. Be the first to implement the input capture peripheral instead, and get a free PCB. See the function bpFreq(void) in base.c. Complete.

The latest Bus Pirate code and compiled firmware can be checked-out from Google Code SVN. Submit your code via the comments below or

UPDATE: Both issues were resolved. Thanks for your suggestions.