The coming age of ARM chips for the hobbyist

The days of the 8 bit Arduino may be quickly coming to a close. Sure, there will always be a place for AVRs in blinking LEDs and turning on relays, but for doing anything cool – playing MP3s, driving LCD displays, or running a CNC machine – you need the power of a 32 bit chip. [Brian Carrigan] put up a great tutorial on getting started with these bigger, more powerful micros and moving beyond what is possible with an 8 bit PIC or AVR.

These new 32 bit chips are much more powerful, but aren’t exactly hobbyist friendly. Most of the ARM chips we’ve found are stuffed into very fine pitch QFN or QFP packages that require a reflow oven to solder to a board. In fact, we can only find one through-hole Cortex M0 chip that is suited for breadboard development. This doesn’t make it easy to whip up a circuit in a few hours, so builders needing a very powerful microcontroller will be more dependent on dev boards.

Already there are a good number of ARM-based 32 bit dev boards available including the offerings from Leaf Labs, the extremely inexpensive STM Discovery boardKinetis KL25Z Freedom Board, the outrageously powerful BeagleBone, and the perpetually delayed Arduino (over) Due.

None of these boards are particularly new developments; they’ve all been around the block once or twice. However, there are many more options for 32 bit development than the current 8 bit PIC and AVR holy war. We’re going to turn the comments over to Hackaday readers with the following questions: what supersized dev board are you rolling with? What’s good for a beginner, and what should they watch out for?

Video Review: STM32F0-Discovery board

The STM32 Discovery boards are nothing new, we’ve looked at them several times. But the newest sibling in the line might be just the thing to make the leap from your steadfast 8-bit projects. We got our hands on it and recorded a video review.

The STM32F0-Discovery gives you a programmer and ARM Cortex-M0 chip all on one convenient board. The top portion is the ST-Link V2 programmer, and includes jumpers and a programming header which let it easily program off-board chips.

The included microcontroller is an STM32F051R8T6 which includes 64kb of program memory and 8kb of RAM. Coming in at $1.80-3.77 in single units and in a hand-solderable LQFP package this raises an eyebrow for our future projects. It has an 8 MHz internal oscillator with 6x PLL which means you can run at 48 MHz without an external crystal (check out [Kenneth Finnegan’s] PLL primer if you don’t know what this is).

The only thing holding us back is the development environment. ST provides everything you need if you’re on Windows, but we want a Linux friendly solution. We know other Discovery boards have worked under Linux thanks to this project. This uses the same ST-LINK V2 so it should work as well. If you want one of your own head over the ST page to see if they’re still giving away samples. There should be a button labeled “Register for your FREE KIT”.

Tiny Atari 810 Disk Drive upgrade

Everything gets smaller as technology improves. [Rossum] reduced the space needed for an Atari 810 disk drive by building this tiny replacement. Of course it doesn’t use floppy disks, but takes a microSD card instead. And it doesn’t stand in the place of one floppy drive, but can emulate up to eight different drives. The best part is that [Rossum] went to the trouble of designing an enclosure and having it fabricated via 3D printing in order to look just like a doll house version of the original hardware. It uses an LPC1114 ARM Cortex-M0 microprocessor to translate data transmissions to and from the Atari hardware, storing it on the 8 GB card.

As usual, you’ll soon find the schematic, board artwork, and code up on his git repository soon.

Smallest gaming console ever. EVER!

That’s it… the controller and the video game system all in one. This is the standalone version of [Rossum’s] RBox. We looked in on the prototype in June but that was using a bulky development board. You can see the CR1632 button battery, which powers the device for about four hours, sandwiched in between the joystick and the mainboard. Exiting the image on the right are cables used to connect mono-audio and video to a TV via RCA connectors. There’s no port for interchangeable cartridges which means that all game data must be programmed into the ARM Cortex M0 processors. See [Rossum’s] demo video after the break.

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