Developing with eBay-sourced ARM + LCD dev boards

eBay isn’t only about counterfeit designer handbags and boxes of all-marshmallow Lucky Charms, sometimes there’s actually something useful for sale. [Matt] found a bunch of Chinese-made ARM development boards with integrated LCD displays on the ‘bay, but without a reliable toolchain, these boards – as cool as they are – are nearly useless. Thankfully, he figured out how to do something with these boards, and neatly packaged everything into a VirtualBox image.

The boards in question usually include a 2.4″ or 3.2″ touch panel LCD, an STM32F103 ARM Cortex-M3 CPU, a microSD card connector, and sometimes a few other goodies like 16MB of Flash memory and an RS-232 port. An amazing amount of computational capability packaged into an easy-to-use form factor made even more awesome by their $40 price point.

Because these boards offer so much more than a common Arduino, a proper OS is in order. [Matt] looked over FreeRTOS and included a few demo programs for his Ubuntu-based VirtualBox image (available for download on [Matt]‘s site, it’s a dropbox, email us if you need some hosting, [Matt]) Never mind, see below.

Programming these boards can be done over a serial interface, but a JTAG programmer such as a Bus Blaster makes things very, very easy.

You can check out a few demos [Matt] put together after the break. It’s a very cool development that is much more suited for being integrated into an electronics project than a Raspberry Pi or other such high-power ARM board, and something we hope to see more of in the future.

EDIT: You know what’s really good for hosting Linux distros? Torrents. That’s [Matt]‘s distro and the HaD crew is seeding. Please seed.

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Hands on the Stellaris Launchpad

We just got our hands on a Stellaris Launchpad. We had placed an order when the preorder was originally announced, but the marketing folks at TI reached out an offered to send us one a bit sooner and took them up on it. We’ve embedded a quick unboxing video after the break but read on for some info that didn’t make it into that clip.

The look and feel of the board and its packaging are almost exactly the same as the MSP430 version of the Launchpad. But why not? After all it worked so well the first time. This board hosts an ARM Cortex-M4 processor. The two buttons on the bottom are user buttons, the one on the upper right is a reset button. The top of the board is the programmer, with a micro USB port for connectivity. The kit also includes about a 2′ cable for this connection. Next to that jack is a switch that selects a power source. You’ll also notice a USB port to the left, this because the processor includes USB functionality, with a free library available from TI. Power can come from the programmer/debugger USB port, or from this device USB port. There are dual pin headers to either side on the face of the board, and pin sockets on the back which break out pins of the processor. Just below the reset button is a RGB LED, and a clock crystal has also been populated just above the chip.

When plugged in via the programmer’s USB port the PWR LED lights up as does the RGB LED. The firmware that ships on the device fades through a range of colors and the user buttons scroll through a set of predefined colors. The device enumerates as: “Bus 002 Device 005: ID 1cbe:00fd Luminary Micro Inc.” on our machine. But if you connect it via the device USB jack it enumerates as: “Bus 001 Device 015: ID 04e8:689e Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd GT-S5670 [Galaxy Fit]“. Interesting.

We have no idea if there are programming tools for flashing the board using a Linux box, but we’ll be trying to figure it out. If you have some info please share it in the comments.

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DIY ARM prototyping board

We’re impressed by the ARM prototyping board which [Danjovic] is showing off. He proves that in this day of ever shrinking packages it’s still possible to make your own development tools with protoboard and a soldering iron.

To tell you the truth, if he had designed and etched his own board we probably wouldn’t have featured it. But he didn’t need to spend time on the layout, etching, and reflow. Instead it’s just some enamel wire and a lot of patience. The patience is because the NXP ARM Cortex-M0 chip comes in a HVQFN package. We’re not entirely sure about the HV part (the package alphabet was not entirely clear on this) but QFN means Quad Flat No-Lead. That means no legs on the chip. So [Danjovic] glued it upside down and soldered point-to-point to break out all of the pins.

The top side of the board has a bootloader button, reset button, power regulation, and a crystal oscillator. He doesn’t mention what bootloader he’s using, but a Nokia USB cable gives him the connectivity to push his programs onto the chip.

PIC 18F4550 dev board

[Natsfr] was looking for a single-sided PCB to host a PIC 18F4550. Not finding one he designed his own in Kicad and is sharing (translated) the spoils of his labor.

This chip has USB capabilities which is why we see it used in a ton of projects. Almost all of them (including this USB input device post) use a very large DIP package. [Natsfr] went a different route, designing for the TQFP package to keep the drilling ot a minimum. The layout includes a crystal and USB-mini port, but it also breaks out the I/O pins on the chip. The red box above shows the quick fix he used on the VCC line as the board trace was shorting on the USB jack housing.

He didn’t drill out the holes for most of the breakout pins on this prototype. There’s just one header populated for programming the PIC chip. But he does have some plans for the first board. He’s going to use [Texan's] AVR programming firmware for PIC to turn it into a USB AVR ISP programmer.

TI Launches C2000 Launchpad (featuring Billy Mays)

The Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad is pretty popular in hacks, likely due to its low price. TI has recently released a new C2000 Launchpad device that offers more power and peripherals for $17. This board uses the C2000 Piccolo processor, which is meant for DSP applications.

Also included is an unrestricted version of the Code Composer Studio IDE and the controlSUITE software package. You can also run the free SYS/BIOS RTOS on this board. It’s nice to see TI providing a lot of free, non-crippled tools that could be used to power some pretty advanced hacks.

Most MSP430 Launchpad Booster Packs should be compatible with this board, and TI has a new layout for Booster Packs that use the additional pins. There is a C2000 specific LED Booster Pack available now for $30. There are also specifications for building your own Booster Packs for the C2000.

TI has released a slightly cheesy promotional video that features a [Billy Mays] like performance. Check it out after the break.

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Hackaday Links: July 20, 2012

Hey, it’s the 43rd anniversary of men first walking on the moon. Here’s some stuff we found to celebrate that. Fun trivia: for Apollo 11, [Neil] and [Buzz] didn’t go more than 200 feet from the LEM.

This is so incredibly sad

Remember Heathkit? A lot of cool kit-based electronics came from them. They’re out of business, but you can get all the Heathkit swag you can imagine from the repo man. A ton of stuff from the old Heathkit headquarters is being auctioned off in Byron Center, Michigan this Tuesday, July 24. Notable lots include a HE-Robot and a nice pair of o’scopes. If someone wants to pick up one of the catalog lots for us, we’d be thankful.

Troll Physics: ‘What is with this guy’ edition

We’ve seen [Fredzislaw]‘s LED trickery before. The first time was a crazy 3 LED circuit, the reveal of which showed two AC power supplies in a battery connector. This time, [Fred] has two switches and an LED. Turn one switch on, the LED lights up. Turn that switch off and flip the other one, the LED still lights up. Turn both switches on, the LED goes off. Your guess is as good as ours.

Prototyping with a key fob remote

[Gary] wrote in to tell us about the dev board he’s been working on. It has either a PIC or AVR on the back side, broken out into 0.1 inch headers on the front. There’s a small solderless breadboard and an on-board RF link that uses a five-button key fob remote. Seems very useful, no matter what side of the PIC/AVR holy war you’re on.

Consumer Alerts: Software defined radio

Over on the RTLSDR subreddit, [photoscotty] bought this TV tuner dongle from Deal Extreme and received the inferior EZTV645 tuner. Unsurprisingly, Chinese manufacturers will just grab whatever is available, put it in an envelope, and ship it off on a slow boat from China. [photoscotty] is trying to return his dongle to DX, but until Sparkfun or Adafruit start selling these things (yes, there’s a market now get on it) you’ll have to be careful out there.

Wouldn’t this feel terrible against your skin all day?

[Colin] printed a watch band on his Makerbot. Apparently Shenzhen humidity didn’t play nicely with his nylon strap, so [Colin] made his own out of plastic. It’s flexible and has a neat looking clasp, as well as an awesome demo for what a 3D printer can actually do. Thingiverse files here.

SimpleCortex, for when an Arduino is too wimpy

Sometimes, an Arduino just doesn’t have enough horsepower. Whether you’re gathering loads of sensor data and sending it over the web via Ethernet, or just trying to build a home-brew video game, it’s very easy to run into the limitations of the Arduino platform. [Rik] and his fellow classmates may have a solution to this problem with their SimpleCortex development board.

The SimpleCortex began as an answer to the Arduinos [Rik] and his classmates had to use at school.  The SimpleCortex gets its name from an ARM Cortex M3 microcontroller running at 120MHz; more than fast enough to do some very interesting things, and 512kB of Flash to hold much larger programs.

The Arduino IDE is admittedly terrible, and big projects are a pain in the butt with a tiny 8-bit micro. SimpleCortex improves upon this development environment by using the free CoCenter IDE put out by CooCox. The CoCenter IDE supports debugging and code completion, standard features on any serious desktop programming environment.

The SimpleCortex has Arduino-compatable header pins, so it should be easy to use existing shields, like the 3G modem we saw this week and the NTSC video IO shield that can do object tracking. While the specs of the SimpleCortex put it in a distant second to the Raspberry Pi, sometimes you just don’t need Linux, but a standard AVR or PIC isn’t quite enough.

There’s no word on when this board will be available, but the team is working with ITead Studio to officially release boards into the wild.