TI’s Grace – a new MCU IDE GUI (DNFTT)

TI has recently been fighting to gain traction in the market of low-cost microcontroller development platforms with products such as the MSP430 Value Line Launchpad.  In order to meet the needs of a rapidly growing customer base and appeal to a broader market they have recently released Grace beta Graphical Peripheral Configuration Tool. Grace is a plugin for TI’s own Code-Composer Studio (CCS) IDE that allows users to graphically control many aspecst of MSP430 development and is compatible with all MSP430F2xx/G2xx MCUs.

Utilizing a simple “wizard-like” interface, Grace allows users to quickly and efficiently control peripherals such clocks, timers, OpAmps,  ADCs, GPIOs, comparators, and even more advanced features such as serial communications or the configuration of low-level register settings. Once everything is configured as desired, Grace outputs standard C code that can be debugged and handled as if it were hand-written.

Although Code-Composer Studio is not free, there is a 30-day full-featured trial available as well as other (restricted) free licensing options as well. Since CCS is based on the Eclipse open-source  software development framework, perhaps we will see other similar development tools in the near future. Although not an apples-to-apples comparison, we could imagine that such a tool might provide many novice users with a simple and cost-effective alternative to the Arduino IDE.

The questions then becomes: If a later incarnation were to raise the MSP430 line to “Arduino-killer” status, would it be rejoiced as such or would it simply then become a new target for those die-hard microcontroller purists who love to shout “overkill” on the forums at the slightest provocation? Of course we would love to hear your take in the comments below!

Header file brings Arduino sketches to the TI Launchpad

[Chris Hulbert] is making it easy for Arduino users to program MSP430 chips with a header file that allows you to compile Arduino sketches for the Launchpad. This makes sense, as the growing number of Arduino sketches available, and the low cost of the TI Launchpad make for a good bedfellows. It’s really wasn’t that hard to make this happen, although you’re not going to find support for all of the Arduino functions just yet.

At the time of writing, [Chris] has just 51 lines of code committed to the project. It provides macros for setup(), loop(), delay(), pinMode(), pinBit(), digitalWrite(), and digitalRead(). You’ll notice that one of the most important parts of the header file is that it disables the watchdog timer for the user (a stumbling block for many MSP430 beginners). It’s an interesting solution, but to be truly useful we’d want to see hardware integration with the Arduino IDE. That, as well as the rest of the Arduino functions are at the tips of your fingers. Get coding and submit your push requests to [Chris] for inclusion in his repository.

[Thanks Chris]

STK200 pocket change programmer

A common complaints of beginners to microcontroller programming is the availability of DIY tools that do not require a parallel port.  Using not much more than a couple of 74xx series chips and some protoboard, [Rue] was able to create an AVR programmer for less than the cost of some chips it can program – giving parallel programmers a run for thier money. [Rue] used Linux treat the ubiquitous PATA/IDE port as a parallel port. By having avrdude treat the programmer as an Atmel STK200, [Rue] was able to upload a blinky program to his AVR microcontroller through ISP. If anybody can think of an even lower cost unconventional solution give us a shout.

New Dynamic Duo, Arduino and Eclipse

There are a lot of solutions to programing an Arduino: the default avr-g++, Studio, etc. But [Sandeep] let us know about using one of the more powerful IDEs out there, Eclipse, to do the same. We’ve already outlined why Eclipse is a great IDE but now the fact that you can use it in your MCU based projects adds to its usefulness and already large feature list. However, don’t be turned off by [Sandeep's] tutorial. While it is aimed at people who are completely new to setting up an IDE and working with an AVR, the tips certainly can benefit even the most experienced hacker.

XT IDE controller

[Geordy] wanted to use some IDE devices but he didn’t have an interface card for his XT system, which can’t handle 16-bit  IDE. He looked around for 8-bit ISA controllers but they were hard to find and quite expensive. Lucky for him there’s an open source project that makes a solution to this problem. The XTIDE project brought together a group of vintage computing enthusiasts to design this ISA card. [Geordy] was even able to order a professional PCB from one of the forum members. He ordered the parts an soldered it together, costing about $30 total. He had a friend help him burn the code to the EEPROM but that’s easy enough to do with an Arduino, Bus Pirate, or one of several other methods. Now his grand plans at installing DOS 6.22 have been realized.

Adding Compact Flash to an old sequencer

[Shoji] has a beloved sequencer that went out of production ten years ago. Unfortunately the storage options are also 10 year out-of-date as SCSI is the stock option for storing his loops. Using a series of adapters he added Compact Flash storage to his Akai MPC-2000 Classic. The board has a connector for 25-pin SCSI which he wired to a 25-pin to 50-pin SCSI adapter. From there he connects a SCSI to IDE board, and then an IDE to CF. Subsequent versions of the Akai Classic have floppy drives in the front left corner so he used this method to mount he CF slot. Now he’s got plenty of storage with very little change to the appearance of the looper.

ATmega Controller wiring upgrade

avrcontroller

[jelengar] liked the ease of use of the Arduino, but wanted a much higher pin count. He set about converting the ATmega Controller for use with Wiring, the code that the Arduino IDE is based on. The ATmega128 in the controller features 53 pins as opposed to the 11 on the Arduino’s ATmega168. You also get 128kb of memory. The process is fairly simple; you just need to add the appropriate crystal. You can also add a switch to trigger the bootloader and a status LED.