Leaf Labs is now shipping the Maple R3 boards. [Phil Burgess] gave the platform a look just before launch last fall and the high-powered prototyping board is now even better. New features come in both hardware and software varieties. The bootloader can now be upgraded without additional programming hardware, there’s hardware SPI and I2C interfaces, and a newly-polished IDE for Linux and Windows. At $50 it’s a good way to get access to the power of the ARM Cortex M3 processor at the center of the board. We’ve seen several projects that use the mbed, which is in the same class as the Maple, but we’re waiting to see what you’ve accomplished with this little devil.
[Jack] wrote in to let us know about a project that creates a virtual microprocessor core based on the ATmega103 by using a Field-Programmable Gate Array. Great, we thought. Here’s another rather esoteric project like the NES on a FPGA, but what’s the motivation behind it? We asked [Jack] and he provided several scenarios where this is quite useful.
Implementing the AVR core allows code already written for the chips to be easily ported to an FPGA without a code rewrite. This way, if your needs outpaced the capabilities of the microcontroller long after the project has started, you can keep the code and move forward from that point with the added capabilities of the gate array. Having the core already implemented, you then only need to work with HDL for the parts of the project the AVR was unable to handle. He also makes the point that having an open source AVR core implementation provides a great tool for people already familiar with AVR to study when learning VHDL.
With products like the Butterfly that this project is based around, or the Maple we’ve seen in the past, programmable logic for the recreational hacker is starting to get a little easier.
The Atmega168 at the heart of every Arduino is an eminently capable chip; its ilk have been seen working as a basic web server, playing back digital audio, even generating TV signals. But as projects continue to grow in sophistication, reality rears its ugly head: Arduino can handle any one of these tasks very well, but it often requires squeezing every last instruction cycle or bit of memory in the device. Even the ’368 chip and the Arduino Mega are stopgap measures. Sooner or later, you have to graduate to long trousers—move up to a more capable microcontroller platform—an uncomfortable change usually involving a hefty investment in new hardware and an intimidating learning curve. Leaf Labs’ Maple aims to change all that…
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