Beginner’s look at On-Chip Debugging

As your embedded applications get more complicated an On-Chip Debugger will save you a lot of time when things don’t run quite right. On-Chip Debugging (OCD) is just what it sounds like — a way to run your program on the target chip that lets you pause execution to examine values and change them if need be. The Arduino has no built-in method of using OCD, but the AVR chips used by the boards do. The caveat is that you need a proper AVR programmer to access the Debug Wire protocol, or a JTAG interface for some of the larger chips. In this case I’m going to be using an STM32 Discovery Board to give you an overview of OCD. But this will work the same way for any chip that has hardware debugging capabilities. Many IDE’s have debugging support built right in so that you can use a nice GUI as you work. But often these are just a front end for the command line tools I’ll be using. Join me after the break and we’ll get started.

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Classic game of Snake on an ARM controller

Every now and again we take a break from looking at all of your awesome projects and get to work on our own. I thought I’d take a minute to show off my game of Snake. It’s a classic that I remember playing on a graphing calculator (TI-83) back in high school. I had never written my own version and decided it would be a good reason to spend some more time on the ARM platform.

The dev board I’m using is the STM32 F0 Discovery board. Once I had a usable template for compiling the code on a Linux box everything else just started to fall into place. The screen is from a Nokia 3595. Several years back I cut off the keypad and made a breakout board for it. It’s pretty dim but it’s small and uses SPI so it tends to be my go-to display for prototyping. But I did get my hands on an SSD1289 TFT screen (after writing about this project) for about $16 and I’ve had some success with that. It uses a parallel interface so it’s not as easy to hook up and I’ve had some crosstalk issues when running at 24 MHz.

But I digress. Check out the demo video of my simple game after the break. There are more details about my programming choices at post link above. You will see this hardware again soon. I’m working on an On Chip Debugging primer and these ARM dev boards are perfect for it!

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STM32 F3 Discovery dev board includes some extras

ST Microelectronics keeps kicking out development boards to show off their new ARM processor line. Yesterday they issued a press release announcing the STM32 F3 Discovery Board. As their naming scheme implies, this carries an ARM Cortex-M3 processor, but compared to the F0 Discovery board (which we loved) it’s got several extra goodies built into it.

We took a look at the F3 Discovery product page and it doesn’t look like you can order these quite yet. But click-through to the pricing and you’ll see they’ve set it at $10.90. Digikey lists the board at that price point, Mouser lists it at about $16, but neither supplier has any available. We also didn’t see a link for free boards like when the F0 model was released. If you do come across a giveaway link please tip us off about it.

Okay, now let’s discuss those extras. We think this dev kit could be used as an IMU for applications like a quadcopter or a self-balancing robot. That’s because it has a gyroscope and an accelerometer. It’s also got ten LEDs, eight of which are arranged on that white circle. We’d guess that layout is for displaying orientation data from the IMU sensors. There’s also a second USB port to use when developing USB applications for the chip.

Like the other boards in the Discovery family this has the STlinkV2 built-in to use as a programmer. We don’t know if OpenOCD has support for the F3 chipset yet, which is what we’ve been using to program STM chips in a Linux environment.

An STM32 processor powers this PC

This 32-bit computer is a project [Bogdan Marinescu] built as a contest entry. Sadly he didn’t win, but he did do an excellent job of documenting the build. Having seen several other home built PC projects we’re familiar with the challenges that go into such a thing, and he found some great solutions to each of them.

He started with an STM32F103ZET6 chip. This is an ARM Cortex-M3 processor which brings a lot of power to the playing field. That being said, generating a VGA signal would pretty much zap the usefulness of the chip for other processes so he offloaded that work on a separate Propeller chip. A microSD card serves as storage for the machine, which runs eLua (embedded Lua programming language). There is 1 MB of external RAM and a PS/2 port for keyboard interface. The system is networked thanks to an ENC28J60 Ethernet controller. Don’t miss the video after the break where you can see several demos running on the system.

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ARM-based debugging tool aims to improve on the Bus Pirate performance

The Bus Pirate is a fantastic development tool. It does an amazing job at a lot of different things. And as it has matured, community support has driven it to new areas beyond the original design. This is where its hardware holds back performance a little bit. For instance, as an I2C or SPI sniffer it has limited capture speed. That’s the type of thing that this board could improve upon. It’s a debugging tool based on an STM32 F4 microcontroller. That’s an ARM Cortex-M4 chip which runs at 168 MHz, and has 192 KB of SRAM.

[TitanMKD] has been working on the design but it is still just in digital form. Since there’s no prototype there is also no firmware for the device. That’s a tall mountain to climb and it’s one of the reasons we’re featuring the project now. [Titan's] plan is to model this after the Bus Pirate interface. We think it’s a good idea since a lot of folks have already learned the syntax. We didn’t see a contact form on his site, but if you’re interested in contributing to the project you might want to leave a comment here or on his project page (linked above).

New STM32 Discovery board can now be programmed on Linux

Last Wednesday I posted a video review of the new STM32F0-Discovery board which is built around an ARM Cortex-M0 chip. I speculated that it should work with the open source project aimed at programming these discovery boards. I tested it out and a connection could be made, but no code could be flashed. So I spent a few hours over the weekend and added support.

My updates are already in the stlink repository. After cloning the code, you can use three commands to compile the software (./, ./configure, make). That’s assuming you have all of the necessary dependencies (I had to install libusb-1.0-0-dev) and that you add the udev rule suggested in the documentation (also found in the repository). The program st-util connects to the board and provides a listening port for an ARM debugger (I’m using arm-none-eabi-gdb from CodeSourcery G++ Lite).

When I first started testing, the chip id was reporting as 0. It turns out the register address polled for this information was wrong. After finding that in the almost-900 page reference manual I went through the painstaking process of finding the hex values necessary to properly memory map the device. From there I also updated the blink example to generate an ELF file compatible with the Cortex-M0 chip. So out of the gate you should be able to use an ARM cross compiling toolchain to compile the example, connect to the board with this utility, then use the debugger from the toolchain to connect and flash that example to RAM.

There’s lots more to be done. To fully utilize the chip it is necessary to use a startup file and linker script when compiling. I’ve done nothing in this area, but I hope to work on some tutorials as I get further along. Of course if you have your own successes developing for this board using a Linux machine we want to hear about it!

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”.


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